It must have seemed like a brilliant idea: a onemake national rally championship using 911s. Certainly, the director of Porsche Motorsport, Harmut Kristen, was not alone in thinking so – after all, Porsche wouldn’t even have to design a car: the template already existed in the shape of a specially built 996 GT3 that Walter Röhrl had driven to great acclaim as the ‘hare’ in the 2001 Deutschland Rally. As was later revealed, this car was the very first GT3 off the line in 1999, and it was kept by the factory and later turned into a rally demonstrator by the Motorsport department. The man behind the one-make scheme was Belgian Gérard Magniette, an entirely plausible former national rally champion who had competed in Mercedes 190s, Escort Cosworths and a Hartge BMW M3.
The northwest corner of Europe, which is centred on Belgium and overlaps with neighbouring regions of France and Germany, has long had a vibrant tarmac rallying scene, and in the 2000s, Magniette’s workshops prepared engines for his own Future World Rally Team and for other rally clients. His approach to Porsche coincided with the end of production of the GT3 RS and for Porsche, it neatly resolved the matter of selling offthe last few cars. Magniette’s plan was to sell these rally specials to wealthy clients and then manage their racing programme in a complete turnkey operation: clients would pay €125,000 for the 996 GT3 RS Rallye – named the Road Challenge – plus an annual running fee of €35,000.
The offer involved garaging and maintaining the cars as well as delivery to the circuit and pits support. With catering and hospitality also included, the client simply had to turn up and drive. Made for the Belgian series, these WRC-compliant GT3s represented a cost-effective route into the sport in a part of the world where rallying has a large following. The advent of the new championship was widely fl agged in the motorsport press, Autosport on 2 September 2004 quoting Harmut Kristen: “We are positive with respect to this private commitment of the ‘Future World’ team and are pleased that private persons are being given the opportunity to take part in 911 rally sport. This has not been the case for many years. It may even be the case that other manufacturers will adopt the idea to compete against the 911.” Although Porsche Motorsport had already built a rally 996, it developed the 996 GT3 RS Road Challenge specifically for the Belgian Rally Championship.
Kristen deputed Roland Kussmaul to oversee construction of the cars – effectively modified GT3 RSs – which was carried out at Magniette’s workshops near Antwerp, Belgium. The GT3 RS itself was still comparatively new, first shown at Frankfurt in 2004, and was 50kg lighter than the stock GT3 thanks mainly to a bonnet, rear wing and windows in polycarbonate. It had a stiffer, lower suspension and the engine was modified with the Cup car’s intake and exhaust ports, raising the power output to 390hp. The 996 GT3 RS Road Challenge took the weight loss programme slightly further. According to Jörg Austen’s definitive Porsche 911 – Rallye und Rennsportwagen, the rear cover, wings and doors were made in Kevlar and window glass, except for the windscreen, was in Perspex. To improve ground clearance, the ride height was lifted from 75mm to 100mm, and the underside was given a light bitumen coating to afford some protection from gravel spray. The exhaust was as fitted to the Cup car, with catalytic converters, but fairly minimal silencing; the Road Challenge also took the Cup’s titanium connecting rods and Weissach set a rev limit of 8,200rpm, some 400rpm higher than the RS, which was more appropriate for the special six-speed low ratio gearbox. This was designed to offer maximum acceleration out of slow corners, which was crucial in tarmac rallying.