Despite a global fan base, motorsport – even away from the rarefied extremes of F1 – remains a closed shop for most. Even if you have the requisite talent, the costs needed to campaign a car in low-level events can run into the tens of thousands of pounds.
Thankfully, there is a way for those on nearly any budget to get a taste of all-out track thrills. Trackdays – at which drivers can turn up in any car and spend the day driving the wheels off it – have grown in popularity in recent years. So popular in fact that there is now a range of cars being offered made specifically for the task.
From the Ariel Atom, to the BAC Mono, they all follow a similar recipe: single seat, light weight and a price tag and lack of practicality that excludes them from being anything more than posh weekend toys.
However, there are a number of cars that serve up driver thrills on the race circuit without being so single minded – or expensive. Whether you need four seats to take the kids to school or just want a sporty car you can use every day without breaking the bank, there is something for you hidden in the second-hand classifieds.
So, without further ado, here are our top five recommendations for a trackday toy for under £5,000.
The BMW M3 has long ruled the roost in the fast compact saloon sector. It has the premium image, four-up practicality and luxury trappings of its lesser 3 Series siblings, but remains a true performance car at its core. Unfortunately £5,000 won’t get you into an original model, but will buy you the less desirable, though no less capable E36. With a 3.0-litre straight-six engine (enlarged to 3.2-litres in later models) and a well balanced, rear-drive chassis, the M3 will serve up big thrills both on road and track.
Search for a used BMW M3 here
A small Japanese convertible wouldn’t, at first glance, be the ideal starting point for a trackday thriller. However, while it won’t be as fast as the M3 (being powered by a lowly 1.8-litre four cylinder engine), nor corner as quickly, the MX-5 provides a driving experience all of its own thanks to its modest levels of grip and keen handling balance. If you’ve spent your driving career in hatchbacks and are considering a step up to sports cars, this friendly two-seater is an ideal place to learn the ropes.
Search for a used Mazda MX-5 here
Nissan 300ZX (Z32)
A much more serious proposition than the cheeky Mazda, the 300ZX was a technologically advanced sports car, featuring rear wheel steering and a powerful turbocharged 3.0-litre V6 engine. Its age and Nissan branding – which meant it was less desirable than some of its more upmarket contemporaries – mean that it is now a bargain. Don’t think it’s past it, though, as the 300ZX will comfortably beat its successor, the handsome 350Z, in a straight line drag race. Factor in the removable targa roof and Nissan’s bullet-proof reputation for reliability and you have a tempting trackday proposition.
Search for a used Nissan here
While performance car enthusiasts will lean towards the quicker Cooper S and John Cooper Works models, the truth is that every modern MINI is capable of raising a smile on its driver’s face. The combination of responsive steering, minimal body roll and foursquare stance means that the MINI really does live up that old ‘handles like a go-kart’ clich?. There’s plenty to choose from in the classifieds too, with many having been cherished by former owners.
Search for a used Mini Cooper here
Look past the image: the big wings and gold wheels may shout boy racer, but the Subaru Impeza certainly has the walk to back up the talk. There’s a wide range to choose from, from the mildly sensible WRX, to the vindaloo-spec STI, with a plethora of special editions in between. Whichever one you plump for, you’ll get permanent four-wheel drive, a burbling boxer engine and the rugged indestructibility of a desert-bashing 4×4 all packed into a compact and practical saloon body. Just be prepared to become the hero of all the hooded youths that congregate outside your local McDonalds late at night.
Search for a used Subaru Impreza here