Touring Cars Fresh off the Lot: Which Automakers Sell Turnkey Racers
No race cars are cheap, but these options give you a lot of value for the cost.
One way to gauge an automaker's dedication to enthusiast culture is looking at what kind of support it has in motorsports at all levels. Having a presence in F1 is all well and good, but involvement in more modest series, especially in North American touring car racing, is even more telling. And if some of those race cars can then squabble door-to-door in Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) and National Auto Sport Association (NASA) club racing classes, even better.
Thankfully, it looks like manufacturer support for these lower areas of racing isn't receding anytime soon. There's still a way to directly place an order with several companies, and they will deliver a factory-fresh race car to your door or local dealership. These performance vehicles aren't cheap to buy, race, and maintain by most people's standards, but when compared to other pro-level offerings like the Porsche 911 GT3 Cup Car, they all offer a lot of value. Let's take a look at what a few automakers, including Honda, Audi, Hyundai, Toyota, Subaru, Mini, BMW, and Mazda, have available at the moment in the United States.
Honda's racing division, Honda Performance Development (HPD), is dedicated to engineering, building, and supporting race cars across the country. Its highest-end, street-car-resembling platform, the Acura NSX GT3, races in the IMSA Weathertech SportsCar Challenge and SRO Fanatec GT World Challenge America. But it has two platforms down the ladder that are also purpose-built, track-only choices, and they even share some race weekends with the NSX: the Civic Si and Civic Type R.
Our own Victoria Scott had a go in the Civic Si FE1, which races in SRO TC America's TCA class, and had nothing but positive things to say. The Si tangos with Subaru BRZs, older 10th-gen Honda Civic Sis, Hyundai Elantra N-Lines, and Mini Coopers, and it's among the most action-packed classes in low-pro-level racing at the moment. To get a hold of your very own complete, ready-to-race example, race in TCA or any applicable club racing class (NASA ST4 and SCCA T5 might be where they're welcome). Check 'em out on HPD's site.
One step above the Si is the Civic Type R TC and TCR. The difference between the two is the TC is built to SRO TC America TC Class specs, whereas the TCR is built to spec for the TCR class, which is currently run by IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge (MPC) in the U.S.A. The TC is far more production-based with a conventional six-speed manual transmission, a mild rear spoiler, and no major changes to its bodywork. On the other hand, the TCR is a lot more race-focused with different bodywork, more aerodynamic components, a sequential racing gearbox, center-lock wheels, and more.
HPD's site doesn't list any info regarding when the new Type R will be ready for racing circuits, but surely we'll find that out soon.
The four-ringed brand has seen a lot of success around the globe in TCR. In the U.S., the RS 3 TCR currently competes in IMSA Michelin MPC, and it looks like an update to its program recently happened—hopefully this latest generation heads to U.S. grids, soon. Audi Sport has a customer racing site for the USA, and several teams run the RS 3 in MPC. However, it doesn't look like it's been updated in a while, and clicking on TCR sends you to a Page Not Found notification.
The Veloster N, the brand's previous poster child, took home many IMSA MPC titles, and it's still around in the MPC TCR paddock. Hyundai's latest factory effort, carried out by Bryan Herta Autosport, is based on the Elantra, though, due to the Veloster's sad demise in July.
Despite no longer being in production, the Veloster and Veloster N can still be turned into race cars and they see success in SRO TC America TC (alongside the Civic Type R TC) and TCA Class (alongside the Civic Si FE1). Hyundai tuning company GenRacer offers the service of prepping the N for competition in this series if you bring them an off-the-street example, and it looks like Bryan Herta Autosport offers the same with the non-N version.
Toyota and Subaru
These two are combined, as they both focus on the latest Toyobaru chassis, the 2022+ Subaru BRZ and Toyota GR86.
On the Toyota end, Toyota Racing Development (TRD) has begun to build cars in North Carolina for the GR Cup, a spec racing (meaning every car is identical) class that will compete in SRO TC America. This beast features all the normal trimmings of a purposely assembled race car, plus a sequential SADEV transmission. Think of it as a hardtop and slightly bigger version of Mazda's Global MX-5 (more on that in a bit).
Subaru partners with TechSport Racing to build the BRZ TCA for competition in TC America's TCA Class. It is prepped a tad less than the GR Cup car, as it still runs the factory gearbox and retains a few other factory components. In fact, TechSport also offers services in arrive-and-drive (just show up and race, they take care of the rest) and prepping cars for NASA and SCCA club racing.
Mazda Motorsports puts on the Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup, also widely known as Global MX-5. The cars are built by Flis Performance and run during IMSA and IndyCar race weekends all over the country. Like the GR Cup, these cars are very much based on their factory counterparts, just with all the necessary race car kit, sequential gearboxes, sticky tires, the works. Global MX-5 races guarantee excellent action, especially when the drivers have to duke it out on street courses.
As of 2018 the cars cost around $58,000 for a turnkey example, however that number might've gone up in the past couple of years. Still, it's generally regarded as a series that's a lot cheaper to compete in than others, and also features deep car counts.
Mini and BMW
Mini has a neat way of bolstering its hot John Cooper Works model as a race car for the road—when you visit the proper site, it links directly from the race car to the street car. I don't know about you, but it reminds me of Porsche throwing runny egg headlights on the legendary 911 GT1 before the 996 911 hit the showroom floor. Promoting the race car to sell the street car is a tried and true method of marketing.
It doesn't appear that Mini's factory racing effort in touring car racing, led by LAP Motorsports, builds customer cars to join in the fun in SRO TC America's TC or TCA classes. But it does run a few cars there itself—if LAP does prep cars for customers, it doesn’t make info about it readily available.
Sadly, BMW doesn't currently build any cars that can compete in U.S. touring car classes. It does for GT3 (and soon GT4), but not TC. Though, parts and support are still available for the M235iR and M240iR Cup cars, as well as the M2 CS Cup. Who knows, maybe it'll homologate the latest G42 230i and/or M240i for racing at some point—in fact, the Bavarian brand should. They should also homologate the M235i Gran Coupe for TCR, but that's a rant for another day.
Go Forth and Buy (Or, Just Spectate)
None of these race cars are inexpensive to buy, with the Civic Si FE1 serving as an “affordable” entry point at $55,000. That's cheap by fully sorted race car standards, but not exactly chump change to most folks. Still, it's rad that these options are out there, and to anyone who might be interested in jumping into pro-level racing or having a well-put-together chassis for club or endurance racing, they'd be hard pressed to find a fresh example for less coin.
Another takeaway is that there's more to pro-level racing than NASCAR and F1. It's cool to see more factory-based cars duke it out on track, and to me, it boosts automaker credibility—I love that cars like my own BMW 128i used to race in the IMSA Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge. Tired of the ridiculous drama of F1? Check out the IMSA Weathertech SportsCar Challenge and Michelin Pilot Challenge. NASCAR's not your thing? All SRO races air free-of-charge on YouTube.
All of these series put on events all over the country, too, so take a look at their calendars and see when the next race is coming to a track near you. Or, pay a visit to a potentially more local NASA, SCCA, Champ Car, Lucky Dog, AER, POC, PCA, BMWCCA, USTCC, VARA, SVRA, or other club racing operation's event. What's especially cool about these series, is race cars of yore of all levels that are no longer homologated have a second life there.
Finally, while some automakers might not provide as much support—or build race-ready cars—like they used to, a few still offer some cool incentives to race their badges at the club level. Look forward to a blog on that in the near future.