It’s said that people haven’t really lived on the edge until they've gone over it, and ultimately that’s what track days are all about – finding the edge. As anyone who has ever done any form of adrenalin sports will attest to, it’s a constant battle between speed and control.
Once somebody has explored the limits of grip and traction and knows what they are capable of, it inevitably turns them into a better driver. They know how to handle their car under varying conditions and speeds. Their mind remains clear yet focused, and they rarely panic if something goes amiss.
It is not necessary to be a motorsport enthusiast to get the benefits of track days. Regardless of your interest (or your bank account), a track day is the perfect opportunity to work on your driving skills responsibly. On top of these benefits, it is an incredibly fun driving experience with a great social atmosphere.
Some racetracks will have open days where all cars are accepted. There are also rental track days where cars that may be ordinarily out of the reach of most people are able to be hired and driven in the closed environment. Some car clubs run their own tracks days and training and coaching is even often available for those who want help to level up their driving skills.
Best of all, track days are not expensive and an expensive car is not needed. Therefore, here are the 20 best, and most popular track day cars.
20 Honda Civic Type R
The Civic Type R caused a huge division when it was released. Haters thought the styling was too ludicrous to own, and Honda fanboys thought the performance was too ludicrous to miss. Love it or hate it, the Honda Civic Type R is a phenomenal car on the street or track. Honda all but eliminated front wheel drive torque steer from the 306 horsepower turbocharged 4 cylinder engine and gave the Type R a perfectly balanced chassis. A helical limited slip diff and adaptive suspension help to give the Honda a level of smoothness and refinement that is often lacking from cars with this much power.
19 Ford Fiesta ST
For all their troubles lately, Ford really knocked it out of the park with the Fiesta ST. The pint-sized performance hatchback is powered by a 1.6-liter motor that nudges the 200 horsepower benchmark (197). Handing is undoubtedly the Fiestas forte with sharp steering and ultra-responsive body control. This is mostly to some clever engineering in the rear setup which have been configured to apply a stabilizing lateral force to the rear wheels – a problem that has plagued hatchbacks since the beginning of time. The Focus ST is a crisp, responsive, easy car to drive. But to secure one, be quick as they are only being sold until May 2019.
18 Chevrolet Camaro SS 1LE
Multiple engine configurations are available for owners of the Camaro but the 455 horsepower 1LE V8 SS is the standout star due to the sheer amount of fun to be had behind the wheel. As an everyday driver, the Camaro seems quite relaxed but wakes up when it’s pushed. The acceleration alone is positively chest-compressing. The 1LE package adds a three-piece spoiler to enhance downforce, 20-inch wheels with stickier tires and additional transmission, oil and differential coolers, Recaro sports seats and Brembo six-piston front brake calipers. If oversteer is more your style, the Camaro SS is the ideal choice.
17 Hyundai i30N
It wasn’t that long ago when the only people that owned Hyundais were your grandparents. But after some serious soul searching, the i30N is the South Korean car manufacturers’ first jaunt into hot hatch heroics. There is nothing remarkable about the i30N, it is simply a good-looking car that is enjoyable to drive, thanks to its 2-liter turbocharged motor that puts out 270 horsepower. Other track friendly features include an electronic-mechanical limited slip diff and 345mm brakes. Body styling is inoffensive and the interior is sparse yet well designed. If you’re not a badge snob, the Hyundai i30N is a tremendous example of a comfortable street-able car that can be enjoyed at the track as well.
16 BMW M2 Competition
When looking through the range of cars that BMW offers, it’s difficult to choose just one. From the convertible Z4 to the state of the art M5, BMW clearly makes cars that are built for driving pleasure. So what makes the M2 the best choice? Well what makes this car special is the amount of M3/M4 components that are bolted to the motorsport-inspired chassis. The N55 motor has been detuned but with the addition of bi-turbos, power output is rated at 410 horsepower. From its extra-large air intakes to its rear diffuser, the M2 is the ideal choice for track days.
15 Nissan GTR Nismo
While the ‘ordinary’ version of the Nissan R35 Skyline GTR is more than adequate for track work, the Nismo GT3 version is a rare opportunity to buy a road-registered, full blown race car. The Nismo GTR is purpose built for professional drivers and has been designed based on the testing and data that Nismo themselves have carried out and recorded from their racing teams. Changes include a lower center of gravity, optimized weight distribution, competition-tuned suspension, a more rigid body shell. The Nismo carbon fiber aerodynamic bodykit, Nismo competition interior, 20 inch forged wheels by Rays and a twin turbo, 600 horsepower motor.
14 Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport
On paper, the Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport looks like a very well balanced machine. But it’s not until you get behind the wheel that you realize just how complete of a package it really is. The body is based on the Z06 and the exterior styling is aggressive beyond belief. The Corvette comes with a heavy duty clutch to handle the 460 horsepower that the 6.2 liter LT1 V8 produces. Chevrolets stiff magnetorhelolgical suspension eliminates body roll at all speeds and despite the wide body, the Grand Sport oversteers with ease. The Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport is a strong track performer with a distinct American flair.
13 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350R
The Shelby GT name has long been associated with racing glory so it should come a surprise to nobody that their Shelby GT350R is a potent track weapon. The engine of the GT350R puts out 526 horsepower and is the most powerful naturally aspirated motor ever produced by Ford. The suspension has been beefed up with anti-roll bars and rigid bushes to improve cornering stability. Despite the big V8, throttle response is impressive and the exhaust growl is tremendously addictive. Magnetic ride control and large Brembo-sourced brakes inspire confidence despite the weight of the Mustang and the aerodynamics have been optimized to provide optimal cooling.
12 Mazda MX5 Miata Club
Now in its fourth generation, the Mazda MX5 has a new, more powerful engine, making it a blast to drive. The styling may be somewhat questionable from certain angles, but it does nothing to detract from the pure enjoyment that this car serves up. The MX5 is tiny and incredibly light, so the 2-liter 181 horsepower is more than enough. The car is also able to be ordered with a track-ready package that includes upsized Brembo brakes, Recaro bucket seats, stiffer suspension, and forged wheels. The MX5 may not be the quickest car off the line, but its finely tuned handling makes up for it in the twisties.
11 Lotus Evora 400
Similar to the MX5, the appeal of the Lotus Evora is its size and weight. But unlike the Mazda, it comes with a Toyota based supercharged V6 with a power output of 400 horsepower. Taking a leaf out of BMWs book, the Lotus Evora 400 is aimed squarely at drivers who enjoy amateur motorsport. This mid-engine sports car has a lightened chassis but the weight reduction is offset the added weight of the cooling system for the supercharger. Steering is light but typical of most mid-engine cars. The Evora is remarkably well made and the wheelbase and suspension do an excellent job of keeping the car on the road. The Evora 400 is another masterful machine from Lotus.
10 Subaru WRX STi S209
You’d have to be extremely lucky to get your hands on one of the limited edition WRX STi S209 because Subaru are only sending 200 to America. Typically limited to Japan's Domestic Market, the S209 offers more power over the stock STi, as well as chassis upgrades and a suspension overhaul. Exact figures haven’t been released but engine output is expected to be around 341 horsepower. To cut through red tape, Subaru paired the S209 to the EJ25 2.5 liter, rather than try and import the EJ20 from Japan. The turbo has been beefed up by HKS to allow increased boost and the S209 wears a heavily revised body kit.
9 Fiat 500 Abarth 595
Fiat has somehow managed to make their sporty car into something every sportier and rebranding it the 595. Power by a 1.4-liter turbocharged Multiair engine, the 595 is rated at a not-too-shabby 143 horsepower, however, if you opt for the Turismo spec, that number jumps to 163. Although the Fiat Abarth is small, it was designed to be driven flat-out and proves that a high-horsepower warrior isn’t needed to have fun. The Abarth wears Koni suspension over lightweight wheels and the setup allows the Abarth to carry a lot of speed through the corners. The chassis is suited to the rigors of the racetrack and the little Fiat represents tremendous value for the motorsport first-timer.
8 Toyota 86/Subaru BRZ
The 86 and the BRZ could be twins. Not identical twins, but as they were developed on the same platform, even their mothers would be hard-pressed to tell them apart. One of the most commonly shared criticism was that the 86 and BRZ were lacking power, and that’s somewhat true, however, they were never designed for straight-line speed. With a near perfectly weighted chassis, both cars are ideal for some sideways silliness. Both cars come with track driving modes to maximize driving enjoyment without electronic driving aids to take over. The chassis is incredibly well balanced and both cars are capable of proving a serious adrenaline rush on the track.
7 Volkswagen Golf GTi
Not content with Ford taking the title of hot hatch king, the Volkswagen Golf casts aside German sensibility and gives the stock Golf platform some serious performance upgrades. The iconic hatchback comes with a 217 horsepower 2-liter turbocharged four-pot and has a top speed of 152 mph. Either a dual clutch 7 speed automatic or a six-speed manual can be selected and this years model also adds a limited-slip differential and upgraded brakes. Handling wise, the Golf GTis phenomenally capable chassis remains sturdy and the optional performance pack comes with an electro-hydraulic differential to give the GTi incredible poise.
6 Lotus Exige S
The Lotus Exige is really something special, it has all the traits of a supercar without the million dollar price tag. Being incredibly light, the acceleration offered by the supercharged Toyota 3.5 liter motor is phenomenal. Inside the Exige, the weight-savings measures are obvious and the interior is somewhat sparse. Due to the high power-to-weight ratio, however, this is soon forgotten as punchy torque is perfectly matched to scintillating throttle response. The Exige inspires confidence and makes it easy to commit to fast cornering. On a track it feels stunningly quick and this mini supercar is a lightweight vehicle that track enthusiasts will certainly appreciate.
5 Renault Clio RS
When you think of performance cars Renault is not generally the first name that comes to mind. However, the good folks at Renault Motorsport (RS) have turned the everyday Clio into a feisty little character. The 1.6-liter turbocharged engine has plenty of poke, despite the Clio RS only coming with an automatic transmission. Interestingly, the Clios exhaust is made by Akrapovic which are famous for making performance exhausts for motorbikes. This gives the Clio a sonorous sound and helps increase the torque curve and throttle response. Packed with technology tested by the Renault Motorsport Formula 1 team, the Renault Clio RS exudes performance.
4 Ferrari 458 Pista
At the launch of the Ferrari 458 Pista, journalists were practically gushing at the chance to lavish it with praise. The Pista was designed to go head-to-head with the Porsche GT2 RS and McLaren 600LT, with all three being practically rolling race cars. Ferrari worked hard to eliminate all traces of turbo lag from the twin-turbo 3.9 liter V8, and the precise throttle response allows the car to be throttle steering through tight corners with a high degree of accuracy. To say the Ferrari Pista is the most potent Ferrari every built is almost an understatement. Fiendishly clever electronics and a 710 horsepower engine make the 458 Pista potentially the most capable car on the market today.
3 BMW M4
With the inclusion of the M2 higher up this list, you may be wondering, why buy a BMW M4? But with razor-sharp handling and explosive acceleration, the BMW M4 is a hugely desirable, high-performance machine. Like the M2, the M4 also has a competition package as an option which ads firmer anti-roll bars, stiffer springs, and ECU retuning. However, the M4 is a weapon in stock trim and almost too much of a handful for most. As with all BMWs, the M4 is all about the drive and is equally breathtaking on the road and the track. The BMW M4 has character for days and is a serious contender for the ultimate driving machine.
2 McLaren Senna
The Senna is the most track-focused car that McLaren have ever built. Motivated by a 789 horsepower twin-turbo V8, it has been engineered to give the most intense driving experience at a track. Aerodynamically, the car looks ferocious from every angle and hugs the road thanks to a clever suspension setup that controls both roll and heave. Every inch on the Senna has been designed to be both lightweight and functional, and the hefty price tag includes bucket seats that are custom fitted to the driver. The Senna generates a staggering 800kg of downforce and is a prime example of pure automotive savagery.
1 Porsche 911 GT3 RS
The Porsche 911 GT3 is stretching the limits of most people’s idea of affordability, but nonetheless, it is probably the best track car ever built. At the heart of this rear wheel drive track monster sits a screaming 520 horsepower, 4-liter 6 cylinder NA engine with a top speed of 193 mph. To prove its track credentials, in 2018 the GT3 RS set a new fastest lap at the German Nurburgring-Nordschleife circuit. The blisteringly fast time of 6 minutes 56.4 seconds smashed the previous record to pieces by 24 seconds which was held the previous GT3 RS model. A brilliantly engineered chassis, dual clutch transmission, and rear axle steering make the GT3 one of the most engaging and responsive cars ever produced.
Sources: autoexpress, roadandtrack, evo.co.uk, speedvegas