Wear Costs: What Does It Really Cost To Run A Race Car?

By Winding Road Staff

August 31, 2016

Amateur racers are amazingly like amateur stock pickers: they remember the good stuff and forget the bad. With fair consistency, we find that racers live in a kind of expense-to-expense world, buying what they need when they need it. They don't have accounting departments and they don't have carefully prepared budgets. That may be a good thing, because racing is an expensive sport. Nonetheless, it can be helpful to have some idea of what running your car costs.
As a professional race services team, Winding Road Team TFB spends a lot of time managing the cash flows for racing (we do have an accounting department). And we talk to a lot of race teams and race car builders. It turns out that run costs for race cars are rather difficult for everyone to nail down. That is partially because run costs are a matter of probabilities, meaning that your right front hub may fail in 20 hours, with a 2% probability and it may fail in 200 hours with a 64% probability. Most teams running only a few fairly new cars don't get enough experience across the probability curves to know really what run costs are. 
But, with the advent of "factory-built" race cars like the MX-5 Cup car and SRO GT3 cars, manufacturers are getting much more data and getting it sooner. We have recently seen some of this data, and want to suggest a rule of thumb based on that for what you might budget for run costs. 

Winding Road MX-5 Cup race car

Run costs could include many things, but the missing element we are looking for in this article is the cost of maintaining the car. We'll call this part of run costs "Wear Costs". What does it cost for wear and tear and breakage? So, we aren't including things like fuel and entry fees and transport and crash damage (we'll get to those).
Basically the rule of thumb is this: 
Wear Costs = $1500 x HR x NBC/200
HR = hours run (testing, practice, qualifying and racing)
NBC = new build cost of your car
Let's take an example, using the ubiquitous Spec Miata. 
Say a typical race weekend has 45 minutes of practice, 45 minutes of qualifying and 60 minutes of racing (you can use your own numbers for the way your sanctioning body and region does things). That's 2.5 hours on a weekend. New Build Cost (what you would pay a professional builder for the car) for a Spec Miata is $35k. Plugging those assumptions in: 
$1500 x 2.5 x 35/200 = $656

So, if you do 6 race weekends per year, you would budget $3937 per year for Wear Costs on a Spec Miata. Of course, you could have to spend more or less (those probabilities again) and you could choose to spend more (someone could decide to refresh a motor every season). But from experience it is a reasonable order-of-magnitude estimate. 
If you are running a Porsche GT3 Cup car, for the same racing time, you would budget $34,000. That seems like a lot until you realize that an engine rebuild (at 50 hours) is $45,000 on an expensive car like the Porsche, and that element alone represents $15k per year in our example scenario. 
Better to budget and be able to race, than imagine things cost less than they do and be sidelined?