Intro To Winding Road’s Race Car Review Series

By Tom Martin

February 11, 2013

We are initiating a new series of reviews of race cars. We're talking about cars that are purpose built for racing, and since this is new territory for us and you, we want to explain a bit of our approach so that you have an idea what (and what not) to expect.
As we have observed in the past, reviewing cars is a tricky business. The singular problem is that buyers or prospective buyers might reasonably have a rather wide range of objectives. With street cars, some people want to know if they can win a bar fight with their new purchase (e.g., Is it faster at the ‘Ring? Does it have more peak horsepower than the sun?), while others want to know if it is comfortable or quiet or luxurious, and still others want to know if it is fun to drive. Throw questions of “value” into the equation and the journalist has a very complex problem to solve.
Usually the motoring press, us included, tries to simplify the problem by focusing on one of these questions. Along with that generally comes a methodology (instrumented testing, survey research, objective observation, etc.). Sometimes these philosophies are made clear, sometimes not. We have worked hard to be in the former group.
Now, if we change the subject matter to race cars, the situation morphs a bit, though most of the issues remain. First of all, race cars aren’t as commonly reviewed as street cars, so most people have fewer expectations of what a review should involve.
From the outset, we should be clear that we aren't talking about "racey cars", that is, street cars made up to look like race cars and perhaps be faster than normal. We're talking about cars that would generally meet the requirements of sanctioning bodies for amateur racing. As a result, most of these cars will not be street legal or would be unwise to drive on the street (because most have a roll cage and striking a roll cage without a helmet is a bad idea).
One might also say that a race car has a clear and more universal objective: you want to win. That seems to simplify things, and we’ll try to provide some view of this subject, particularly when we can collect data from actual race team experience. 
But wait, there’s more.
Several things complicate the review of racecars. Most racers we know (and we know a lot of them) have some affinity for the cars themselves. If you’re going to drop serious coin on something (and with racecars, things start at expensive and go up from there), you want to love it. We figure most buyers can assess this issue for themselves, but in these reviews we hope to cover some of the heritage and cleverness embodied in each design as an aid to that assessment.
Most racers we know are also operating on a budget. Spec Miata people are on a budget, but really so are Ferrari Challenge drivers. Even McLaren has an F1 budget. But unlike the McLaren situation, amateur racing involves severe constraints on operating cost. To put it bluntly, almost no one wants to buy a $50,000 car only to have each race weekend cost $10,000 in consumables and rebuilds. Similarly, a car that breaks a lot won’t be on track as much and won’t finish races. So, we’ll try to cover reliability and maintenance, recognizing that these are very hard to assess.
Finally, we think most drivers want to enjoy the drive. Some of this comes down to what we’ll call “raceability”—whether the car is easy or difficult to control at speed in a race situation. Some of it is a matter of responsiveness—does the car feel good when you work it out? This is the element we can shed the most light on, we think, and where you’ll see the largest number of words spent.
As always, our objective isn’t to tell you what to buy or what to like, but to give you some helpful input. We hope you enjoy these pieces, and we look forward to your feedback and suggestions.