By on October 25, 2021

AppleZoomZoom/Shutterstock.com

When I originally set out to write TTAC’s list of “best track cars”, I didn’t do so all that originally. That is to say, you probably already know what cars were going to be on that first list, without ever having read it. The BMW E30, Porsche 944, and Mazda Miata were there, and the inclusion of a Consulier GTP could only come as a surprise if you’ve never read a Jo Borras article before. It was a good list, though – one that just about any seasoned SCCA/NASA guy or gal could get behind, I thought.

That’s when I realized I know a few seasoned SCCA/NASA guys and gals, so I tossed it over to my friends Brandan and Tyler over at Auto Interests driving school to see what they thought – and I didn’t really expect Brandan’s response.

“You would hate driving these cars,” he said. “You’re too slow.”

WINNING IS AWESOME

He was right – is right. When I used to go out to the track regularly, be it a road course, a drag strip, or a kart track, I didn’t go out there to “hone my skills” or “be one with the car” or any of that garbage. I couldn’t if I tried, anyway, because I’m an average driver. I have good days and even fast laps now and then, like most guys, but I’m never going to be an Andretti or Schumacher, you know?

You know what else? Neither will you, probably.

No, we’re not going to go out there and set the track on fire and clip apexes and all that – and that’s too bad, because if we happen to find ourselves behind the wheel of race-prepped, spec-E30 BMW in a field of 20 other E30 BMWs, we’re going to lose. Or, at least, not win.

Losing sucks. Winning, however, is awesome – and properly lording your victory over your friends is doubly awesome, especially if they’re hyper-competitive alpha males who spent way too much time reading Road & Track articles as a kid and talk about paddle shifters in Porsches like they’re some sort of sacrilege.

What we need here, then, is something a little less formal. This won’t be a list of cars to track in the sense that they’ll be competitive in one class or another – this will be a list of cars that you can take to an open track day and go really fast in, right away, and with an average skill set. Cars that will, through some mechanical or electronic trickery, make up the difference – and make you feel like a fucking rock star, despite the “pay to win” vibe.

ROAD COURSE:  GODZILLA

The first car that comes to mind when I think of a car that can make anyone feel like a rock star is the Nissan R35 GT-R. Sure, it made its debut back in 2008 and it is getting a bit long in the tooth these days, but it is very much a digital animal, delivering an experience not dissimilar to playing a few rounds of Sony’s Gran Turismo.

On its debut, the analog faithful criticized the R35 for being too easy to drive fast.

“I spent 1,450 miles inside a Nissan GT-R in early April, flying through the deserts of Nevada and central California. I didn’t notch 193mph, the GT-R’s top speed. But I (or you) could have done so with ease … in fact, the Nissan coupe plants itself on the road better than any car I’ve ever driven,” wrote TTAC’s Stephan Wilkinson, back in 2008. “Stretching the GT-R’s legs on an open Nevada two-lane road was so simple that my 28-year-old daughter could repeat the process a few minutes later while I lazed in the right seat.”

While we could spend some time here giggling about the fact that the thought of Stephan’s fully grown, adult daughter confidently driving an R35 at triple-digit speeds seems to be threatening his masculinity, you have to admit that he made his point crystal clear: Anyone can drive one of these things fast.

How fast?

Years ago, Jack Baruth and I were out at Beaverun in PA driving his green RS5 and an 800-hp Switzer-tuned version of the R35 GT-R. It started to snow about halfway through the day, but the GT-R barely slowed down.

“I let the car run free a second to straighten out and use full power. Click. Click. One hundred and thirty miles per hour. Plus. In the snow. Easy as pie,” Jack wrote. “In the same space of time it took the Audi to hit 110. Hit the ABS for Turn One and do it all over again.”

That’s how it’s done. Let the other guy talk about the feel of the wheel or riding that knife-edge of traction at the limit before the rear end comes around – he’ll need all that talk to console himself after you post a time fully three or four seconds faster in the GT-R.

DRAG RACE:  THE KING OF THE TRAILER PARK

The last time I wrote about heading out to the track, I focused on predictability and getting “dialed in”, and you’ll find more of the same here. What’s different is that, here, we’re not going to rely on ourselves to find that perfect mix of revs and braking to find the hole shot – we’re going to leave that to the computers driving the launch control in our late-model Chevy Camaro.

At the drag strip, launch control is the great equalizer. Combine said launch control with an automatic transmission that delivers lightning-quick shifts at the same time, every time and you have yourself the makings of a metronomic monster.

Granted, dominating the bracket drags isn’t going to give you the same sense of smug satisfaction that lapping a road course a few seconds quicker than your buddy in the “Save the Manuals” t-shirt … but I didn’t just pick the Camaro because it’s predictable. It also happens to be fast AF, with even a bone-stock 2018 SS rocketing across the ¼-mile finish line deep into the 12s at more than 115 mph.

Need to go faster still? The 8-speed automatic the Camaro shipped with up to the 2018 model year is stout enough, and the ECU is smart enough, to handle a mild nitrous shot to get you into the 11s. If you get bitten by the racing bug even harder still, the only limit to the Camaro LT1’s potential horsepower is the number of zeroes in your checking account.

KART TRACK:  ROTARY RADNESS

TaG karts – short for “touch and go”, indicating that they have an on-board starter enabling you to go kart racing by yourself, are stupid fun. With precious little in the way of suspension or aerodynamics available to modify or set up, they’re generally considered to be more or less equally capable in terms of pace, regardless of what the CRG or Tony rep tells you, and someone who’s fast in a kart is generally believed to be more talented than someone who isn’t. So, assuming you’re someone with more-or-less average talent here, how do you win?

With more horsepower, that’s how. Meet the RENNtech SLR Kart – a race-ready CRG chassis mated to Mercedes-branded ABS plastic bodywork and a full forty-eight horsepower thanks to an ultra-compact, water-cooled “Aixro” rotary engine tucked right up to the drivers’ seat.

How fast is it? While the quickest indoor karts hit about 35 mph I’ve personally clocked one of these Wankel-engined karts at more than 90 mph down the long straight at Moroso PBIR. What’s more, it gets there quickly – because, while you may not usually see “rotary engine” and “torque monster” used to describe the same vehicle, you probably weren’t comparing said rotary to a buzzy little 2-stroke kart engine, either.

If you can’t win with that kind of power advantage, winning just ain’t for you, my friend. But, like, trust me – I didn’t get my Golden Driller trophy on talent.

BONUS RADNESS: here’s a tuned, nitromethanol-burning Aixro hotsaw absolutely blasting through a tree trunk during a lumberjack contest.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I know this probably isn’t the kind of list you came here for – and maybe you expected me to throw some EVs into the mix, too, but I stand by this list. I have driven a great many fast cars and have embarrassed myself (in front of girls, even) in the doing. If I thought I could bullshit the Best and Brightest, I might have written stories about lurid power slides behind the wheel of a V8 Caterham or tell you about the time I cracked 160 mph at Homestead in the OneLap-winning Mosler Raptor or how I nearly melted the brakes on a Ferrari 599 at Mid-Ohio … but bullshit they would be.

I was terrified of that Caterham, and was so visibly shaken that someone else had to drive me home. In the Raptor, I was so busy watching the speedometer that I barely saw my usual braking point (established in an ’87 BMW 325) whizz past in the corner of my right eye – I jammed on the brakes with my heart and ass in my throat … and came to a complete stop about forty feet from the apex. As for the Ferrari, I think I left the parking brake on. In front of a girl.

In the Nissan? No problem. Point, gas, go – trust the process(or). The Camaro? To anyone on the outside looking in, I’m a seasoned pro. The Aixro kart? You might catch me in the corners, but passing me is different from catching me, and that corner will be over soon enough. These may not be the most honorable types of victories, of course, but I’ll leave you to debate those kinds of things with the rest of the losers.

[Image: AppleZoomZoom/Shutterstock.com]

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19 Comments on “Opinion: These Are the Best Track Cars for Not the Best Drivers...”


  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    “You’re too slow.”

    • If a man ever uttered these words to me, he would be dead now.

    • I have never heard these words from a woman.

    (That’s the show, I’m here all week.)

  • avatar
    ajla

    “the Nissan R35 GT-R”

    Lol, okay. The “average driver” types should definitely blow $67K+ on a technology marvel Nissan with supercar speed.

    I know it is boring to say “buy a Miata or 86/BRZ” but you’d have a hard time convincing me otherwise. It’s what they are for.

    For drag racing Camaros are fine, but why pick one over a live axle Mustang?

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      “I know it is boring to say “buy a Miata or 86/BRZ” but you’d have a hard time convincing me otherwise. It’s what they are for.”

      Exactly… they are affordable and fun – pretty much the perfect track day car. This is coming from a guy who tracked a 350Z and now a C7. Older BMWs, S2000s and Boxsters make excellent track day cars as well. S2000s are starting to command big money thus beating one to death on the track is not longer advisable. My former 350Z is also a good choice.

      The GT-R is beast that is so fast you’ll be scared to get anywhere near its limits plus you need a wallet full of bitcoin to buy one. Sure the computer makes driving it easy for your average driver, but where is the fun in that? An automatic is easy to drive as well, but nobody getting a track day car picks the automatic or even a DCT for quicker times around the circuit.

      Plus if there is one thing I’ve learned on track its no matter what you bring someone else will have something faster. Got a 911? great, but someone else will have GT3 RS to shame you. Even worse is when your “fast car” (like my C7) gets embarrassed by slower cars with more skilled pilots. In fact having a slower car gives you a built in excuse… you can always blame the car for your pathetic lap times.

    • 0 avatar

      Because the best way to get a live axle Mustang to go fast is to put a Chevy motor in it. It seems easier to put a 9″ in the Camaro. https://driveshaftshop.com/product/2016-camaro-automatic-pro-formed-9-conversion-kit/

      • 0 avatar
        Lou_BC

        I guess in keeping with the theme of your article, there’s the old saying, “anyone can make a Chevy go fast”. LOL
        A bit pedantic but the last Mustang with a 9″ rear end was 1973. Anything newer has the 8.8 IIRC.

  • avatar
    Lou_BC

    There is a lot to be said about picking the best tool for the job. Most of us have a tendency to let ego dictate our purchases. I’ve seen that play out multiple times.
    I purchased a lowly Suzuki DRZ400SM after not riding for 10 years specifically because it wasn’t fast. Once I got familiar with it I could hang with most sport bikes in the twisties. I rode many of the same roads I used to visit with a litre class sport bike. On the litre bike it was an exercise in controlled terror. On the little DRZ, I flogged the sh!t out of it and felt like I was Valentino Rossi.

    I’d love to try a road track but I’m not into travelling 800 plus km to do so. There is a drag strip in town but since many of the local Harley guys did their best to kick out the “Jap scrap”, I’m not interested. It was a blast on my Yamaha YZ490. I tired drag racing with my 68′ Galaxie but it was geared for the highway.

  • avatar
    olddavid

    All men – no, make that humans, with a desire to track any car need to be educated by people with experience building the fastest track cars. In the early ’80’s, I was convinced my feces had no odor and due to being the fastest in an RX-7 of a group of 40-50 middling executives with Mazda, I was gifted with a track day at PIR with instruction and crew in a car of the type that later became Star Mazda.My memory is that I was less than impressed with the little 4 banger installed in the beautiful purpose built racer. Then I drove it. I learned it isn’t horsepower that wins but chassis tuning and – as Colin Chapman said – less weight. I’m convinced that even today one of those cars would be quicker than even a GT-R simply because the car went around that track without need to lift. I had never experienced anything like it. It took several hours before my brain could could understand the reality. I believe I smiled for two weeks. I also no longer deceive myself that I am any kind of hotshoe.

  • avatar
    SilverCoupe

    I thought Jack Baruth had a green S5, not an RS5.

  • avatar
    Tele Vision

    I had an ’84 944. Not only was I killed dead by a teenaged girl, light-to-light, in her Dad’s Bonneville SSEi but I was also denied access to a ‘Classic Car Day’ at the local race track. My buddy in his ’87 944 Turbo was allowed on track but not I. Jerk(s).

    Once I got the ole’ girl moving the handling on that 944 was amazing. Fifth gear was far too long – certainly when compared to the preceding close-ratio gears – and required a big blip to get back down into fourth for a highway hill or a pass or even a slight headwind.

    That car had the best front end that I’d driven – until I bought my 2007 CTS-V.

  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    I thought rental cars were the fastest cars? I am looking to get a track car, I am thinking a Chevy Cobalt, Civic, or Volvo 850. Whatever I pick I’m thinking lower, stiffer springs and bars, good shocks and skinny hard tires. My goal is to learn to carry speed into the turn and car control. I’ll worry about getting an actually fast car when I can actually drive fast.

  • avatar
    Jimf

    The best car for a not so good driver is a car which is not as fast as their capabilities. They are more likely to survive. A GTR is way too much car for most people…easy to drive fast does not make it the right car.

  • avatar
    toplessFC3Sman

    No Lexus IS 500?

  • avatar
    mor2bz

    blah blah, blahblahblah

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