In an ideal world track day enthusiasts would be able to have a car that is purely track spec, with no compromise for road use. I have seen lots of track day cars that turn up to events on trailers, not having seen the public highway in many years. The drivers wear full race suits, and enjoy a day pretending they are the Stig whilst actually looking a bit sad. If you are in a position to be able to afford a trailer and race suit then not much more investment would get you competing in an entry level Motorsport, such as Mighty Minis, the Ma5da MX5 championship or the MG owners club challenge (all of these can be competed in for a few thousand pounds a year, with a competitive racing car costing the same again). In the real world most track day drivers are using their daily car, complete with heater, radio and carpets. However if you are in a position to choose a daily driver with the intention of seeing some track time then there are the following excellent choices available:
Available for only a few hundred pounds these little hatches can be very quick in their hotter incarnations. Cheap to run and fast straight out of the box, they or their similar stable mates (Citroen Saxo for example) provide a lot of ability for not much outlay. Exploiting the Lotus principle of keeping the weight down to make the most of not much power, the 106 Rallye is a typical small French hatchback; great fun to drive and very agile.
BMW 3 Series
Both the E30 and the E36 BMW make very competent track machines. The E30 is becoming rarer now, and therefore the prices have started to climb. Whilst not as nimble as a front wheel drive hatch they offer rear wheel drive excitement at a very promising price. Spares are not as expensive as you might think, and the inline six engine is pretty bulletproof.
Mazda MX-5 (NA, NB & NC)
Rear wheel drive, willing revvy engine, boringly reliable and cheap spares make them an excellent choice as a cheap track car. They can be found for as little as £600 with tax and MoT. Mazda MX-5 (NA)
Toyota MR2 (AW11, SW20 & ZZW30)
A good choice if mid engined mayhem is your preference. Early cars are said to be better handling, whereas later cars tend to be more powerful and easier to live with day to day. There are not many cars that you could buy that would be faster than a Turbo’d MR2 for the same money. Servicing is made slightly more difficult by the mid-engined setup, and sideways action can be a little more touch and go due to the rear biased polar moment of inertia endemic to a mid engined car. Toyota MR2 Roadster (ZZW30)
If you have a bit more money to spend not much can touch an Elise round the track. The main thing that puts me off the Elise as a track car is the cost of body panels in the event of contact. Damage to a front wing on an MX5 would cost less than £100 to fix. Damage to the front clamshell of the Elise can effectively write the car off. An epic track machine, but one for those with deeper pockets.
Don’t laugh, whilst fashion dictates the early golfs command the big money, the Lupo can be had for a sensible amount of cash. Whilst not a fast car (unless you get hold of the awesome GTi) they offer cheap and reliable action, and with a couple of cheap suspension tweaks can be made to handle better than the Mk1 Golf GTi. A practical little track car that will return excellent MPG the rest of the week on the daily commute.
Rover 200 series
An underrated car, can be picked up for peanuts with a free-revving engine, especially in GTi form. The K-Series has a bit of a habit of eating head gaskets. Especially worth a mention is the Rover 200 BRM. 145hp, Torsen diff, close ratio box and stiffer suspension all as standard. That and or course, the snazzy orange front bumper.
Although based on a Ford Fiesta the Puma exploits its humble underpinnings in a nimble and enjoyable manner. Fun to throw around and available for around £1000 for a tatty one, it has a lot of track potential.
Mechanically almost identical to the Civic and Integra, the prelude is available for less money than its stablemates. The engine would be more at home in a superbike or F1 car, and the supple chassis responds well to bracing and suspension tweaks.
Renault Clio 172/182
These have now started to enter the price range of the budget track day people, and its about time. The one thing the french do best is making small hatchbacks handle, and if you want a rapid, sweet handling front wheel drive car that won't drive you mad as a daily driver, this is it. Usual caveats apply: servicing can be difficult due to the Renaults generally unfriendly-to-the-home-mechanic engine bay, but don't let that put you off. These are little belters and very moddable.
No, don't laugh, the VW Polo has a lot of potential as a fun track machine. In standard form the steering can be a little vague and doesn't inspire much confidence, but due to a large tuning community there are lots of tweaking parts available. If a french hatchback doesn't float your boat and you fancy being a little different, the Polo has a lot to commend it. Especially the supercharged G40 variants...
Clio Photo ©www.trackphoto.com, Luke Morrissey at the helm.