There are several solutions to this conundrum: karting, grass-roots club racing, track days or sprints and hill climbs. But these all have their flaws. Karting quickly becomes competitively expensive, club racing involves a reasonable possibility of somebody else denting both your motor and your wallet, track days don't have any sort of competitive edge, and sprinting involves days of furious tinkering for a few minutes of track time.
But there is a solution for those with (relatively) shallow pockets and a deep desire to go out and play with cars on a track - it's called Time Attack.
What's that, then?
If you don't know what Time Attack is, it's essentially a mixture of a track day, circuit racing and hill climbing. Basically the aim, as the name suggests, is to get the best individual lap time, much in the manner of a sprint. Unlike with a sprint or hill climb, however, the way you achieve that is via your best flying lap during a timed multi-lap session, where you share the track with multiple cars from multiple classes. A bit like a track day, ya see. Or possibly a qualifying session for a race series.
Meet our test subject
Mike's car started out life as an ordinary naturally aspirated 2.2-litre 2001 VX220, but it now has a supercharger attached to it and around 280hp. But it's not just a bolt-on supercharger. In the spirit of Time Attack, Mike's car has been thoroughly and extensively fiddled with.
So as well as the supercharger, the 2.2-litre Ecotec has low-compression Wiseco pistons, Eagle H beam rods, a ported head, Piper cams and a custom exhaust manifold to help up its power output. Then there's the chassis, which gets Gaz Monotube dampers, SuperPro poly bushes, Kumho V70A tyres, Performance Friction brake pads and AP calipers. Inside there's a proper racing seat, harnesses and a full roll cage, while the outside is treated to the most obvious modifications: a Thorney Motorsport Wing, splitter, diffuser and engine cover.
Some like it wet
This being the British summer in 2012, the Brands Indy circuit is mid-rain shower and, even with wet tyres on the car, I am acutely aware that a 280hp, 900kg mid-engined machine is unlikely to be the most forgiving thing to drive. So this is not about trying to drive the wheels off what is after all somebody else's car; it's more about getting a feel for the unique motorsport hybrid that is time attack.
Essentially, aside from the fact that spaceframe silhouettes, or open-wheeled formula cars are banned, there are no restrictions to what you can do to your car, and so 700hp or more is not uncommon. Heck, there's even a 400hp Mk4 Astra in the front-wheel drive category. As a consequence I'm looking in my mirrors as much as I am out of the windscreen since the VX220, although very much a front-runner in Club RWD, is a seriously prickly customer on a wet track.
Plenty of the other competitors are struggling with the conditions, too, as a Skyline proves by locking up in front of me and sailing serenely into the Druids hairpin gravel, while the Mk4 Astra drops it into the gravel at Paddock, although it seems later that this was more likely down to a left rear puncture than the conditions). It's fun, though, and definitely better than track days and a more satisfying type of competition than sprinting.
As Mike explains to me later, the art is finding enough space to get a clean flying lap in. And staying out of the way of other cars on a hot lap. The fact that people have to rely on one another to be sensible on the track engenders a real sense of camaraderie off it, too, and everybody mucks in if somebody has a problem. That's not to say there isn't the odd bit of gamesmanship, of course - this is still a competitive sport...
Come the following day, and it's finally dry. In the end, Mike comes second in Club RWD to his series nemesis Ronnie Amis and his Sierra Cosworth by just a tenth of a second and just a second off the pace of Mark Pollard's crazed 6R4 from the Pro class final (admittedly set in the wet).
It's not going to give you as much of a thrill as full-on circuit racing and we're not going to pretend that money isn't an issue (you only need to look at the obvious funds ploughed into some of the Pro entries to realise that). But if you want a series that'll let you take part no matter how tight your budget and yet want more time behind the wheel in one weekend than the average hill climber will get in half a season, then look no further than this.