Nearly devoid of grandstands, Willow Springs International Raceway, a windblown track in the high desert north of Los Angeles, is a long way from the crowds and spectacle of major motorsports. Built for the heyday of sports car racing in the 1950s, Willow has seen public enthusiasm for road racing come and go, then come back again, remaining something of a mecca for amateurs and professionals alike. When we arrived with four new sports cars at the leading edge of today's roadster revival, there was a sense of coming home.
The cars tempted a sprint for the quickest open bucket seat, like how the 24-hour endurance race at LeMans used to start. The lure was a chance to drive Chevrolet's Z06 Corvette, Porsche's Boxster S, the Toyota MR2 Spyder, and the Audi TT Quattro, sports cars varying widely in size and price but sharing an unabashed purpose-fun behind the wheel.
Their personalities already were expressing themselves on the trip up to the track: The latest-generation Corvette, the Z06 coupe, attacked the mountain grades with more power, less weight, and stickier tires, an evolution of Corvette's basic format-a thumping V8 engine driving the rear wheels-that hasn't changed since the first eight-cylinder engine in 1955.
Porsche's Boxster S has a larger (3.2-liter) engine, more power, bigger disc brakes borrowed from the 911 Carrera, and a sixth gear in its transmission.
Not as powerful, but not as expensive, Toyota's mid-engine MR2 Spyder takes up pretty much where previous cars wearing that nameplate left off, putting Toyota back in the sports car business with a nearly irresistible price of $24,040-lowest by far in our group.