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Episode 12

“Race Car vs Track Toy”

Is it necessary for me to actually go racing, or could I get more enjoyment out of track days? And what does a Formula 4 car have to do with this article?

This week’s post was supposed to have been based on the British Touring Car Championship’s test and media day this Tuesday, but yet again, Coronavirus got in the way. However, this means that I can continue on from where I left off last week: Should I actually go racing, or should I just buy a track toy? There are many things to consider when making this choice, and at the end of this article I have selected six potential “toys” that I found when scrolling through RaceCarsDirect.com.

First, however, what are the pros and cons of buying a car just for track days, against going racing for real.

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Straight away, an initial advantage of track days over racing is the price. Of course, depending on the circuit and the company in charge, the cost of track days can vary significantly, from just over £100 to more than £300. This overall cost, though, is still significantly lower than the cost of competition. Most grassroots competitions in the UK have between 5 and 8 race weekends, during which many different competitions will compete, meaning your individual track time is fairly minimal.

For example, a season’s entry costs in the Mini Challenge Cooper S class is just shy of £4,800 for six events. Track days on the Silverstone Grand Prix circuit start at just shy of £300. That means that, for the cost of six rounds in the Mini Challenge, you could have 16 track days on the full Silverstone circuit, with near enough unlimited running. Sixteen!

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Furthermore, for a track day, your car doesn’t need to be operating at 100%. Some race series are so close in competitiveness that it’s vital to get an engine rebuild after every round, just to stay on the pace. With a track day, this doesn’t matter so much, as you’re not up against anyone else. This means that, if necessary, you can scrimp on some of the non-essential costs yet still have masses of fun.

Another advantage of taking part in track days over a full competition is the risk. With a track day, there is (or at least, should be) no wheel-to-wheel racing, meaning the only reason you end up with a damaged car should be if you run off the circuit. During a race, however, there are tens of opponents, all high on adrenaline, all wanting the piece of tarmac you’re on. This poses a lot more risk of crashes that weren’t your fault, which in turn increases the likelihood of large repair bills.

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The most significant disadvantage of not competing in a race series, however, boils down to what a race series actually is. Competition. For some people, track days won’t suffice because they have that competitive spirit that just can’t be satisfied when there’s nothing to benchmark yourself against. A large proportion of track days prohibit drivers from timing their own laps, and if there’s no direct “competitor” at your track day, then it’s difficult to validate yourself. Personally, I want to know what times I’m setting and how they compare to others, because that tells me if I’m good enough or, if not, how much I need to improve. If this is a necessity, then track days alone will not scratch that competitive itch.

Now that we’ve established a few advantages and disadvantages of potentially choosing track days over a competitive race series, let’s have a look at some cars for sale on RaceCarsDirect.com that would be ideal for track days. These were picked from all adverts posted in 2020, priced at £10,000-£50,000:

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First up, is a Caterham 270R, used in the Caterham series. This car won the 270R championship in 2018, and was also run in the 2019 championship. Of course, there is no reason why you couldn’t run it yourself in the championship, but it could be the ideal track day toy. Priced at £16,000, it is the cheapest of the 6 cars on this list, and almost half the price of the most expensive, yet could be the most fun.

Caterhams are historically extremely reliable, and with just a couple of inexpensive modifications this car could be road legal. With the aerodynamics of a brick alongside a 5-speed manual to contend with, Caterhams are perfect for drivers to optimise car control and racing lines in, meaning a novice should improve drastically whilst behind the wheel of one of these.

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Next up, is a Volkswagen Fun Cup Evo 1 for £17,000. Whilst this beetle lookalike is a few years old, it has been impeccably maintained, and is a proven race-winner. The 740kg space-frame chassis is powered by a 1.8 litre VW petrol engine, good for 130bhp, mated to a 5-speed sequential paddle gearbox. This particular car comes with a whole heap of extras, and is capable of lapping Spa-Francorchamps in just over 3 minutes (around 10 seconds slower than the 270R). Once again, with an under-stressed engine, this car should be fairly bulletproof on the reliability standpoint, making it ideal for track day abuse.

The third car I have picked out from RaceCarsDirect.com is a 2017 Renault Clio Cup car. When new, this car would have cost just shy of £40,000, yet this 3-year-old example is just £19,500. The first front-wheel-drive automobile on this list, it also possesses nearly twice as much power as the last two: 217bhp compared to the 130bhp found in the 270R and the Fun Cup. The Clio weighs in at a shade over 1,000kg, and uses a 6-speed sequential paddle gearbox. Requiring a completely different set of car control skills (vs a rear-driven car) in order to drive quickly, it could be a perfect new challenge either for a novice or an experienced rear-wheel-drive racer looking to broaden his skillset.

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Crossing over the £20,000 price point, and we’re into some much more focused racers. Firstly, a Ginetta G40 GT5, prepared to the endurance specification. Utilising a 1.8 litre Ford Zetec engine and six-speed Quaife sequential, the GT5 boasts 155bhp. Whilst this is less than the Clio, so is the weight, at 805kg. Another big advantage for the GT5, is that the car wears Michelin slick tyres. This car is so focused, that it even has pneumatic air jacks!

If you feel that a GT5 isn’t quite quick enough, you could always upgrade to its bigger sibling, the G50 GT4. At £29,900, this is the most expensive car on this list, yet is still a steal at what is a fraction of the cost of a new one. This uses a 3.5L V6 engine, producing around 345bhp, mated to a Quaife 6-speed sequential. When new, this car was eligible for all GT4 events around the world, mixing with Mclarens, Porsches, Mercedes-AMGs and more, firmly holding its own against the global brands. This is a seriously quick car, all for less than £30,000.

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Finally, I’m going to bend the rules slightly, as this last car probably wouldn’t be eligible for normal track days. Instead, you’d have to look out for open wheel testing days. This is because you can buy a 2016 Tatuus Formula 4 car for £27,500. Admittedly, it’s in Dubai, so would probably cost another £2,000 to ship back to the UK, but still, less than £30k! This car was used for the F4 UAE competition, which is a regional competition that acts as one of the bottom rungs of the FIA Global Pathway, from karting to Formula 1. This car makes around 160bhp, yet weighs almost nothing due to the full carbon monocoque. A full carbon single seater. Doesn’t get much better than that.

So, would you be content with hammering track days, or would you need the temptation of trophies? And, given the choice, which of these six racing machines would you pick? Let me know in the comments below!

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