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.
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.
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.
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