Weekend Warriors: The Best Off-The-Shelf Cars For A Day At The Race Track

Taking your car to the race track for a day of high-speed fun is extremely popular here in the U.S. and around the world. So popular, in fact, that car manufacturers even build high-performance vehicles made specifically for that purpose.

All you need to enjoy some hot laps at your local race track are a helmet, some basic vehicle prep and maintenance, and of course, a killer ride! Sure, you can take your everyday, run-of-the-mill Toyota Camry to the track, but trust us, you’ll want to bring one of these track weapons instead. Here are some wicked track day cars for tearing it up at your local circuit.

Honda Civic Type R

The Japanese car manufacturer Honda presents the Honda Civic...
Michael Debets/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images
Michael Debets/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

The Honda Civic Type R is the most exciting front-wheel-drive car on the market today. With 306-horsepower, a six-speed manual transmission and a sublimely balanced chassis, this small hatchback is a true track-day giant killer.

The Type R has been proving itself extremely successful in Touring Car racing and endurance racing, but if your aspirations are more modest than winning World Championships, the Civic Type R is a great track-day option straight from the dealer showroom. And with huge aftermarket support, it’s possible to make it even faster. Don’t let the badge or size fool you, this car is a serious speed machine.

Mercedes-AMG GT R

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Martyn Lucy/Getty Images
Martyn Lucy/Getty Images

The Mercedes AMG GT R is the hardcore version of the hardcore version of the already hardcore AMG GT. Confused? Don’t be, all you need to know is that the AMG GT R is a track-focused brute with 577-horsepower from a twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V8. That’s good enough to get you off the start line and to 60-mph in under 3-seconds.

You’ll be pleased to know that the GT R is about more than just horsepower. The car makes use of a lot of carbon-fiber, making it lighter than the standard GT. It also comes equipped with adjustable suspension so you can fine-tune the car for every track you visit.

Jaguar XE SV Project 8

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Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for Jaguar Land Rover
Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for Jaguar Land Rover

Four-door sedans don’t usually spring to mind when we think about track-day cars, but the Jaguar XE SV Project 8 proves that a family sedan can be a raucous drive on the track.

A big wing and front splitter, with those wide wheel arches, certainly make the Project 8 look like a race car, but it’s the 5.0-liter supercharged V8 with 592-horsepower that makes it go like one. Track tuned suspension and two “Track Modes” make this car a perfect option for stopping by the race track on the way back from the morning school run.

BMW M2 Competition

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BMW
BMW

The M2 Competition is the best track-day car that BMW makes today. Sure, the M3/4 and M5 may be faster, but the M2 is lighter, more responsive and offers a more rewarding driving experience.

Powered by a 405-horsepower 3.0-liter straight six engine with two turbochargers, the M2 sprints and dances its way around the race track with a level of feel and enjoyment that is rare in cars today. It feels like a modern version of the original E30 M3 and a great successor to the BMW 1M coupe from a few years back. Proof that BMW hasn’t lost any of its magic.

Nissan GT-R NISMO

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Nissan
Nissan

Nissan’s R35 generation GTR has been available in the US for over 10 years. In those 10 years, the GTR has evolved from supercar-killer to an actual supercar.

The NISMO version takes all that’s great about the standard car and pairs it with some tasty parts from Nissan’s racing and performance division. The GTR NISMO has the same 3.8-Liter V6 but with a pair of turbochargers from the GT3 race car. That gives the NISMO a full 600-horsepower and with carbon-ceramic brakes and lightweight carbon-fiber parts, the GTR NISMO becomes a serious race track missile.

McLaren Senna

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McLaren
McLaren

Forget everything you thought you knew about speed, the McLaren Senna throws all of it away. This car is a masterclass in track performance and what’s possible from a street-able car. It’s the Large Hadron Collider of track day cars, exposing new physics in the quest for speed.

A 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 puts 789-horsepower to the rear wheels and 1,760 pounds of aerodynamic downforce keeps the Senna glued to the track. When you name a car after one of the greatest and fastest Formula 1 drivers that ever lived, it had better live up to the hype. The McLaren Senna does that, and then some.

BAC Mono

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BAC
BAC

The BAC Mono isn’t a thinly disguised racing car, it just is one. Think of it as a road-legal Formula 3 race car with headlights. With a 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine putting out 280-horsepower, it’s not the most powerful track car you can buy, but horsepower is not the point with this car. Weighing right around 1,300 pounds, the BAC Mono has the same power to weight ratio as the Bugatti Veyron, making it excruciatingly fast.

The BAC Mono has only one seat, so it’s not the most practical car you can get, but when driving is that much fun, who cares about practicality!

Ariel Atom

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Ariel North America
Ariel North America

Everything you need to go fast and nothing else to get in the way, that’s the Ariel Atom. The Atom 4 utilizes the same tubular frame as all previous Atoms, but ups the speed by making use of Honda’s K20C1 turbocharged four-cylinder engine. For those that know Honda, that’s the same engine used by the Civic Type R. In the Atom, the engine makes 320-horsepower and that’s good enough for a 0-60 mph time of 2.8 seconds.

In the case of the Atom 4, less is more, and its minimalist approach to cars and performance means that you get more speed and a more immersive experience with less car to dull the senses.

Porsche GT3 RS

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Porsche
Porsche

Porsche has built its name around motorsports and race track performance and has been making customer cars for the track since the 1950s. The GT3 RS is a lightweight stripped-out high-horsepower version of the stellar GT3.

A naturally aspirated 4.0-liter flat six-cylinder engine cranks out 520-horsepower and the mechanical symphony of noises that occur at the 9,500 RPM redline is worth the price of admission on this ride. Nothing drives or feels like a Porsche. The rear-engine nature of the 911 chassis shouldn’t work at all on the track, but thanks to Porsche’s 50+ years of engineering experience, it’s one of the best cars in the world.

Caterham Seven 620R

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Caterham
Caterham

What happens when you put a supercharger on a running shoe? You get the Caterham Seven 620R. Caterham has been building hot versions of the iconic Lotus Seven roadster since 1973 and the 620R is the hottest of them all.

The Caterham Seven is small, and climbing into it really does feel like lacing up a high-quality running shoe. But the integration of driver and car is second to none and the diminutive sports car quickly becomes an extension of the driver. A 310-horsepower supercharged four-cylinder provides plenty of motivation, but it’s the chassis balance, handling and outright grip that makes this car so astounding.

KTM X-Bow

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KTM
KTM

The X-Bow is a performance car from Austrian motorcycle manufacturer KTM that uses a 2.0-liter turbo engine from Audi with 300-horsepower. You can have it in four different version including a GT4 version which is eligible for professional racing.

How does a motorcycle company get into making track-day cars? Why are they using an Audi engine and not one of their own? Answers to these questions are complicated, but what isn’t complicated is the performance and fun factor of this car. It’s built to put a smile on your face, and despite the aggressive looks and racing pedigree, the car is extremely approachable and drivers of every skill level will find it truly exciting on track.

McLaren P1 GTR

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McLaren
McLaren

In 2015, McLaren brought back the GTR designation to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their Le Mans win with the storied F1 GTR. The car they chose to bestow the GTR label was the mighty P1, thus creating the ultimate track day McLaren, until the Senna arrived.

With 986-horsepower, racing slicks and advanced aerodynamics including the use of F1-style DRS (drag reduction system), the P1 GTR was, and still is, one of the fastest track-only cars on the planet. Lazante Limited, the racing team that won the 1995 Le Mans 24 Hour race with McLaren, can offer you a complete road-legal conversion for your P1 GTR allowing you to drive it on the road.

Ferrari 488 Pista

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Ferrari
Ferrari

The Ferrari 488 Pista is the latest generation of track-focused mid-engined V8 supercar from a company that lives and breathes racing. A twin-turbocharged 3.9-liter V8 makes 710-horsepower and can rocket the Pista from a standstill to 60 mph in 2.8 seconds. But the horsepower is only half of the story.

The 488 Pista benefits for the removal of a lot of stuff that dampens performance on the track. Sound deadening, floor mats, radio, door panels, glove box are all gone, what you get instead is a driving experience that’s visceral and raucous, and the track-focused suspension and sticky tires make the 488 Pista a true riot on the race track.

Porsche GT2 RS

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Porsche
Porsche

The Porsche GT2 RS is the king of the speed hill at the German manufacturer. It’s what happens when you take an already mental GT3 RS, add a pair of turbochargers and turn the insanity to 11. This car is extra.

700-horsepower, 0-60 mph is 2.6 seconds, and a top speed of over 211 mph. This is the car that’s currently on a world tour with Porsche breaking track records everywhere, and it knows who you are, where you live and it’s coming to find you! Past GT2s were known as “widow-makers,” this new car is still scary fast, but the engineering underneath has made it a much more predictable car to drive fast.

Brabham BT62

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Brabham
Brabham

Some context first, Brabham is an Australian car manufacturer owned by professional racing driver David Brabham. David also happens to be the youngest son of Sir Jack Brabham, the three-time Formula 1 Champion and founder of the Brabham racing team. So the car’s got racing DNA running all the way through it.

The BT62 is a track-only supercar that pairs a 700-horsepower V8 with an extremely lightweight chassis to deliver one of the purest and most engaging track driving experiences short of a full Le Mans racer. A massive wing and underbody diffuser add 2,600 pounds of downforce to the equation, meaning that you’ll never go wanting for high-speed grip.

Chevrolet Corvette ZR1

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Chevrolet
Chevrolet

Extremely fast, extremely loud and an extremely challenging car to get the best out of, the Corvette ZR1 is all about extremes. With 755-horsepower from a supercharged V8 and a big wing and splitter to help keep it all on the track, the ZR1 is one of the most exciting, and fastest track cars you can buy.

Things get really “spicy” at the limits of what this car can do, and it becomes challenging to reign in the beast. But that challenge is extremely rewarding, and taming this thug is one of the great human endeavors, like climbing Everest, or trekking to the South Pole.

Ford Mustang Shelby GT350R

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Ford
Ford

The history between Shelby and Ford goes all the way back to the 1960s when Carroll Shelby started putting Ford V8s in Cobras and ran the Le Mans-winning GT40 racing program. Since then, the Shelby name and badge has become synonymous with high-performance and track-focused ability.

The Ford Shelby GT350R is a track-day weapon with one of the great naturally aspirated engines of modern times. That engine is a 5.2-liter flat-plane crank V8 with 526-horsepower and a cool code name, Voodoo. Magnetic dampers, carbon-fiber wheels and a sweet aerodynamics package make this pony car fly around the track.

Lamborghini Huracan Performante

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Lamborghini
Lamborghini

The Huracan Performante is the high-performance version of the already high-performance Lamborghini Huracan. This car debuted with the force of an asteroid impact in 2017 and shocked everyone with its outright speed and handling abilities by not just breaking, but completely destroying track records across the globe. It’s most famous record was a 6-minute 52-second lap of the Nurburgring, making it the fastest road-legal car, at the time.

A 630-horsepower V10 powers the Lambo and active-aerodynamics make it a high-tech force to be reckoned with. It’s performance at the Nurburgring has since been eclipsed, but its V10 wail and driving excitement might never be matched.

NIO EP9

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NIO
NIO

The NIO EP9 represents a quantum shift in terms of track-focused cars. Unlike its contemporaries, the EP9 is an all-electric hypercar with over 1,300 combined horsepower from four motors. NIO, an automotive company based in Shanghai, China, is also involved in racing and currently compete in the Formula E Series, an all-electric open-wheel racing series that races on city street circuits around the globe.

The EP9 is fitted with active suspension and underbody aero-tunnels which help develop vast amounts of downforce and allow the car to produce over 3.0 Gs of lateral cornering force. You’ll definitely feel that!

Porsche 718 Cayman GT4

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Porsche
Porsche

Porsche’s 718 Cayman is one of the most well-balanced, easy to drive fast, fun on any road cars available today. The GT4 version of the Cayman takes all that is good and righteous about the Cayman and adds a bunch of track and racing focused goodies.

First the motor, it’s a proper Porsche-mill, a 4.0-liter flat six-cylinder engine with 414-horsepower. The chassis is what you’d expect from a track-day car, stiff, precise and adjustable and features dynamic engine and transmission mounts. And because the 718 Cayman is mid-engine, the balance is sweet and the car feels like it rotates around your hips.