Road racers come no better than this dreamy dozen – here's how you ranked them
By Cam Tait / Saturday, 3 June 2023 / Loading comments
1. Caterham Seven 620R – 31.24% of the vote
We really had absolutely no idea which of our 36-car longlist would make it to the top spot. Unlike our opening sports car vote, Matt Bird didn’t throw an MGF-shaped curveball into the mix, so very car was in with a shot, which is why the Caterham Seven 620R’s landslide victory raised a few eyebrows. But it shouldn’t have; after all, this is a truly unforgettable track car for those brave enough to take on a supercharged shot of 580hp-per-tonne lunacy. Nothing short of a superbike delivers such raw entertainment – not in a way that could be called timeless, at any rate. There aren’t any 620Rs for sale as of the time of writing, probably because owners love them so much they can’t part ways with them. So how about this slightly more user-friendly 620S for £44,995? Exactly the same amount of ludicrous power as the R, with the intensity dialled down just a tad – plus an easier-going manual gearbox in place of the sequential. Either way, the Seven is about as pure as track cars come.
2. Porsche 911 (997) GT3 RS 4.0 – 20.59%
Once again, the runner-up sits at the opposite end of our winner on the track weapon spectrum. Then again, said spectrum also features stripped-out hatchbacks and a single-seater, but we’ll get to them shortly. A Porsche 911 GT3 RS was always going to finish towards the sharp end of the poll, and few will be surprised that it’s the 997 RS 4.0 that edges the rest. The final 911 with hydraulically assisted steering and powered by the Mezger flat-six with bits nicked from the RSR racer, the GT3 RS 4.0 is regarded by many as not just peak RS – but peak 911. And they’re priced as such, this 2011 example’s £423,995 price tag is one of the few not hidden behind a POA. Its successors may be ahead on raw track speed, but they’re also bigger, heavier, and more difficult to exploit on a British B road. For pure driving nirvana, look no further…
3. Lotus Exige S (S3) – 18.88%
Lotus may have been the runaway winner of our sports car vote, but it was always going to have a harder time against some of the fastest machines money can buy. The fact that the Exige S wound up this high on the list, finishing behind two juggernauts of the track car world, just goes to show how much PH loves a Hethel-made sports car. And the Exige has always been a force to be reckoned with on a track day, even if there were initially concerns that the supercharged V6 S3 would overegg the S2’s perfected pudding. But despite carrying 200-odd kilos over its predecessor – largely down to an extra pair of cylinders and adopting a wider track – the S3 was every bit as focused as the S2. Only now with a lot more grunt and a sonorous exhaust note to boot. You’ll want a Cup 430 Final Edition like this one for outright track performance. But, frankly, even the ‘basic’ Exige S will make any track day an absolute joy.
4. Ariel Atom 4 – 18.68%
Just when you thought a Caterham Seven was as stripped-out as a driving machine gets – bam! Along comes the Ariel Atom. Like our winner, Ariel has focused on featherweight construction to make an Atom as awesome as possible on track. But where the Seven is, essentially, a near-70-year-old design that has been adapted over the decades, the Atom uses modern architecture in its pursuit of annihilating lap records. The latest Atom 4 is also the best, featuring the same 2.0-litre turbocharged K20C engine as the Honda Civic Type R. That’s 320hp in a car that’s 800kg lighter than the car it was originally intended for. Bonkers. Granted, it won’t scratch the old-school, tail-happy terror itch quite like the 620R can, but if you’re all about smashing lap times while bringing a passenger along for a hair-raising ride – take an Atom 4. How about this 2020 example for £62,495? The screen does add weight (yuck), but it should stop the wind from deforming your face on a Sunday blast.
5. Renaultsport Megane R26.R – 12.47%
A hot hatch. On a track car list? Wind the clock back 20 years and we’d have been pelted with eggs for putting a hatchback alongside the likes of Caterham, Lotus and Porsche. But the Renaultsport Megane R26.R was among the cars that changed all that, not just by proving there’s an appetite for two-seat hatches – but by smashing lap records, too. The R26.R’s 8:17 lap around the Nurburgring obliterated the front-wheel drive record and placed it firmly alongside ‘proper’ sports cars. Admittedly, it wasn’t a runaway success at launch in 2008, with only 160 of the 230 cars allocated to the UK finding buyers, but the R26.R’s legacy means that used examples are highly prized and don’t stick around for very long. Expect to pay anywhere between £40,000 to £50,000 for a tidy one, meaning they’ve nearly doubled in price. So much so there isn’t currently one for sale on PH, because every time one pops up – it goes in the blink of an eye.
6. Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 RS – 11.71%
Boy, did Porsche make us wait for a proper RS version of its mid-engined sports car. About 17 years, to be precise. Thankfully, it was well worth it, because the Cayman GT4 RS did exactly what we hoped it might: give the fast 911s a proper run for their money. Now fitted with the GT3’s flat-six engine with just 10hp less (blame the exhaust routing and market placement) and all the aero goodies any RS must have, the Cayman’s full potential has finally been unlocked. Granted, a 911 GT3 RS will still be faster around a track (by some 20 seconds on the Nurburgring), but a smaller footprint and mid-engined layout give the 718 its own unique appeal. A bargain on paper at £123,000, though we all know that most are paying considerably more than that, as demonstrated by this 250-mile car at £237,995. A near-100 per cent markup – are you surprised?
7. Porsche 911 (992) GT3 RS – 10.66%
And there you have it, folks: a 911 finishing behind a Cayman. Funnily enough, the reasons why the 992 GT3 RS narrowly lost out to its mid-engined baby brother may be a side effect of what objectively makes it a faster track car in the right hands. See that big wing on the back? It’s certainly proved divisive in the looks department, but is part of an aerodynamic package that generates more downforce than the 911 Cup car. It’s active, too, with different aero modes available at the flick of a switch, as are diff and brake bias settings. Whack a set of slicks on and Porsche reckons it could be as fast around Le Mans as the 911 RSR. Clearly the most capable 911 GT3 RS to date and currently the fastest production car around the Nordschleife. Right hookers should be arriving in the UK imminently, but, like the Cayman, prepare to pay considerably more than the £192,600 quoted in the configurator. It’ll probably be worth it.
8. BAC Mono – 9.95%
Weight is a track car’s worst enemy. And you know what weighs a lot, yet brings zero benefit to performance or safety? Your friends. So why not get rid of them, and drive a BAC Mono? By going with a single-seater layout, you save a good few kilos by ditching the passenger seat, and that in turn forces your friend/partner to watch from the sidelines while you trounce just about everything on a track evening at Brands Hatch Indy. Obviously, there’s a lot of fun to be had scaring the living daylights out of an unsuspecting passenger, but the BAC Mono is the only offering here that truly puts the driving experience above everything else. Still want to get your friends involved? Well, you’ll need to buy two. Give them this ‘regular’ Mono for £149,975, while you take the one-of-40 Mono R at DK Engineering. Job done.
9. BMW M3 CSL (E46) – 7.46%
‘Where’s the E46 CSL?’ was asked (not quite as politely as that) during our opening sports car vote. Well, here it is, firmly cemented in the top ten of track cars and comfortably ahead of its V8-powered GTS successor (which was all the way down in 29th). For many, the E46 M3 CSL is about as close as you can get to M car perfection. Timeless looks, a screaming motorsport-derived inline six up front and a 110kg weight saving thanks to lots of carbon fibre bits and some very lovely bucket seats. The much-maligned SMG was intended to speed up shifting but inevitably took away a degree of involvement in the process. Perhaps if it’d been offered with the base M3’s six-speed manual, the CSL may have garnered a few more votes. The good news is that Everything M3s will whack a manual in your CSL for the right money. All you have to do is give them a car, such as this 2004 model for £79,995. Be quick, though; the future of M cars will surely only make the classic icons even more desirable…
10. Ferrari 458 Speciale – 7.17%
There’s no more aptly named car on this list than the Ferrari 458 Speciale. It was clear from the off that the Speciale would be one of the all-time great mid-engined Ferraris. Using the sublime 458 Italia as a basis, Ferrari’s crack team of engineers managed to ditch 90kg over the standard car while in turn extracting an extra 35hp from the 4.5-litre V8. Speaking of the engine, the 458 Speciale would be the Italian marque’s final naturally aspirated, mid-engined V8 supercar. Turbochargers have dialled up Ferrari’s following track weapons to insanity, though arguably none (an argument made by this poll, in fact) have managed to capture the Speciale’s rawness. That makes it rather collectable and, therefore, painfully expensive. The cheapest one currently on PH is a little under £330,000, but adding an extra £20k into the mix gets you this 480-mile example. Worth the £200,000 premium over a used 458? You bet it is.
11. Porsche Cayman GT4 (981) – 6.88%
Before the RS, there was the fabulous 981 Cayman GT4. Porsche had dabbled with more focused variants of its mid-engined sports cars before 2015, notably the Boxster Spyder and Cayman R, but the 981 GT4 represented a seismic shift in attitude. That was mainly down to the GT4 featuring the 3.8-litre naturally aspirated flat-six from the 911 Carrera S, producing 385hp and placed into the middle of a lighter, smaller sports car. And despite three-quarters of Cayman buyers preferring PDK at the time, the GT4 was only available with a six-speed manual gearbox. Some will criticise the long gearing – allegedly designed to aid overtaking – but there’s little else to pick holes in here. Seldom had a Porsche GT car made such an impact; the 718 successor was undoubtedly another great Cayman, but it didn’t reset expectations like the OG. Now the hype has died down, you can pick a 981 up for the same money they should have been when new – that’s how significant it was. We’ll take this Viper Green example for £74,995, please and thank you.
12. Lotus 2-Eleven – 6.62%
Of all the cars covered in the top 12, it feels fitting to round it off with something that follows the traditional track car recipe to a T. Described as “a track day enthusiasts’ idea of a track car”, the Lotus 2-Eleven was the most hardcore offering to come out of Hethel since the wild 340R. Based on the already featherweight Exige, the 2-Eleven did without doors, a windscreen and a roof for a kerb weight of just 745kg – hundreds of kilos lighter than the car it nabs its underpinnings from. And, because it’s a Lotus, it’s said to be just as rewarding to drive on the road as it is on track, providing you pack enough layers. Only 100 were produced and, remarkably, two of them are currently for sale on PH. This 2007 car will do the trick for £44,000. Given the direction Lotus is now headed, it wouldn’t be wrong to consider the 2-Eleven its final properly lightweight masterpiece.
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