THE WORDS ‘MOTORS PORTS’ AND ‘racing’ are used too casually by so many brands for their road cars that many of us are duped into thinking that we could all be Lewis Hamilton if given the chance to pilot his F1 car. Most of us will never get to drive a proper racing car of course so we may never get to find out if we’re made of The Right Stuff or not. One car that comes as close as you get to experiencing what a real racing machine is like to drive is the Porsche 911 GT3. Named after the GT3 racing series, these cars are built by the motorsport division alongside Yuey Tan’s Carrera Cup racers and the 911 RSR that is raced at Le Mans.
From their very core, the GT3 starts life as a more focused machine than the other 911 variants. Apparently, the car’s weight-saving programme starts from the body-in-white, where reinforcements that would support the rear seat belts for example are omitted and instead there are mounting points designed to accept a roll cage. This is why there is no rear seat option for this two-seater 911. The latest update of the 911 GT3 codenamed 991.2 is essentially to be more relevant with the latest GT3 Cup racing cars. On several occasions throughout the launch, Porsche’s representatives went through lengths to emphasise that the new 4.0 -litre flat-six in the GT3 is now exactly the same as the power units of the GT3 Cup cars. In the road-going application, the engine is tuned to make 500hp and revs to 9,000rpm-the highest revving street legal production Porsche engine ever.
Contentiously, the other major highlight of the new 911 GT3 is the return of the manual gearbox to this variant. When the 991-generation was launched, Porsche took the decision to fit it with the seven-speed PDK twin-clutch automated gearbox in the name of faster shift times and overall efficiency – besides, the Carrera Cup cars the GT3 was based on had long since converted to sequential shifters anyway. Although the GT3 now has a similar displacement, output and if spec’d with the six-speed manual it would seem mechanically identical to the 911R, Porsche assures us that the GT3’s engine has been thoroughly re-engineered, namely with the central oil feed where engine oil is pumped through the crankshaft and a centrifuge that defoams the oil before it is fed into a separate tank- again, another innovation directly derived from racing cars.
While the move to PDK made the previous model accessible to a new group of customers, the GT3 faithful were outraged by this heresy. The popularity of limited-edition specials like the manual-only 911R proved that there was still a healthy demand for a three pedal GT3 and this time around, Porsche has reintroduced a six-speed manual as an option while the PDK continues to be offered as standard. When asked about the U-turn, in the gearbox policy, it was explained that Porsche Motorsport, which develops and builds the GT3 as well as the racing cars, simply did not have the time and capacity to develop two transmissions at once. So it decided to focus on the PDK first and this time around, it had time to develop a proper manual gearbox.
Although the 911 Carrera models are available with an optional seven-speed manual gearbox, Porsche Motorsport chose to stick with a more conventional six-speed; mainly because it was found to be less prone to miss-shifts when the driver gets busy on a race track. Personally, this writer welcomes this move because the optional seven-speed manual doesn’t reward with as sweet a feel as the six-speed unit. Another highlight of the latest GT3 is the introduction of active rear wheel steering. Working in tandem with the PTV Plus electronic differential lock for the PDK models and a mechanical PTV diff lock for the manual versions, these endow the car with a seemingly telepathic connection to the driver. The problem with most modern sports cars is that Electronic Stability Program (ESP) and other driving aids have also contributed to this illusion by discretely intervening and correcting the driver’s inputs to flatter and lull them into thinking that they have the talent to handle an infinite amount of horsepower.
The other downside to easy electronic aids have made supercars simpler to drive is that it’s all too easy to become bored once you’ve gotten used to the acceleration, which makes customers crave for even more horsepower like an addict chasing another high. What they really need then, is a car to give them a wake up call and keep them honest. The car that will do this job is the Porsche 911 GT3. The GT3 doesn’t suffer fools and behaves like a real racing car. This means all the things you hear racing drivers complain about in the press conferences; downforce, tyre temperature and slippery surfaces, can dramatically influence the 911 GT3. We’re not talking about finessing lap times and shaving tenths of a second off your qualifying time here. We’re talking about the business of just keeping the car on the road!
Our first encounter with the new GT3 came on an unseasonably cold rainy day in April where it was 11 degrees Celsius. In those conditions, the race-bred Porsche presented a paradox. If you take it nice and slow, the tyres will stay cold and don’t offer much grip and there’s no downforce to plant the car to the road. Go a little faster and both problems are solved. It sounds counter-intuitive, especially on rainy roads but you just have to trust the car.
In the driving rain on the Spanish Autopista (expressway), the GT3 feels skittish around 80 or 90km/h. Instinctively, you’ll want to slow down until you regain more control, but by this time, little old ladies in Ford Fiestas are whizzing past wondering what’s wrong with you. So you press on, trying to find that sweet spot where the car feels comfortable. Things start to improve around 100km/h so keep going and it actually feels safer at 150km/h. This was good enough for this driver who was kept at bay by visibility and a sense of self-preservation. As the miles build up, the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 N1 tyres also improve as they start to build up a little heat. These tyres don’t like the cold at all. We eventually end up at the brand new Gaudix circuit not far from Granada, Spain. Thankfully, it had stopped raining by then but the day remained overcast and never got above 14 degrees Celsius. We’re greeted by rally legend Walter Rohrl whom with a deadpan expression described the glistening wet track: “Be careful, there’s some moisture there.”
Fortunately, Rohrl was on hand to show us the lines around this new track and it wasn’t long before our cars carved out a dry line. With each passing lap, confidence grew and soon we started to lean into it. This is a car that wants to be driven hard; it punishes the meek and rewards the brave. If you drive the GT3 with trepidation, it feels like you’ll undetsteer out of tight corners. Keep your foot in, and the Porsche digs in to catapult you out of every apex. The reason for this, according to Rohrl, is the PTV differential lock. “It only works under acceleration, when you take your foot off the gas pedal, the differential disengages and it can’t help you.” With this newfound knowledge, we head out for another round of hot laps. This time, I was determined to show the Old Man what I can do. When driven in anger, the GT3 takes everything you throw at it and spits it back at you. For every action, there is an equal reaction indeed.
Tyres heated up, track drying and me getting comfortable with the car, I start pushing harder, braking later and using the full width of the track more and more, even riding the kerbs where I can. We get to a point where things get a bit squirelly, especially under braking, and it’s about as much as I can do. By this point with most driving instructors, I’d get the call over the radio to take it easy and slow down a bit. With Walter Rohrl, I start to wonder if the radio is working. After the quickest stint of the day, I emerge from the GT3’s cockpit, with my brow, damp with sweat and a silly smile on my face. I shake hands with the double Word Rally Champion and Le Mans winner. He gives an acknowledging nod and heads to the paddock. I felt like a comedian who had just won Johnny Carson’s approval after a set on the Tonight Show.
Then, I’m brought back to reality. My friend James Wong from Porsche Asia Pacific who rode shotgun with Rohrl told me that the 70-year old was only driving at 40 per cent, he wasn’t even using both hands to hold the steering wheel. Even if I may never be Porsche’s next contract driver, the GT3 made me feel like one, provided you’re willing to work for it. It demands your respect and concentration. A slight lapse will catch you out with a waggle or tank slapper. In any car, the principles of weight transfer, along with oversteer and understeet, apply to varying degrees. In the hyper agile GT3, everything seems magnified by a factor of 10. The slightest throttle adjustment will find the car’s nose pointing away or into the corner. You have to concentrate or you’ll pay the price.
I’ve always said that a proper sports car should be able to scare you if the driver gets complacent otherwise, he’ll take it for granted and eventually get bored of the car. I have a feeling that the GT3 is one of those cars that will teach you something new with every drive. After spending most of the day with the PDK GT 3,1 have the opportunity to sample the manual version. To my surprise, I find that the clutch isn’t overly weighted like it is in the 997 model but the 991.2 feels just right.
Within a few corners, it was easy to understand Porsche’s reasons for using the six-speed manual ‘box instead of the seven. With the shift gate well-spaced, selecting the right gear while getting busy on the track wasn’t as daunting as it sounds. In fact, it was thoroughly enjoyable. The combination of copious amounts of torque and power at your disposal coupled with a close ratio gearbox means that you needn’t really concern yourself too much with finding the right gear Whether you’re in third or fourth gear didn’t seem to make much of a difference. At times, the only incentive to shift up was so that you got to hear the engine bade on downshifts.
Although short, the Guadix circuit has enough of an uphill build up to the main straight. Just as you exit the final hairpin corner in second gear, keeping your right foot planted will see the rev counter rise all the way to the 9,000rpm where that fiat-six sounds absolutely delicious! You’ll want to do it over and over again just hear that naturally-aspirated engine sing. Fortunately, the GT3 is more than up for it and its carbon ceramic brakes feel as fresh at the end of the day as they did the start. With models like the GT3, Porsche has made the 911 accessible to an incredibly wide range of driver with differing abilities.
The GT3 is not for everyone and neither is it meant to be. Issues like tyre temperature would probably never be a problem in Singapore so we’re lucky in that sense. Still, even I’m not sure if I would buy a GT3 for myself if I could. Personally, the appeal of the Porsche 911 is that of an everyday sports car. With the focused nature of the GT3 and its flamboyant rear wing and low ride height, it’s a little too flashy for my taste. Also, I would like rear seats in my 911 while my little ones can still fit in there. To this end, I suppose a 911 GTS would still be my choice. However if I did, I wouldn’t hesitate to get the manual version. It was just so much more involving. But that’s just me. I’m glad that Porsche makes such a range of 911s and will continue with even more extreme models such as the GT3 RS and GT2 RS that has already been announced. Long may they continue so that there’s always a car that pushes any driver to up their game.