We live in a pretty remarkable time in human history. Sure, we have massive geopolitical conflicts and our economy likes to swing more than Hugh Hefner, but we also have instant gratification thanks to technology, packages delivered by drones, and enough wealth and free time as a society that it is possible for things like track day cars to exist.
For the uninitiated, a track day car is designed to excel on the track (shocker!) while still being a street legal vehicle. For decades, people have been bringing racecars to the track on trailers, which was expensive and logistically complicated. It’s now possible to grab your keys and head straight for the grid. Let’s look at some of the best track day options.
1. Ariel Atom 3S
The Atom is one of the first true track day cars to capture the attention of the automotive industry. After its initial form destroyed Jeremy Clarkson’s face, and its V8 thoroughbred destroyed the Power Lap Record (at the time), Ariel has taken track days by storm with the Atom. Ariel has redesigned the car, called the Atom 3, and it’s now based off the Honda K24 engine series from the new Civic Si. Weird things are happening at Atom: Its top spec model, the 3S, which has 365 horsepower and weighs only 1,350 pounds, has a body. I’ll be honest…I miss the old look. There is no question that this will be more practical for owners, and it makes it look more similar to its competitors, but it’s not quite as ridiculous and fun. Still, Ariel has kept some of the ridiculous flair with the option pricing for the 3S. If you want your car without a windscreen, it’ll cost you an EXTRA $500 on top of the $89,500 starting price.
2. BAC Mono
Found in 2009, Briggs Automotive Company came out with its one and only model, the Mono, to capitalize on the growing demand for track day cars. Unlike the Atom, the Mono has always enclosed the chassis with bodywork. It still features an open cockpit, but it is a solo center seat rather than side-by-side. The Mono also differs in that it doesn’t offer different trim levels: You can specify some race specific options (de-cat pipes, track gear sets, carbon ceramic brakes, etc.), but the powertrain and the majority of the chassis are standard. This should keep costs down, which is good because this is slated to start at $130,000 in the USA. It’s powered by a naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine producing 305 horses, and weighs 1,280 pounds dry. The Mono beat the Ariel Atom V8’s (wet track) time on the Top Gear track and, to date, has only been bested by the Pagani Huayra.
3. Caterham Seven 620R
Caterham is, in many ways, the simplest car on this list. It is shipped as a rolling chassis and the drivetrain is fitted upon delivery. At the time of writing, their top spec engine package, which is a 2.0 liter Duratec engine making 310 horsepower, ends up in the 620R model. When paired with the 1,200 pound weight, it makes for a 0-60 time of 2.79 seconds. This translated to a TG Power Lap time of 1:22.3 on a wet track (which usually adds 4-6 seconds) so it’s certainly no slouch. Most of the options for the 620R are cosmetic, as the vast majority of the powertrain technology has already been incorporated, which is no surprise given the $72,900 sticker price. It’s far from cheap, but many would call the chance to own the Stig’s favorite car a priceless opportunity.
4. KTM X-Bow
Most people know KTM due to its motorcycles. With the X-Bow (pronounced “crossbow”), it is making its first foray into four-wheeled projects. Powered by a 300 horsepower 2.0 liter Audi TFSI engine, it has plenty of thrust; however, this engine is burdened with a significantly higher weight than the other cars at 1,790 pounds. This makes for a 0-60 time of 3.7 seconds, and while the styling of the car is not my favorite, but it definitely looks serious. Top Gear did a Power Lap of the X-Bow, and it recorded a time of 1:23.1, though it wasn’t aired. It was also featured in a very entertaining segment where the TG trio travelled around the country in track day cars.
5. Radical RXC
In case you feel that the sticker prices of the other cars aren’t high enough to impress your friends, fear not! Radical is here to offer you an alternative. Looking more like a Le Mans race car than the skeletal options presented by the other brands, the RXC Turbo 500 is a twin-turbo charged, 530 horsepower rocket ship weighing only 2,266 pounds. It features a sequential gearbox, gullwing doors, six pot brake calipers, and, most importantly, cup holders. This $190,000 beast can be taken on the street and then tracked with the best. One of Radical’s early models, the SR3, raced a plane on an early season of Top Gear and posted a (non-qualifying) lap time of 1.19.1. Certainly not for the faint of heart!
Honorable Mention: Exomotive Exocet
The Exomotive Exocet follows the well-established model of producing a kit car. Companies like Factory Five have been doing it for years. Essentially, they give you a body, you provide a donor car, and the Frankenstein’s monster that results is usually a wonderful blend of the two experiences. Unlike the Factory Five 818 that uses a WRX as a donor, the donor car for the Exocet is a Miata and the body, much like that of Frankenstein’s monster, is focused on function rather than aesthetics. It only costs $6,000-$8,000 for the body, which means this is certainly a great way to enter the track day world without a new mortgage.
Regardless of which flavor you choose, there is something for every person and (nearly) every budget on this list. Racetracks around the country are offering track days as a way to help cover their high costs so do the right thing and help get our economy back on…track.