Factory developed track cars are more widely available than ever, and they appeal to the hardcore gene in every gearhead. But they’re not for everyone.
Humankind has arguably been tamed by modernity: Grocery stores, central air, cell phones, desk jobs and Frappuccinos. But our adventure and conquer genes are still there, albeit suppressed and dormant from time to time.
To activate our prehistoric genetic identities, some pursue extreme activities like cave diving, bull riding, or mountain climbing. Others get a regular dose of adrenaline and victory at the local gym.
And then there’s the performance automobile, which is perhaps the most accessible pathway to superhuman capabilities ever devised. That sense of conquering time and space, effortlessly covering ground at a rate that exponentially exceeds natural human limitations is a hell of a drug.
For those who’ve had a taste of the performance automotive high, or who have otherwise activated their adventure and conquer genes, it’s natural to walk into a dealership – chest puffed out – with the intention of wrangling the most extreme automobile available. Whereas normal folks see absurdity, we see the one with 500+ horsepower, impractical track tires, humongous brakes, aero wings, and lack of creature comforts, and think, “yup, this is me.”
But unlike previous automotive generations, these days it’s actually quite easy to get more than you bargained for. The truth is, many widely available factory track cars might just out-hardcore your hardcore.
For enthusiast drivers, the upside of a factory track car is compelling – they’re ready and willing to answer just about any performance demand the driver is capable of making. They barely break a sweat during spirited drives through canyons, and will probably make you quit before they do at the race track. Journalist reviews of this automotive genre tend to focus on these high points.
But that ultra-high performance ceiling and mechanical durability don’t come without compromise, sometimes in a major way. Before you decide the most extreme of modern performance cars are for you, best know what you’re getting into. Here are some of the everyday compromises and problems with actually running a factory track car.
The on-road comfort problem
Despite significant advancements in damping (suspension) technology, the relationship between race track performance and on-road comfort remains effectively zero sum. The compliance that insulates the driver and passengers from public road imperfections means dynamic compromise on the race track. And so when developing a factory track car, on-road comfort is a low engineering priority, if considered at all.
Chevy’s fifth-generation Camaro Z/28 is illustrative. If you believe you’re willing to endure on-road discomfort in favor of race track performance, a Z/28 will surely test that theory when driven over rough roads.
Commentary from passengers over the years has been informative and colorful:
“Is Chevy serious with this ride quality?” (They are.)
“Can the suspension be softened?” (It can’t.)
“Does it always ride like this?” (Yep.)
“Ouch.” (Right?)“ I’m good. Let me out.” (Bye.)
Factory track cars often assault your ears as well. The combination of loud semi-slick track tires and reduced sound deadening creates consistently annoying in-cabin tones and acoustics.
The performance accessibility problem
You no doubt want a factory track car to enjoy its performance attributes, but on public roads this may prove more difficult than imagined.
- Essentially no public road can stress the car sufficiently to access its high performance window. In simple terms, the car is bored and the driver senses it.
- It’ll be a real challenge to access that high performance window on public roads without the risk of public endangerment and (probably) arrest.
Fine, you say, you don’t want a factory track car to exploit it on the street anyways. Cool, but extracting maximum performance from the car in a track environment isn’t necessarily a cakewalk either. Remember you’re essentially buying race car technology, but probably don’t have a race engineering squad on call.
Take BMW’s (criminally underrated) M4 GTS, for example. To extract maximum track performance from the M4 preparatory work is required, most notably to its three-way adjustable coilovers. Steps include:
- Lowering the vehicle ride height to “track ride height setting” by adjusting the spring perches front and rear.
- Adjusting front and rear rebound settings via independent dials at all four corners. (Front adjustment involves the removal of rubber coverings in the engine bay for dial access. Rear adjustment requires the car to be jacked up and rear springs unloaded, and/or rear wheels removed.)
- Adjusting low speed compression settings front and rear (front wheels must come off).
- Adjusting high speed compression settings front and rear.
Oh, and there’s the front splitter that must be pulled out to maximize front downforce. Loosening 6 torx bolts under the splitter is how that’s done, but once in the lowered ride height (~3″ of front clearance) you’ll definitely have to jack up the front end to access them.
If adjusting the front splitter, the rear wing needs to be adjusted accordingly to balance the downforce front and rear. This is a more straightforward process, but not without the risk of damaging a spendy carbon wing.
All told, there are a couple thousand possible combinations of damper and aero settings. As far as setting it up for maximum performance at your local track, well, BMW provides generic track damper settings, but mostly that’s on you. Get the setup wrong and you’ll experience little to no advantage over a standard M4. Best of luck there.
The cost of consumables and components problem
Initial cost of ownership for some factory track cars isn’t exorbitant as compared to their more road-oriented counterparts. For example, the Corvette Grand Sport can be had for about the same price as a well-optioned Corvette Stingray Z51. The 1LE track package on the Camaro ZL1 comes at a premium of $7,500 over the standard ZL1, which, considering what you get, is a great value for the money.
Use these cars as intended, however, and the expenses definitely don’t stop post-purchase.
The sticky rubber on the ZL1 1LE runs about $1,500 per set, and she’s a big beast, so you’ll need a new set sooner than later with regular track use.
Run through (just) the front brake pads on the Grand Sport’s (or Z06’s) ceramic rotors and you’ll be staring at a $1,048 replacement cost (not including installation).
The rear OE Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires on the Grand Sport? About $1,000 pre-installation.
Drive a factory track car exclusively on the street and you’ll mostly steer clear of these costs. But of course, then why own a factory track car?
The driver skill problem
Novice mountain climbers don’t start their careers with El Capitan, and similarly most enthusiast drivers have no business with extreme track versions of what are already extreme performance cars. Don’t let the wide availability fool you – these cars simply aren’t for everyone. Both from use, enjoyment, and safety standpoints.
From any realistic, objective perspective, the track-focused variants of modern performance cars are a match for track day enthusiasts and club racers with years of experience, and dozens of events.
But if your adventure and conquer genes are on boil, and wrangling the beast proves irresistible, just be sure to start slow. Modern factory track cars are no joke, and just might make you question your level of hardcore.