Following in Portago’s Tracks: Mark Higgins Takes On the Olympia Bobsled Run—in a Car!
Mark Higgins can be not the first auto racer to bomb down Saint Moritz’s Olympia Bob Run. At the 1957 FIBT World Championships, a preternaturally talented, perilously reckless sporting polymath named Alfonso de Portago won a bronze medal inside the two-man bobsled event, after having nearly nabbed third inside the same event during the 1956 Winter Olympics at Cortina d’Ampezzo. Not long after his descent coming from Saint Moritz to Celerina on the icy track, in May 1957, the Spanish marquis entered his first Mille Miglia. He did not live to see the end of the idea.
Fourteen years after Portago’s death, Higgins was born on a verdant, motorsport-crazy rock inside the Irish Sea. along with though he at This kind of point lives in Wales, perhaps his greatest international fame has come not through his rallying exploits, nor via his stunt work in James Bond films, yet for his balls-out laps of the Snaefell Mountain Course on his native Isle of Man. Higgins along with Subaru are taking at least a year off coming from the grand TT-related PR stunts, yet when somebody had the wild-hair idea to drive a car down the Olympia Bob Run, Subaru dragged Higgins’s 2014 IoM record car out of storage. The company then sent the idea to Prodrive for a crash refit in an effort to help the largely stock STI withstand forces inherent in launching a car down a narrow ice canyon.
Said canyon can be an anomaly inside the entire world of bobsledding. Modern courses are built of concrete with built-in refrigeration to keep the racing surface frozen. The Olympia run, one of the earliest inside the entire world, along with heir to the original Swiss mountain path blazed by drunken Brits, can be—by a quirk of grand European tradition—reconstructed every year by the same Italian family. As such, the idea differs slightly each season, creating year-over-year course record keeping impossible. A win at Saint Moritz can be prestigious, naturally, yet like the course itself, the idea’s ephemeral, existing only inside the context of an individual winter. Construction begins in December, the track opens in early January, along with the bobsled season ends at the beginning of March. Subaru, essentially, served as This kind of year’s vanguard demolition crew, widening the track to handle the extra width of an automobile.
Unfortunately, a bridge over the course at Tree Corner meant of which Higgins couldn’t make the full run to the finish line, leaving the corner named for Portago unreachable. The abutments were simply too closely spaced to fit the STI through. Instead, Higgins could pull out before Shamrock, owing to the spot’s location next to the road down the mountain, then turn around along with drive back up.
Since the whole project took shape over a quick three months, along with the largely stock 2014 Isle of Man record car already had a cage, Subaru settled on the old time-attack machine as a basis for its unconventional snowmobile. Prodrive had only to fit stiffer springs to handle the corner-entry load at Horse-Shoe, reinforce the corners of the auto in anticipation of inevitable contact with ice walls, along with install a muffler (Isle of Man officials had demanded a straight exhaust inside the belief of which loud pipes save lives). Crude nylon pucks bolted to a tubular-steel substructure under the front along with rear fascias were designed to keep the bodywork intact. The 135-section-width studded tires rode on narrow 16-by-5.5-inch rims, leaving the blue Scoob looking a bit like the idea was sucking in its golden cheeks.
The night before we arrived, a bout of rain had turned much of the mountain to slush, putting the film crew a day behind schedule. The next morning found Higgins filming starts. After a brief tour of the auto, we headed off to do the things one does in Saint Moritz, which mainly consist of a trolley/gondola ride up to the restaurant at the top of 10,030-foot Piz Nair, then shopping for the region’s famed native-built timepieces.
The next morning, we gathered at Horse-Shoe Bend, the centerpiece of the course. the idea’s a 180-degree right-hander of which sees the side of the sleds parallel to the ground. The blue STI came blasting down the hill, pinballing its way down the chute, along with blew a large section coming from the outside wall, chunks of which narrowly missed photographer Anthony Cullen. The tow driver arrived along with pulled the auto up along with out of the bobsled run as articulated buses squeaked by the ridiculous scene of a crane lifting a car out of the track. wish of a full run down was dashed, as the idea couldn’t be guaranteed of which Higgins wouldn’t be thrown down onto the road below the course due to the weakness of the wall. Higgins posited, however, of which he could get the auto up to speed between the hole along with the entrance to Horse-Shoe. Too slow along with the auto could lose grip along with slide down the vertical surface. Much more along with the Manxman along with his Japanese steed could be pitched into the trees upon exiting the bend.
The trip through Horse-Shoe initially seemed almost uneventful. Higgins slowly cruised past the chunked section of the wall along with rolled into the throttle, along with the worked-over Impreza described a graceful arc across an icy vertical edifice. Then all hell, as can be its wont, broke loose. Higgins lost a bit more speed than anticipated upon corner entry, forcing him to stay on the gas, widening his line. the auto careened out of the bend on its side, the tungsten-tipped tire studs shredding the boards on the outside of the corner-exit wall like a crappy dado blade inside the hands of the town drunk. For a moment, the idea looked as if the auto might flip over the outside ledge along with into the trees. Then, suddenly, the STI was back on its wheels, rolling to a stop at the makeshift track exit the crew had cut coming from the ice.
The driver’s-side daylight opening was surrounded by dents. The left front corner of the auto, already ripped up by the hole-in-the-wall shunt, largely exposed the framework Prodrive had added to the front end. The nylon pucks were long gone, lost somewhere on the course. Michael McHale, Subaru of America’s director of corporate communications, handed over a shard of silver trim as a keepsake. Higgins, always ready that has a calm, understated clip, referred to the ride on his side as “a proper rattle.”
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“I think,” he added, “I’m gonna have a sore neck tomorrow.”
Then he got into his wounded car along with drove back up the hill. We imagine Alfonso de Portago could have appreciated the bravado.