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6 Great Track Cars for Performance Drivers

Lapping in the family sedan getting old? We asked veteran racer and ProFormance instructor Dave Conover to help you choose the best track cars to start performance driving.

If you’ve taken ProFormance Driving School’s One-Day High Performance Driving Experience, chances are you want to come back for more. Having seen what you can do in a car – and what your car can do – it’s normal to want more track time. Some of you will even go on to get your racing license and compete. But even if you’re not going for the podium, you might think that the Camry or Silverado in your driveway isn’t up to the job.

ProFormance instructor Dave Conover often gets asked, “What’s an affordable track car?”

“When someone gets out of the car after their first session, they’re thinking of taking things to the next level,’ says Dave. Some clients think immediately of Porsche or Ferrari but, splendid as they are, those track cars come with a couple of daunting issues: they are expensive to buy and maintain, and they are hard to learn to control if you’re not experienced. “You’ll want a car that’s affordable that you can learn with.”

Mazda MX-5 Miata

One of the most popular track cars ever made, the Mazda Miata is often recommended as an ideal first track machine. “It’s a driver’s car,” says Dave, who spent years racing Spec Miata. “The trick to the Miata is not a whole lot of horsepower, but it’s got a really sophisticated suspension on it. You drive with your foot on the throttle, and use the suspension to maximize what you do on the track.

Mazda miata track cars racing

“If you’re old school, he notes, “it’s one of the best cars to shift – it’s got a sweet transmission. The latest generation of automatic is excellent, though.”

Dave calls the Miata a momentum car. “It teaches you how to maximize every inch of the track to get the most out of the car. You have no horsepower to make up the difference. I go out in my spec Miata and bruise the egos of Porsche drivers all day long. They’ll pass you on the straightaway, but you’re driving up their tailpipe on the corner.”

Advantages: inexpensive compared to performance cars, fun to drive, and there is a huge support community and plenty of used and aftermarket parts.

Disadvantages: not everyone fits in one.

Toyota GT-86/Subaru BRZ/Scion FRS

Toyota GT-86 - one of the best track cars

Basically the same car under three different marques, the GT86 is an affordable delight to drive. Like the Miata, it’s a front-engine, rear-wheel-drive car, and also like the Miata, it’s not overloaded with horsepower, making it a good choice for novice track drivers.

It also offers a bit more imposing profile than the Miata. “Sometimes you get into the ego thing,” says Dave. “A person wants something a bit more ‘manly.’  The GT-86/BRZ/FRS is a good choice for them.”

Mazda 3 (2005)

Mazda 3 parked

It doesn’t look it, but according to Dave Conover, the Mazda 3 is “wicked fast.” Front-wheel drive gives it a different feel than the Miata or the GT86. The Mazdaspeed 3, a faster and sportier version of the hatchback, is especially attractive but more expensive.

A lot of people like to trick out Mazda 3s, which means there is a wide array of aftermarket parts and upgrades available. This is helpful as you advance as a driver and want your car to stay a bit ahead of you. The right upgrades help track cars do what they weren’t designed to do originally, allowing drivers to stay challenged as their skills develop.

VW Golf GTI

VW GTI - favorite among track cars, on road surrounded by leaves

The VW Golf GTI is another well-known driver’s car, and is extremely popular on the track. “It’s very capable, says Dave. “It’s got a little more horsepower than the Miata. Those who don’t want a Miata or Mazda 3, but can’t afford a BMW, will find that they can get into a GTI and still be cool.”

The huge aftermarket is a bonus.

As a front-wheel-drive car, the GTI requires a different set of driving skills than the Miata or GT86. One benefit for Northwest drivers is that it’s a little more cooperative on rainy days. “If you put too much throttle on, you get a little earlier warning, so the back end isn’t going to spin out on you.”

96-2003 Mustang

“If you want the V8 power, the 96-03 Mustang is one of the more affordable options that will satisfy your ego. There is a huge amount of aftermarket parts available, so you can build it up and have fun as you learn how to drive.”

Honda Civic

“The Civic is very popular with the younger generation, which helps drive the parts market. If you buy the car, build it up, develop, you end up with a car you can race – or sell.”

For more information on upgrading your track car to get more out of performance driving, check out How to Set up a Track Car Without Going Broke.

Next time Chief Instructor Don Kitch, Jr. will offer more insight into choosing your first track car.

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