2011 has been an interesting year, it’s the year I persuaded two friends to go thirds with me on a budget trackday car. I’d become frustrated with driving on the UK’s roads and resented paying out £500 – £600 on a single trackday. I was supposed to sell my beloved RenaultSport Megane 230 to make way for a boring eco diesel hatchback, but at the 11th hour the Megane got a death row pardon and my lovely wife allowed me to keep the Megane. That meant I still had a car to drive for fun on the roads when the situation permitted and now had a car I could thrash around the track, modify and make stupidly loud. The latter was even better as I had two other friends who wanted to do the same and share the costs.
Choosing and purchasing the car was pretty easy, we’re all Renault fanboys so choosing a Renault 5 GT Turbo was a no brainer. Cheap to insure on a classic policy, cheap to tax due to low engine cc (less money to the taxman, more for the track), simple mechanical engine without too much electronic trickery (it still has a carb), light (sub 800kg), cheap parts and as one owner requested, ‘it has to have a blower’. The car was picked up for £1,100, somehow passed its MOT and before we knew it we’d was taxed and road worthy, all for the price of £1,550, just over our budget of £500 each.
Sure, it has an asbo spoiler and a bodykit but there is potential…
Things had gone well, we had our car, albeit with a stupid spoiler and we were now ready to go on-track, all we had to do was fix the old turbo, which we knew was on the way out when we bought the car. We’d got the turbo and had pencilled in our first trackday. I thought fitting the turbo would be easy, or it would have been if we’d just opted for a simple upgrade, but we’d opted for a hybrid T28 off an old Nissan SR20 (I didn’t even know what and SR20 was, still don’t). This was our first frustration, buying the turbo was easy, buying the parts that fitted the turbo was near impossible, instead of fitting the turbo on a Saturday afternoon and going on a track day on the Tuesday, we spent over three days sourcing the parts and undertaking the work, a slight problem with the rear axle also added to the frustration so our first trackday was cancelled. Current costs for the turbo and rear suspension totalled £600, this now meant we’d spent over £2,000 and had still not been on a trackday, I am not sure if this was going to plan or not, but time was ticking and before we knew it we were in July. One of the team does not live in the area so the three of us only see each other once every eight or ten weeks, so before you know it another month has passed by. It was all going to be alright though as we’d finally booked our first trackday, Cadwell Park on the 4th August.
Before our first day out we’d managed to pick up two Cobra Monaco race seats and two OMP six point harnesses off eBay for £230, a bargain considering these items should be at least £750, these were fitted with ease and now we were ready to take to the track.
More suitable Cobra Monacos were fitted with six point harnesses.
The day was sessioned so we’d have seven sessions over the course of the day, on track the car performed far better than expected for a 22 year old French hatchback. The turbo remained on boost at all the right times, there was never a reason to force gear shifts to make best use of the power, it all flowed smoothly, the brakes were progressive and didn’t fade and because the car is so light didn’t wear badly, like I’ve heard on more expensive machinery. After the first session we had to spend all the time in between sessions checking over the car, tightening hoses and checking for any leaks. It became clear that this was not the sort of day you spend enjoying on-track, rest watching other people drive, going for refreshments or chatting to fellow trackday participants; it was all systems go to get the car ready for the next session. We felt like a poor mans Le Mans pit stop crew, frantically making sure the car was all set for its next session.
Spoiler now gone, the car was tight and was keeping up with the best of them.
The next session was again really enjoyable, the car is more ‘fun’ on a track than both my old 182 and current Megane 230, it’s loud, light and with its new turbo very, very quick if kept in the correct rev range. To our surprise the car despatched a lot of more expensive hardware, I suppose everything is more expensive than our car, but we were pleased to see off an Audi TT RS, Mercedes SLK AMG, BMW Z4 and an S2000, it was just M Powered BMWs that we struggled with.
The Renault 5 GT Turbo proving its worth
Things took a turn for the worse at the end of the third session when the car started blowing vast plumes of white smoke over the track and we had to be towed off the track. Our day was over and due to more logistical challenges had to dump the car at a local garage in Lincolnshire, getting the train back to Manchester was not part of the plan. That had meant less than thirty minutes on-track over the course of seven months, not quite what we had planned.
The car had a new head gasket fitted but this only got it back to Manchester and we are now in the process of fitting a whole new head. At a cost of £600 in parts this has not worked out to be the ‘cheap’ trackcar we’d hoped for.
Not necessarily cheap, but friendships grew stronger and much was learnt.
So we are now in November and face a long weekend replacing the head, that’s if we can find somewhere to do it. Due to having a house extension, my driveway is out of action and my other friend does not have off road parking. It is looking like we won’t be getting any more track time for the rest of the year, we’ve put a lot of time in, numerous weekends, two days off work and more cash than we had budgeted for. So far costs are creeping towards the £4,000 mark which is quite a lot of money for 30 minutes of track time. We do however have a car, upgraded and hopefully ready for the 2012 season. Have I been frustrated? Slightly, at times. Have I realised the dream of running a cheap track car? No, not yet. Do I regret suggesting the idea? No, not really, I have learnt a lot about how to maintain a car, had a lot of fun, both on-track, driving on the roads and seeing friends. Would I recommend it to other people? Most definitely, just have a lot of patience and don’t expect too much. Now all we need is a better 2012 season.
A full diary of the year is available on www.trackbitch.com
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