Tough financial times? It doesn't always mean putting the racing rig into long term car storage!
They say only two things are certain in life - death and taxes. But one more thing you can count on with certainty is a decline in motorsport activities when we experience an economic downturn. Arguably one of the most luxurious past-times, when participants feel a financial pinch, Motorsport is usually the first to go. Why? Well no matter where you sit on the motorsport pyramid, it's just a bloody expensive sport.
As NASCAR legend Junior Johnson famously quotes 'The best way to make a small fortune in motor racing is to start with a big one'. Not wrong, Junior.
For those fortunate enough to be able to maintain the habit through tougher times, budget restrictions during these times are rather likely. Wait what? Budget and motorsport in the same sentence? A mild oxymoron perhaps, however there are certainly techniques that can be implemented to make the sport much more affordable.
I've prepared this article based on my experiences running old Porsche Cup and Carrera Cup cars over the last 4 years, both locally and interstate. So please, take this as an article written by an Australian state-level club racer, for Australian state-level club racers.
(Photo credits thanks to Queensland Motorsport Photography legend Matthew Paul Photography)
Before the Race Weekend
Fuel - Fill Up Cheap
If you are fortunate enough to have a car that can run on regular pump fuel, you have the glorious benefit of being able to fill up your race car straight from the Bowser. This is obviously handy, but in most cases means running top shelf 98 octane, which is also the most expensive on offer. What will certainly help to mitigate this is to do your research and fill up where most cost effective as possible. I find Petrol Stations located close to race tracks tend to inflate their prices, and you forget about ever using the hugely over-priced on-site petrol available at the circuit. Our advice? Download the Fuel Map Australia app and do your due diligence - the cost savings across both your race car and tow vehicle will be significant!
Bonus Tip: If fuel prices are cheap, take advantage and stock up on your fuel with jerry cans. Just be sure that the containers are properly sealed and that the fuel is used within 3 months of purchase.
What's the best brand of pump fuel for race cars you ask? I can't answer this with any scientific backing, however the 'word on the street' is that BP Ultimate 98 is considered the best quality, followed by (in no particular order) Shell V-Power and Caltex Vortex. It's wise to steer clear from seemingly 'dodgy' service stations, as some are known to water down fuel, or dilute 98 with lower-quality petrol.
Up-Skill on DIY Servicing & Data Acquisition
This one is simple - the more you can do yourself, the less money you'll spend on labour. This applies to both car preparation and running the car at test days and race weekends. But just be careful with this one - be absolutely sure you know what you're doing, and if in doubt, always seek professional advice/help. You don't want a failure on-track due to something you have done incorrectly!
Opt for AASA or RACERS Sanctioned Events
Typically speaking, events endorsed by AASA and RACERS tend to run at much more of a budget than Motorsport Australia (nee CAMS) events. They are catered more for grass-roots/state level motorsport, and the entry fee's are usually priced to match. I personally find these two sanctioning bodies to be far more customer focussed, and not as stringent and political as CAMS-orientated personnel.
Design your own Decals & Signs
I find myself constantly needing to be updating numbers, names and sponsor decals for the race car. I tend to do all the design work myself on Adobe Illustrator, which is a fairly easy design program to use. Adobe Photoshop and Indesign will also do the job nicely. There is a small yearly subscription cost (I pay $336 per year for a business package) to these programs however it that is offset very quickly with not having to pay Graphic Designer every-time I want to create a new sticker for the car (and I also get lots of further use out of it for my business).
NB: If you are looking for a reliable and reasonably priced print shop in Brisbane, speak to the guys at Photoline in Coopers Plains. They have been our go-to printer for 3 years and their customer service is top notch.
On the Race Weekend
Why pay for a hotel room when you can roll out a swag under the stars? If you already have a collection of camping gear then it would make sense to utilise it. Got an enclosed car trailer? Then you've got a make-shift Caravan! The majority of circuits do permit camping (although some charge a fee), and all will have shower/bathroom amenities available (although make sure you check all of this with the track before setting off). Sure, this does add another element of preparation and effort for the weekend, but will ultimately save you hundreds of dollars over a race weekend, and thousands over a season.
To me, this is a win-win scenario. Typically, the trusty old circuit 'pit-stop cafe' features artery-clogging menu options that went out of fashion in the 90s. Don't want to choose between a Hot Dog and a Chiko Roll and have to pay through the nose for it? Then be sure to BYO. You'll likely have an esky or portable fridge to keep drinks cold, so keeping food cool shouldn't be a problem. A race weekend breakfast will usually consist of some simple muesli and fruit, along with a nice cup of coffee from the Percolator. I tend to make healthy tuna or chicken wraps for lunch, with an array of healthy snacks in between.
One of the biggest rip-offs you can experience over a race weekend is paying for the privilege of already-existing piece of shelter. Don't want to get stung having to pay up to $500 in garage hire fees? Then bring your own garage! A 6 x 3 pop-up tent provides adequate shade and shelter to run a single car, along with tools and tables and the like. Something like the Oz Trail Deluxe Pavillion will do the job nicely, and will pay itself off after just a couple of race weekends. A bonus of these is that you can normally park your trailer/tow vehicle immediately next to your pit set up! But be sure to secure your equipment when leaving for the evening - if you can't lock your tools and gear into your trailer, then be sure to bring it all home with you.
Buy a Lap Timer Outright (instead of hiring one)
If motorsport events are regular thing for you, then its always going to be more viable to buy your own lap timer. The range of different circuits that carry different brands does gives headaches, but if you are an interstate racer you'll most certainly need a Dorian at a minimum. They are expensive to buy outright (in the realm of $500 for a Dorian, though only about $160 for the QLD Raceways Westhold units), however they would all but pay themselves off after a full season of race meetings.
Further General Tips
Avoid Endurance Events
This is self-explanatory - longer races = more consumables required, more wear on components and ultimately more dollars spent on the car. Stick to the sprint races for more cost-effective motorsports, at the small price of less racing laps.
Consider Your Choice of Race Car
Your choice weapon for the battle of motorsport is a key component in how cost effective your campaign will be. Usually, the faster the car goes, the more expensive it is to run. However you don't always need to go extremely to have the same amount of fun. In terms of budget-focused grass roots motorsports, the Hyundai Excel Cup is certainly the go-to option.
You can pick up a fully fledged Excel Cup Race Car for under $10,000 and go racing in any one of the Excel Cup State Championships throughout the country (click here to find out more about the Queensland one). As with most 'one-make' categories, a level playing field produces excellent racing, and the lack of horsepower places a bigger emphasis on throttle control and general driver ability. The Championship Organisers place a big emphasis on keeping costs as low as possible, through control components and a control tyre. With grids of sometimes up to 40 or 50 cars and excellent racing, its easy to see why this category is burgeoning.
Want something with a bit more Japanese flavour to it? The OG Hairdresser car, aka the Mazda MX5 is a common choice in the club-level motorsport world. Perhaps not as cheap to buy or run as an Excel, but does offer more performance and the platform to modify heavily if you so wish.
Consider Supplementing Race Weekends with Sprint Events
Though nothing can directly compare to the adrenaline of door-to-door racing, sprint events can give you the speed rush for a fraction of the cost. Not only that, there are so many sprint events available, you could literally be up to two track-days a week, every week (I've done it before!). An afternoon timed sprint at Queensland Raceway will range between $145 - $180, and you'll get at a minimum of about 20 laps, but usually far more. Beyond this you have Time Attack Days, Hillclimbs and even non-speed events such as Skid Pan Days, Motorkhanas, Drifting and Autocross. A multitude of Car Clubs also offer their own exclusive track days/sprint competitions, which gives opportunity to test your skill against like-minded competitors in similar machinery. Such Clubs include the Toyota 86/BRZ Club, Porsche Club, Lotus Club and BMW Club.
Things you don't want to cheap out on:
1. Car Prep - Use the savings you made above on increasing your car preparation and preventative maintenance. You'll spend more time going fast and less time underneath a hot race car fixing problems.
2. Safety Gear - You can't put a price on your life, so why put one on the gear that will save your life?
3. Trailer Quality - You don't want your Trailer to be more unreliable than your race car. Invest in a good quality steel structured trailer from a notable manufacturer, and spend less time on the side of a highway in the middle of no where. Replace your wheel bearings every 10,000km, and always carry what you need to be able to change a flat tyre.
If you've made it this far, congratulations!
I hope sharing some of my experiences can help tighten up that budget and make the great sport of motor racing a consistently viable activity. Not everything I've mentioned will work for every competitor out there, but I'm sure it will help some weekend battlers like myself.
You can follow our motor racing escapades on our instagram page.
Thanks for reading! Lachlan from Autohouse