A visit to Australia’s finest racetrack with surprise results


TRACK DAYS are one of the most popular club-level motorsport activities. If you want to let your car off its leash and find out what it can do, the most obvious place to do so is a racetrack. There are many options and a quick Google search should result in a number of tracks to choose from.

I tagged along to an Evolve Driver Training event at Phillip Island, which is usually one of the more expensive options due to the track hire fees, but Evolve’s ‘car club practice’ option was a very reasonable $285 and offered 15min of track time every hour. More than enough. Prices and track time can vary considerably depending on the circuit and the organiser, so give them a ring if you’re unsure.

Phillip Island was chosen very deliberately. I know from previous experience that the Subaru BRZ is a blast at Winton, however, would it feel underdone and a bit, well, dull on PI’s fast, flowing layout? No, as it turns out, not even slightly. In fact, the day spent at Phillip Island was one of the best motoring experiences I’ve ever had, both in terms of enjoyment and education.

The Subaru BRZ is the perfect example of why outright speed and driving fun aren’t necessarily correlated. I’ve been lucky enough to drive at Phillip Island in everything from a Porsche Cayman GT4 to a BMW M5 to a Ford Focus RS and the little 151kW/212Nm Subie was as good as any of them (okay, maybe not the Cayman…). Yes, it was slow in a straight line, hitting just over 200km/h down the long straight, but 165km/h through turn one, flat through Hayshed at 155km/h and 145km/h through the probably-flat-but-I’m-too-scared last corner is plenty fast enough for me, thank you very much.

A best time of 1:57.3 was the result and to provide some context, I dug up some lap times from previous MOTOR tests at Phillip Island. With Sir W. Luff driving, a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X clocked 1:55.1 at PCOTY 2008, while in 2011 a VW Golf R managed 1:55.3, a Renault Megane RS250 1:54.4 and a Ford Focus RS 1:54.3.

Go back even further to Bang For Your Bucks 1996 and not a single car could best two minutes, the MercedesBenz C36 AMG coming closest at 2:00.19, which itself was quickest by more than two seconds. Viewed thus, the little BRZ does alright.

The Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres that are part of the tS package provide support lacking in the standard eco-spec Primacys without robbing the car of its adjustability. Through Phillip Island’s long, long corners the challenge was to keep it balanced right on the edge of grip, attempting to correct understeer or oversteer before they reared their heads and robbed the car of precious momentum. If you’re just starting out, this process is made easier by the BRZ’s well-judged ‘Track’ ESP setting.

Warm weather and high speeds meant the Michelins worked hard, though a side-to-side swap at lunchtime at least kept the wear even. Phillip Island isn’t particularly hard on brakes (at least not in a BRZ) so the Brembos proved their worth, with no fade or groans all day. Or so it seemed. According to Subaru the BRZ needs new rotors and pads (partly due to the old pads not fitting snugly with brand new rotors).

The size of the hardware and the weight of the car makes this a bit disappointing, but it also serves as a valuable (if expensive) lesson. If you plan on using your BRZ on track in standard form, be sure to limit the number of laps as wear is clearly occurring even if all feels well. If we had to offer a hypothesis, we’d suggest the rotors are the weak link in the chain, given the lack of any signs of brake stress from behind the wheel (usually a soft or hard pedal).

If you want to track your BRZ regularly - and you should, because it’s fun - it’s clear a rotor upgrade (for tS models) or complete brake overhaul (for standard models) is in order. If that all sounds a bit too serious, next month we’re investigating a relatively little-known motorsport that’s cheap, loads of fun and results in virtually zero wear to any component.