The Unexpected Joy Of Tracking An Economy Car

This week the Shifting Lanes staff and I spent two days in an auto enthusiast’s heaven. We attended IMPA test days at the beautiful Monticello Motor club nestled in the rolling hills of the New York countryside where we were greeted with a parking lot full of the most exciting cars on sale today. Cars like the Focus RS, F-Type SVR, and McLaren 570GT were only a few highlights of this star-studded cast. In this sea of big-name cars, the average commuter cars were ignored by most of us who were in line to drive cars like the 4C or GTR, that was until the second day when we were unleashed onto Monticello’s Track.

During our second and final day of testing, certain cars had the letter T written on their windshields indicating to us that they were available for some track testing.  The usual suspects were marked like the brilliant Alfa Romeo 4C or the C63AMG S, but then there were cars like the Mazda 3 or Nissan Sentra Turbo that could also be thrashed on Monticello’s 18 turns and 3.6-miles of track.

Since this was my first-day driving solo on the track I wanted to pick a car that was easy to drive so that I could live to drive the faster stuff once my confidence levels rose. In the scramble to find an available car, I found myself in the new Nissan Sentra Turbo equipped with a CVT, all Season tires, and an open diff, the perfect track car! Thanks to the Nissan’s tall roofline I’m happy to report you can comfortably fit with a crash helmet on which cannot be said for the C63.

When I approached the paddock in my little Nissan following the almighty Dodge Viper I couldn’t help but laugh at the situation, I might as well ride my bicycle so I could get some exercise rather than drive this anti-track car. After lining up at the start line where the marshall was dispatching us one at a time, I asked if he thought I could catch up to the Viper, by the looks of his smile, I could tell my sarcastic remark hit home which was the only victory I expected on this lap.

Once the Viper was dispatched I made sure to put the Sentra in sport mode and turned off the traction control to yield “maximum performance” which is similar to the procedure I performed earlier that day in the GTR.

After getting the thumbs up from the marshall I was off, the turbo spooled up and delivered all 188 horses to the front wheels as the tires cried out in agony. A few turns in and I realized that I actually brought the right car to the track this morning. Sure it’s slow, has the sacrilegious CVT transmission, and no season tires but I didn’t care about any of that. I was having the time of my life because nobody expects you to set lap records in an economy sedan, or hit every apex, or come remotely close to catching up with a Dodge Viper with a 30-second head start but that’s exactly what happened.

I was having such a great time whipping this poor Sentra around every corner as the tires shrieked in pain that I caught up to my 8.4 liter V10 rival. I’m not sure if they were simply coasting through the course or forgot to turn the car on, but it did wonders for my self-confidence and made me realize the truth about driving on a track.

Sure its fun to go fast, like really really fun, but its, even more, fun to drive a slow car fast. Driving cars like the Alfa 4C or C63 AMG S on the track was incredible, the speed and grip of those cars are remarkable but they require far more focus and come with higher expectations of the driver. It’s always fun to push your skills to new limits but I found an unexpected joy in driving cars like the Mazda 3 or Toyota Corolla IM on track. It’s one thing to expect to do well on the track in a purpose built machine but nothing is funnier than hanging on for dear life in a Toyota Corolla hatchback. One day in the future I may look back at this article and laugh at how much joy I found in simple slow machines but there’s something to be said about tracking an economy car. You expect to have fun in track oriented cars like the 4C or Focus RS but the unexpected fun of tracking an economy car was a stand out lesson.


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