Einstein once said that doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results was the very definition of insanity; obviously he never studied lap times. In fact, we’ll take the track over studying the theory of relativity any day. It’s a place where man, machine, competition and speed are all brought together in the perfect recipe for adrenaline and addiction.
That is, if you have the right steed for the job. The intensity of the track — going hell for leather, drivers subject themselves to incredible G-forces, set brake discs aglow and lay apexes asunder in the relentless pursuit of perfection — makes for a set of specialized vehicles that eschew all else for pure speed and handling. These full-sized go-karts are, indeed, insane (thanks, Einstein) in their ability to both shred chicanes and punch gaping holes into your wallet. Whether your wallet can handle that or you’re just dreaming, here are our picks for the five best track cars around.
Best for the Gran Turismo graduate: If you’re looking for a quick and easy plastic surgery referral, the Ariel Atom is a pretty safe bet. It has no roof, no doors, no true windshield nor anything resembling body work aside from a nose cone and some fenders. What it does have, however, is the ability to accelerate faster than a Ferrari Enzo and handle more lateral Gs than a Porsche GT3, leaving you looking like the happiest dog in the world with his head outside the window.
Powered by your choice of a high-revving Honda 2.0-liter four-pot with 245 hp (Atom 3), or a supercharged version that ups the ante to 310 hp (Atom 3.5), the Ariel Atom takes go-kart design philosophy to the ultimate level. A fully adjustable suspension comprised of a double unequal-length wishbone set-up with monotube dampers keep the 1,350 pound rocket planted more firmly than a Redwood when it hits the corners, and the quick and intuitive steering rack (only 1.7 revolutions to go lock-to-lock) provides incredible feedback to keep you between the white lines. If 600 hp per ton somehow isn’t enough to raise your eyebrows, We’re pretty sure the 500 hp V8-powered version should do the trick. Starting at just over $56,000, the Ariel Atom could be the biggest bang for your buck in the entire automotive world — just make sure to put some cash aside for a full-face helmet, or a face lift.
Best for the purist gentleman racer: For Caterham Cars, automotive design reached its pinnacle in 1972 when Colin Chapman’s original Lotus Seven sold its final iteration — and that’s a good thing. Chapman’s mantra of “simplify and add lightness” was on full display in the Seven, and Caterham has been continuing this tradition ever since. Their flagship factory-built Caterham CSR superlight is nothing short of brilliant. At a mere 1,267 pounds and devoid of any electronic driver aids, the CSR is almost telepathic in its ability to instantly communicate feedback to drivers, making it a pinnacle in purist design and a favorite for track day toreadors. Don’t believe us? The stats are staggering: 0-60 faster than a Porsche 997 Turbo (3.1 seconds), more lateral Gs on the skid-pad than a Ferrari Enzo (1.05), and the ability to shut ‘er down almost instantly (70-0 in 140 feet) — all in a 260 hp, bug-eyed bathtub on wheels that begs for goggles and a pair of driving gloves.
Best for the burgeoning boy racer: If you think the Lotus 2-Eleven resembles what would happen if Bam Margera owned an Exige S, you’d be right. Make no mistake though, this topless tracker didn’t come to be at the hands of Billy Idol, a sawzall and boredom. Although based on its street-legal stablemate, the 2-Eleven is a composite clad corner carver that makes that nimble Exige S feel heavy and cumbersome by comparison. Powered by the same bullet-proof Toyota sourced and supercharged 1.8-liter engine, Lotus’ engineers worked wonders on weight distribution, suspension and braking to make the most of every one of the 250hp on tap. Instead of building to a 50/50 weight distribution, the perfectionist petrolheads from Hethel went with 38/62 as their ideal figure — the reason being that every car needs a driver. Once helmeted and harnessed into the 1643 pounder, the average driver (or those that can fit at least) balances things out to optimal racing conditions. Without a windshield for comfort, We recommend a religious regimen of neck exercises before you plunk down your deposit.
Best for the speed freak: The Ultima GTR is a 200 MPH supercar that has laid waste to both the Bugatti Veyron and McLaren F1 in acceleration and deceleration testing — and it’s sold in pieces, ready to be assembled with your own two hands. Designed to accommodate a small block Chevy V8 with up to 1,000 horsepower (depending on your tuning desires and courage) mounted mid-ship, it’s also the fastest way to get anywhere. This British-based beast is the most aerodynamic and versatile choice in our list, and you can even drive it in the rain. Capable of pushing the envelope further than most enthusiasts can imagine, the Ultima GTR was 6.2 seconds faster around the Top Gear test track than the venerable Ferrari Enzo. You can order the Ultima as a turnkey car if you wish, but our advice is to pick up a copy of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road when you go tool shopping — you’ll need something depressing to wipe that smile off of your face after you feed it to your neighbor in your home-built racer.
KTM X Bow
Best for the Sunday Schumacher: Austria’s KTM is best known for its ability to produce some of the best off-road and adventure touring motorcycles on the market. Interestingly, they also lay claim to one of the most exacting track cars ever produced: The KTM X Bow. Designed and produced in 18 months, the radically constructed X Bow is capable of up to 2.0 Gs of lateral acceleration (depending on tire choice) and generates over 500 pounds of downforce at 125 MPH. Powered by an Audi-sourced 2.0-liter turbo engine, the X Bow has 300 hp on tap and 295 lb-ft of torque available at a mere 3,300 rpm, making it a true “point and shoot” machine on the tarmac. Formula 1 technology takes center stage almost everywhere: an adjustable pushrod suspension at all four corners and a carbon fibre monocoque with “crash box” nose cone technology are integrated within. At 1,745 pounds, the X Bow is one of the heavier choices on our list, but it hardly suffers, cresting 60 MPH in 3.9 seconds, or about twice as long as it will take you to decide on European delivery.
Billionaire Boys Club Bonus: Ferrari FXX and Lotus 125
The fastest way to spend: If you find yourself put off by our rather attainable choices for taking to the track, there are other, more exclusive options available. Take, for example, the Ferrari FXX. Based on the Enzo, the 30 cars produced were built only with racing in mind. Essentially an owner-driven R&D tool for Ferrari, complete with on-track factory support, each FXX could be individually tailored to wring the most out of its 800 hp V12. Lucky for you, there is a “used” market.
If the open-wheeled world of Formula 1 is more to your liking (and you’re not a card-carrying member of the Tifosi), might we suggest looking at yet another Lotus? The Lotus Type 125 is a 640 hp, 1,200 pound weekend weapon, powered by a 3.5-liter V8 with a 10,300 rpm redline and a $1M price tag. While the cockpit cost might seem high, it’s actually quite a bargain — especially when you consider the perks included with ownership. Aside from having an approachable, driveable and reliable F1 car, you also get to have Jean Alesi and Nigel Mansell at the ready to show you how to handle your new toy. Membership here is limited to just the 10 cars built per year, but we can’t think of a more entertaining way to spend that kind of cash.