Russell Rumler was hooked from the first corner.

After years of keeping his pride and joy wrapped in cotton wool, the 50-year-old from Melbourne recently took his HSV Maloo ute to the city's Sandown raceway with a couple of mates and drove it the way Holden intended.

"It was awesome. I've booked back in again and I'll be making it an every six months experience," he said.

Rumler is one of thousands of Australians who line up on grids and skidpans around the country to get a taste of high-octane heaven.

Driver trainer James Stewart said there had recently been a rush of people looking to blow away the COVID cobwebs with a few laps around a racetrack.

His company Driving Solutions will host 120 track days this year for enthusiasts feeling the need for speed, while March saw a record number of motorsport competition licences processed.

"Local motorsport activities have gone up massively," Mr Stewart said.

"People aren't going to Europe, so they have to stay and play here."

Track Day at Sandown Raceway where people can drive their own cars on the track. Adam Klooger with his Mazda MX5. Picture: Josie Hayden
Track Day at Sandown Raceway where people can drive their own cars on the track. Adam Klooger with his Mazda MX5. Picture: Josie Hayden


Motorsport Australia records show March 2021 was an all-time record for racing licence applications and renewals, with 3656 licences renewed or issued for the first time last month.

That represents more than double the number of licences processed in the same period last year.

Mr Stewart said Hollywood played its part in igniting driver passions, with movies such as Ford vs Ferrari and the Fast and the Furious franchise piquing people's interest in performance driving.

"Everything like that raises awareness. When there's a spate of those types of movies it sparks an interest," he says.

People soon find out sliding a car sideways and driving at the limit is harder and more dangerous than it looks, so they sign up for advanced driving courses, then track days.

"I think the Fast and the Furious creates the ambition, then people realise it's not as easy as they thought," he says.

The Fast and the Furious is an inspiration for Aussie rev heads. Picture: Supplied
The Fast and the Furious is an inspiration for Aussie rev heads. Picture: Supplied


Stewart this week hosted a group of enthusiasts from the University of Technology in Sydney who all pitched in to pay for track hire so they could push their cars to the limit legally. Most had grown up with the Fast and Furious franchise.

Being a revhead is not a cheap exercise, though.

A typical track day at Sandown costs $375 and drivers will use at least one tank of fuel per day.

Helmets are mandatory, fireproof clothing is strongly recommended, and some events require extra gear such as fire extinguishers, racing harnesses and special seats.

Track Day at Sandown Raceway where people can drive their own cars on the track. David Aylward with his Kia Stinger GT. Picture: Josie Hayden
Track Day at Sandown Raceway where people can drive their own cars on the track. David Aylward with his Kia Stinger GT. Picture: Josie Hayden


Circuits are tough on tyres - which can cost more than $500 each - and brakes. It's easy to pour thousands of dollars into a track car.

Stewart said that while V8 Commodores and Falcons once dominated track days, hot hatchbacks were now the weapon of choice.

24-year-old car lover Eleanor Terry with her turbo charged Hyundai. Picture: NIGEL HALLETT
24-year-old car lover Eleanor Terry with her turbo charged Hyundai. Picture: NIGEL HALLETT


Queenslander Eleanor Terry, the proud owner of an i30N hot hatch, said she fell in love after a test drive.

"I knew it was the car for me. I love that it's a noisy, aggressive-sounding car. You can customise all your settings to make it comfortable or silly at the touch of the button.

"It would be better financially if I had a hybrid Corolla or something, but it's boring. Every day I wake up and look forward to driving my car."

Rumler agrees.

"It was good to experience the car for what it was meant for - others were overheating and the brakes were struggling but mine just kept going."

"In the afternoon, after the rain cleared up I really pushed it hard. It was great to use its full potential. It is definitely not something you can do on the road," he said.

For Melbourne's Will Tran, the track day at Sandown was about making the jump from video games to real life.

Track Day at Sandown Raceway where people can drive their own cars on the track. Will Tran with his VW Golf R. Picture: Josie Hayden
Track Day at Sandown Raceway where people can drive their own cars on the track. Will Tran with his VW Golf R. Picture: Josie Hayden

"I've always been interested in racing and played a lot of video games such as Forza and a friend of mine and I decided to give it a go in real life," he said

"Somethings are the same as video games but others aren't - you can feel the g-forces and it is a much more visceral experience."

Ford's Mustang has become a popular track car, filling the void left by the homegrown V8 heroes, while the Subaru WRX and Mitsubishi Lancer Evo have developed cult followings thanks to starring roles in a long succession of video games.

Toyota's 86 has been a hit for the company, while the first year's supply of its new GR Yaris hot hatch sold out in a week.

On the used car market, Toyota Supras and Nissan Skylines are popular, as are Honda Civics, which can be endlessly modified.

The Ford Mustang GT is a opular maong car enthusiasts.
The Ford Mustang GT is a opular maong car enthusiasts.

 

Performance versions of Volkswagen's Golf account for about one in five sales, while Australians buy more high-performance Mercedes, BMW and Audi machines per capita than just about any other country.

Driver Dynamics director Kevin Flynn said every track day listed at Sandown quickly sold out, with some attracting dozens of names on waiting lists.

 

Some also love to drive their Mini Cooper S.
Some also love to drive their Mini Cooper S.

 

Hundreds of enthusiasts also turned out for the Classic Adelaide rally in March, driving on public roads closed off for the event.

Former Supercars racer turned driver trainer Karl Reindler said people attended track days and rallies because it wasn't possible to unleash a car's full potential on the road.

"It's a much safer driving environment and a really fun thing to go and do," he said.

"It's important to note that you can really learn from this. It's not all laughs and going fast and having fun - you improve as a driver. You're more capable and confident as a driver on public roads."

Originally published as Most popular new and used cars Aussie revheads want