The Top 5: Track Day Edition Supercars
If you’re searching for a supercar that you can drive on the street and take to the track, look no further. This list runs down the Top 5 hard-core supercars designed for the track. Eligible models were produced within the past 5 years and were track-oriented versions of “normal” supercars, so you won’t find the Ariel Atom or Caterham Superlight on this list. For the purpose of equalizing this comparison, I will operate under the assumption that all of these cars are available as new models. Enjoy!
5: Audi R8 GT
Estimated Base Price: $200,000
Engine: 5.2L V10
Output: 560 bhp & 398 lb-ft
Curb Weight: 3,362 lbs
0-60 mph: 3.1 sec
Top Speed: 199 mph
Nurburgring Lap Time: 7:34
Named after the legendary Le Mans winning race car, the Audi R8 first hit the streets in 2008 and it set the automotive world on fire. It was perhaps the first legitimate challenger to the Porsche 911 as the best supercar that can be driven daily. For the first few years, it was available with a 4.2L V8 from the RS4 sports sedan, but was later offered with a 5.2L V10 based on the engine in the Lamborghini Gallardo. The mid-engined sports car features an aluminum monocoque and has been widely praised for the handling characteristics of the chassis. The sideblade behind the doors is a notable aesthetic characteristic.
In 2010, Audi released a limited run version of the R8 called the R8 GT. This was a lighter, more hardcore version of the V10 R8 designed for the true performance enthusiast. Thanks to software tuning, the GT made a little extra horsepower and torque, but there weren’t any drastic changes to the Lamborghini-derived powerplant. The suspension was changed entirely to a traditional coilover setup that can be manually adjusted and provides camber for better grip in high G-force corners. Despite the gains in power and improved suspension, the most notable change between the base R8 and the GT was weight loss. Audi put the car on a pretty substantial diet- cutting 220 pounds. Increased use of lightweight materials such as carbon fiber provided much of the weight loss. In order to make the car visually distinctive from the standard V10 R8, Audi gave the GT a carbon fiber rear spoiler, a rear diffuser, and covered the interior with aluminum, carbon fiber, and Alcantara. A race package included a roll cage, fire extinguisher, and racing harnesses for those customers that were more serious about taking it to the track.
The lighter curb weight certainly made the R8 GT more nimble in the corners than the standard car, but there were a few things holding it back from ending up higher on this list. First, it retains the Quattro system, while the other cars on this list have a more purist-friendly RWD layout. For a track-focused supercar, the GT should be louder than it is- the Lamborghini Superleggera with the same motor sounds much better. The performance numbers also suggest that Audi didn’t go quite as far as they could have. Why couldn’t they find another 2 ft-lbs of torque to give it an even 400? They couldn’t come up with another 1 mph to join the 200mph club? It makes one wonder if the car was prevented from matching its full potential because the Volkswagen Motor Group didn’t want it to overshadow the Lamborghini Superleggera.
4: Dodge Viper ACR
Estimated Base Price: $100,000
Engine: 8.4L V10
Output: 600bhp & 560 lb-ft
Curb Weight: 3,420 lbs
0-60 mph: 3.4 seconds
Top Speed: 180 (drag limited by the aerodynamic modifications)
Nurburgring Lap Time: 7:12
The Dodge Viper has always been respected as a hardcore beast of a car. It was introduced in 1992 with an 8.0L V10. The Viper was always an engine-first car- the interior was best described as Spartan. Air conditioning was offered as an option starting in 1994 (it wasn’t even available for 2 years of production.) As far as putting the power down to the road goes, the traction and stability control systems were actually quite simple- the driver’s right foot and hands. Needless to say, those early Vipers were quite a handful for drivers of all skill levels.
Fast forward to 2008, and the Viper was as hardcore as ever. Engine output was up to 600hp and 560 lb/ft of torque from a slightly larger 8.4L V10 (the original car made 400hp and 465 lb/ft). The handling was much more sophisticated with more feedback and a more neutral balance. It was borderline luxurious, now coming with ABS standard (still no traction or stability control though). That being said, it was anything but an overweight, soft, lazy pig. It would hit 60 in only 3.5 seconds and topped out at 202 mph. For most, that would be enough. Fortunately for us, the folks at SRT and Dodge decided that the already serious performance machine wasn’t hardcore enough.
In 2010, Dodge launched the ACR (American Club Racer) version of the Viper. The engine wasn’t modified from the base car, so the power and torque figures remained the same. The ACR did feature substantial aerodynamic, suspension, and brake modifications that make it a true track day car. Although it is street-legal, the ACR definitely is most at home at a racetrack. The coilover suspension is fully adjustable for ride-height and rebound, and StopTech brake rotors with Brembo calipers provide substantially improved braking performance over the base car. The lightweight wheels came out of the factory wrapped in massive (295/30 in the front 345/30 in the back) nearly-slick Michelin Pilot Sport Cup tires. Perhaps most importantly, the ACR creates 1,000 pounds of downforce at 150 mph courtesy of a massive carbon fiber rear wing and front splitter. An optional hardcore pack (as if the car wasn’t hardcore already!!!) removes the A/C, sound deadening, and radio, resulting in an additional 40 pounds of weight saving (total of 80 pounds compared to the standard Viper).
It is clear that the Viper ACR is built to be an absolute monster on the track. Dodge kept it street legal so owners could drive it to their local raceway, race it, and drive it home as opposed to trailering it. However, this track-biased design does has its drawbacks when it comes to street driving. Although the suspension can be adjusted to be more lenient on the road, the ride is anything but comfortable. Interior luxuries simply don’t exist, and due to the intense lightening the car undergoes, the cabin has a propensity to be both hot and loud. Finally, the lack of any driver aids (other than ABS) make it an intimidating car to drive quickly for the average buyer. Unless your last name is Vettel or McNish, it is going to be very difficult to really wring out the full potential of the ACR on the track. For that reason, the Viper finds itself in 4th place. It is a bit too far on the track side of the spectrum and would be hard to drive daily. On the other hand, the supercars ahead of it are just useable enough that some people do actually drive them daily. Although the price makes it tempting as a winner, I’d rather have a car that cost significantly more, but was able to be driven all week long- not just on the weekends at the track.
3. Lamborghini Gallardo Superleggera
Estimated Base Price: $225,000
Engine: 5.0L V10
Output: 523 hp & 376 lb-ft
Curb Weight: 3,434 lbs
0-60 mph: 3.8 seconds
Top Speed: 196 mph
Nurburgring Lap Time: 7:46
In 2003, Lamborghini launched the Gallardo as a companion to their flagship V12 supercar, the Murcielago. Powered by a mid-mounted 5.0L V10, it was frequently considered the “baby Lambo” when compared to the Murcielago, but the Gallardo is definitely a supercar in its own right. It offered a more direct competition to Ferrari’s mid-engine V8 range (360, 430, and currently the 458 Italia) as well as the reigning everyday supercar, the Porsche 911 Turbo. Despite having two fewer cylinders than the Murcielago, the first-generation Gallardo could hit 60 mph in 3.9 seconds and keep going all the way to a top speed of 192 mph.
As has become the trend in the 21st Century, Lamborghini decided to build a hardcore, track-oriented version of the Gallardo. Named the Superleggera (“super light”), this version of the Gallardo was launched as a 2008 model and featured significant weight savings (surprise surprise!) over the base Gallardo. The engineers at Lamborghini managed to take 126 pounds off the base car by maximizing the use of lightweight materials. A carbon fiber engine cover, spoiler, and exterior mirrors as well as a polycarbonate rear window in place of the glass one on the standard car are a few examples of the measures taken to lighten the car. Whereas the ACR retained the same engine as the base car, Lamborghini managed to squeeze an extra 11 horsepower from the 5.0L V10 thanks to software tweaks and a larger intake manifold.
The Gallardo Superleggera was available with a 6-speed manual or Lamborghini’s 6-speed e-gear automated manual at no additional cost. Pirelli P Zero Corsa tires are wrapped around 19 inch wheels as standard, and carbon-ceramic brakes are available as a $15,600 option. Now that Lamborghini is owned by the Volkswagen Group, the notoriously unreliable electronics and HVAC system that plagued Lamborghinis in the past are no more. They are instead replaced by Audi-influenced systems that work correctly. This is a good way for the Volkswagen Group to blend its very German technical ability with the Italian passion of Lamborghini.
The best aspect of the Superleggera, by far, is the noise. The V10 absolutely sings all the way up to the 8,000 rpm redline, and rev-matching downshifts provide a glorious sound. For owners with the e-gear transmission, the launch control is sure to provide a quick start and/or a lot of attention! This is one of the first Lamborghinis that one can live with as a more frequently used vehicle- if not a daily driver. It is a bit softer and more similar to the base version than others on this list such as the Viper ACR and Ferrari 430 Scuderia. The German influence is notable, but the Volkswagen Group has made sure to avoid messing with the essential Lamborghini characteristics- namely the sound and aggressive styling of the body and interior.
On the negative side, the brakes lacked feel compared to those on the Superleggera’s competitors like the Porsche GT3 and Ferrari 430. On a related note, the carbon ceramics run $15,600. That’s pretty expensive considering Porsche’s superb PCCBs only cost $8,800. For most buyers, however, all the Superleggera has to do is make a good noise on highway on-ramps and attract a bit of attention as you pull up to your destination. In that sense, the Superleggera is a fantastic supercar with a hint of track-day engineering to go along with it.
2: Ferrari 430 Scuderia
Estimated Base Price: $250,000
Engine: 4.3L V8
Output: 503 bhp & 347 lb-ft
Curb Weight: 3150 lbs
0-60 mph: 3.6 seconds
Top Speed: mph
Nurburgring Lap Time: 7:39
In 2004, Ferrari launched the F430- the successor to the 360 Modena in a long line of mid-engine V8 powered Ferraris. The design was considered more of an evolution on the 360 than a brand new one, but the 430 managed to gain significant downforce over the 360 while maintaining the same drag coefficient. Influences from other contemporary Ferraris as well as vintage models were apparent from the Enzo-looking taillights to the vents in the front bumper that are reminiscent of Phil Hill’s 156 “sharknose” Formula 1 car. Although elements of the chassis were carryovers from the 360, the 4.3L V8 was brand new. Despite gaining .7L from the previous V8, the engine only increased in weight by about 9 pounds. A new feature of particular interest was the “Manettino” knob on the steering wheel which drivers can use to select from 5 settings that set up the suspension, throttle response, traction control, and differential for different applications such as Race and Sport.
In 2007, F1 legend Michael Schumacher unveiled the much-anticipated successor to the 360 Challenge Stradale (the hard-core version of the 360), the 430 Scuderia. Like the Porsche and Lamborghini, weight loss was a major focus of the project. Ferrari engineers managed to cut 220 pounds off of the standard 430. Like Lamborghini, they used lightweight materials to put the F430 on a diet. A Lexan rear window and heavy use of carbon fiber contribute to the weight savings, as does the omission of carpeting and titanium wheel nuts (an example of the dedication to lightness). Unlike the F430, the Scuderia wasn’t available with a manual transmission; owners were forced to have the F1 style paddle-shifters. For this car, however, shift speed was increased from 150 milliseconds on the standard F430 to 60 milliseconds- not far behind what Formula 1 cars were doing several years prior. An extra 20 horsepower was squeezed out of the V8 thanks to a different intake manifold and a new exhaust. Not only does this provide a bit more power for the driver, but also a much louder sound for everyone else.
The 430 Scuderia provided Ferrari with an opportunity to showcase their advancements in racing technology on a streetcar available to regular buyers. They certainly accomplished this with the faster transmission and refined Manettino that was installed on the 430 Scuderia. The focus on track-oriented performance is fantastic. Unlike Lamborghini, which attempted to hide how they saved weight in the Superleggera, Ferrari decided to make it obvious. The exposed welds, lack of carpeting, and aggressive seats remind people that the Scuderia is designed with track-day performance in mind. It goes like stink, and makes a great noise while doing it. The stripes on the hood are a fantastic touch. Ferrari definitely built an extraordinary machine. So why is it in 2nd place? There are two primary reasons- the first of which is the unavailability of a manual transmission. Although Ferrari has the best paddle-shifting technology in the consumer car industry and the transmission provides a link between the Scuderia and Ferrari’s F1 program, I’m still partial to a 3-pedal setup. Even if it I’m a bit slower through the gears and a bit less precise on downshifts, I still prefer to manipulate the transmission myself. The satisfaction of hitting a perfect heel-toe downshift is huge, and it allows the driver to feel like they’re taking a more significant part in the driving experience. The second factor is the price. Although more or less in line with the Audi and Lamborghini, when it came down to splitting hairs between the top 2 cars, the difference in price was the clincher.
1: Porsche 911 (997) GT3 RS
Estimated Base Price: $130,000
Engine: 3.8L Flat-6
Output: 450 bhp & 317 lb-ft
Curb Weight: 3020 lbs
0-60 mph: 3.8 seconds
Top Speed: 193 mph
Nurburgring Lap Time: 7:33
In 2004, Porsche launched the 997 generation of the 911 as a 2005 model. The 997 was the second generation of watercooled Porsches, following the 996. Variants included the C2 (2-wheel drive Carrera) and C2S as well as the Carrera 4 and 4S with all-wheel drive. The Turbo and GT3 followed a few years later. As is the Porsche way, this generation of 911 wasn’t so much a new car as an evolution on previous designs. It maintains a similar silhouette to the original 911 and retains the rear-engine layout. Perhaps the most apparent visual difference between the outgoing 996 and the 997 are the headlights- for the 997, Porsche returned to the teardrop design featured on the air-cooled 911’s that preceded the 996. The 997 was available with a dual-clutch paddle shifting transmission (PDK) or a 6-speed manual.
In 2008, Porsche revised the 997, creating the generation within a generation commonly known as the 997.2 or 997 mk2. The 997.2 featured an improved suspension, aesthetic alterations to head and taillights, direct injection, and an increase in engine displacement.
Ever since the 1973 Carrera RS, Porsche has built lightweight/track-oriented versions of their flagship sports car. The 964 RS and RS America (for the US market) were other significant hardcore 911s in the company’s history. The 996 GT3 and GT3 RS were the first lightweight variants from the watercooled era and featured an engine based on the one used in the GT1 race car. While the GT3 was a sportier version of the 911 Carrera S, the RS went another step in terms of weight reduction and track-oriented modifications. Centerlock wheels and an available roll cage provided a direct link between the street car and the racing versions of the 911. They also homologated aerodynamics and other features for the race car which Porsche ran in the GT2/3 classes that require the race cars to be directly derived from street versions.
The anticipated successor to the 996 GT3 RS arrived in 2007 as the 997 GT3 RS. It was available in orange and green, in addition to black and silver, which provide a throwback look to the green and orange RS models from the ‘70s. The name itself gives away its purpose- RS stands for rennsport which is German for “racing sport.” It featured carbon fiber seats and a full roll cage for the European market. Compared to the GT3, a hardcore car itself, the RS drops 44 pounds despite gaining a wider stance thanks to rear fenders from the Carrera 4. The rear wing is made of carbon fiber and can be adjusted based on the downforce needs of the driver.
The 3.6L flat-six screams all the way up to its 8400 rpm redline and makes 415 horsepower. Although significantly down on power when compared to other cars on this list, the 911 more than makes up for it with lightness and a brilliant chassis. As is the case with all 911’s, the chassis is both responsive and communicative. The steering wheel helps the driver feel exactly where the limit of grip is, although that isn’t something you’ll find on public roads. The Michelin Pilot Sport Cup tires provide an insane amount of grip and you’ll need to head to a track to properly (and legally) explore the limit.
In 2010, Porsche launched the updated version of the GT3 RS based on the 997.2 updates. It got a slightly larger 3.8L engine that made 435 horsepower. The wing size was slightly increased to create 374 pounds of downforce at 186 mph. Once again, the commitment to refining the car and cutting as much weight as possible is very visible. That huge wing is shaped differently in the center compared to the sides because the engineers at the wind tunnel noticed that the air traveled over those parts of the wing differently. Porsche’s carbon ceramic brakes (PCCB) are an option that nearly every owner should select. They grab hard and last for lap after lap- well after the competition’s brakes have faded severely. In line with track-focused Porsches, the steering is accurate and quick- allowing drivers to consistently hit apexes on tracks and back-roads.
Both sub-generations of the 997 GT3 RS are truly fantastic cars. They feature great brakes and aerodynamics. Perhaps the best part of owning a GT3 RS is the strong connection between the road car and the racing versions (the GT3 RSR and GT3 Cup). Aspects of the aerodynamics, among other performance features, are designed with racing in mind. Engines over the years have been developed to achieve maximum performance within motorsports regulations for GT racing. Another huge advantage of the 997.2 GT3 RS is that it is only available with a manual transmission. This is one of many indications that this is a true enthusiast’s car- not a garage queen or status symbol for wealthy athletes. More often than other similar supercars, GT3 RS drivers are motorsports enthusiasts and track-day drivers themselves. The final nail in the coffin was the price. The GT3 RS is competitive in terms of performance with the other cars on this list, and is the 2nd cheapest. Unlike the Viper, which comes in as the most inexpensive, the 911 is more refined and is a car that you can drive daily in (relative) comfort. The 911 is the ultimate DD supercar, and the GT3 RS is the ultimate 911. It begs you to drive it to the track, thrash it, and drive it home again!