For the bulk of the motorsport world, December is a time for winding down. A time to recharge the batteries after a long year and spend time with the family before the new season begins once more. But for competitors in the e-Trophée Andros ice racing series in France, the idea of time off is something of a luxury.
Not that the drivers taking part in this weekend’s season-opener at Val Thorens won’t be enjoying the tranquillity of the holiday period when it arrives, nor spend valuable down time ahead of 2022, but it’s safe to say that their focus is most certainly on competition right through the winter months.
For those not already in the know, e-Trophée Andros is something of an institution in French motor racing. Formed in 1990 by past French rallycross champion Max Memers, it is unique in its makeshift racetracks, which are almost entirely based around the roads of some of the country’s best ski resorts.
Throughout the years, some of the most recognizable figures in French racing have graced the series, with incredible success too. Multiple touring car world champion Yvan Muller has 10 titles to his name, while his nephew Yann Ehrlacher – the recently crowned doubled World Touring Car Cup Champion – is now a regular ice racer. Former Formula 1 racer Olivier Panis still competes, as does his son, the 2020 champion Aurélien.
But just what is e-Trophée Andros all about? And why should you be tuning in this weekend? Here’s the run-down.
The main contenders
e-Trophée Andros is split into two separate categories, designed to cater for the professional driver and amateur. The pro class is Elite Pro, while the amateur class is Elite. In total, six teams will run 28 cars across these two classes between them.
Having taken his fifth ice racing title – his first in the electric era – earlier this year for his family-run team, Jean-Baptiste Dubourg leads the full-time entries for the 2021-22 campaign, driving a Renault Zoé. He’ll be joined by Nico Prost in Elite Pro, while Gérald Fontanel and Emmanuel Moinel will contest the Elite class.
The driver Dubourg dethroned in 2021, Aurélien Panis, is also back this year aboard a Saintéloc Racing Audi A1 silhouette. Former single-seater racer turned GT driver Dorian Boccolacci graduates to Elite Pro after winning the Elite title in 2019, while touring car driver Nicolas Baert will get his first ice racing experience at Val Thorens.
Yann Ehrlacher leads the M Racing team – run by uncle Yvan Muller – with tin-top rival Nathanaël Berthon fronting the Sylvain Pussier Competition charge in a Peugeot e208. Berthon’s team-mate Clémentine Lhoste will be a contender in the Elite class, having become the first female driver to win a round of e-Trophée Andros last year with a clean sweep of the Lans en Vercors weekend.
Although not participating in the full season, Sébastien Loeb will be present on the grid from the opening round through his eponymous team, which fields a pair of cars – one AS 01 and one Enedis – for Jérémy Sahry and Louis Gervoson in Elite Pro and César Gazeau and Margot Lafitte in Elite.
The part-season entries
Dakar Rally commitments in January mean that we won’t see Loeb until the final round at Super Besse, with the penultimate round of the year at Lans en Vercors also off the table for now, given the potential clash of dates with the WRC season-opener in Monte Carlo.
But Loeb won’t be the only WRC driver taking part in e-Trophée Andros this year, with Pierre-Louis Loubet joining from January onwards with DA Racing. He’ll be replacing former Formula 1 – and current IndyCar – driver Romain Grosjean who will drive the first two rounds at Val Thorens and Andorra before heading back to the US.
Grosjean will be participating in e-Trophée Andros for the first time since 2016 and is looking forward to discovering the new generation of electric cars.
“I’ve always loved driving on ice and when the opportunity to participate in the e-Trophée Andros presented itself, I didn’t even hesitate for a second,” Grosjean said.
The Swiss-born Frenchman will be joined by friend and Canal+ F1 commentator Julien Fébreau for Andorra, with the occasional French Rallycross driver completing the remaining rounds.
The celebrity class
One of the best aspects of e-Trophée Andros in gaining recognition in France is the celebrity Andros Stars category, which pits five identical Andros Car 04 – 122hp, two-wheel-drive electric machines – against each other.
Participants range from other racing drivers to racing novices. Notable past drivers include popular French singer Claudio Capeo, comedian Tom Villa, YouTuber Pierre Croce and ex-rugby player Frédéric Michalak.
This weekend, Olympic pole vault gold medallist Renaud Lavillenie is perhaps the biggest known celebrity competing while up-and-coming GT driver Lilou Wadoux is the racing driver VIP at Val Thorens.
e-Trophée Andros’ format is similar to rallycross in its basic form, with qualifying heats and a final for each category. Following a one-hour test session, drivers – with a maximum of three out on track at any given time – set four timed laps across two qualifying sessions, with an intermediate classification awarding points in a 45, 42, 40, 39, 38, 37 etc. sequence.
The fastest six drivers go through to the one-shot ‘super pole’ session, to determine the grid for the ‘super finale’. The six remaining drivers who failed to make the super pole cut, will contest the regular finale.
The importance of being part of the fastest sextet after qualifying is made even more pertinent as points are handed out in a six, five, four, three, two, one format.
The finale and super finale are both 10-lap affairs with 16 points given to the race winner, descending by one point for the remaining finishers. An extra point is also awarded for the fastest lap.
Much like in rallycross, there’s an event classification which combines the cumulative points tallies from the weekend, meaning you can win the finale or super finale, but you may not top the points accrued over the meeting. Consistency, therefore, pays dividends.
For something as unique as ice racing, it’s no surprise that e-Trophée Andros requires special tailor-made cars to do the job. Although the likes of Renault, Peugeot and Audi are represented through the battery powertrains, the cars themselves are silhouettes built around the 1130kg common Andros Sport 01 chassis.
The single-gear, four-wheel-drive and four-wheel-steering cars are equipped with 250 studs on each tire to maintain optimal grip in track conditions which range from hard compact snow to ice and even wet asphalt when the ambient temperature unexpectedly rises.
Each car is driven by a 340bhp battery which produces around 1180lb/ft of torque and 33kWh of energy. The tubular chassis is designed and manufactured by Exagon Engineering, based in the Technopole within the Magny-Cours racetrack in France.
The AS 01 can also recharge from 20-80% in around 36 minutes.
Val Thorens (December 4-5)
Andorra (December 17-18)
Isola 2000 (January 7-8)
Lans en Vercors (January 21-22)
Super Besse (January 29)
Each round is a double header, with the exception of Super Besse.
Live streaming of the every round of the 2021-22 e-Trophée Andros can be found (with French commentary) here.