Winged wonder

Porsche’s GT2 RS is perhaps the greatest 911 you can buy – just watch out for the sting in its tail – Porsche 911 GT2 RS –

So fast is the pace of change among ultra-fast road cars at present that when I drove the Lamborghini Huracán Performante it was the fastest production car to lap the Nürburgring. Yet by the time I came to write about it on this page last month, it had already been beaten by another car. This car, as it happens.

So we now find ourselves in an era when a road car made in unlimited numbers, derived from one that is a very common sight on our roads indeed, is now as quick around a track as all but the very fastest Group C cars of the early 1980s. These cars were not only pure prototypes, but weighed less than a tonne, had full ground effectbodywork and massive slick tyres. So if you can afford the £207,506 Porsche asks for a GT2 RS, you can forget the fact that it laps fully 10sec faster than the limited-numbers hybrid hypercar 918 Spyder that cost more than three times as much, and concentrate on the rather more focusing fact that you have a car as quick as customer-specification 956 with a professional driver at its wheel.

It’s crazy, and one day I really will return from one of these tests and just cry “Enough!” Indeed, having been bitten by the previous GT2 RS harder than any other road car I’ve driven in the last 25 years, I fully expected that time to be now. But it seems not.

As you will now be correctly speculating, back in 2010 I crashed the last GT2 RS. My excuse is I was on a private track, I’d grown tired of doing endless drift shots for my photographer and decided to do one that would not need repeating, with some fairly inevitable consequences. I got caught out by the turbo lag, I was a split-second late with the correction, over compensated and off the track we duly went. The damage was so light the car resumed its duties later than day, but I’d crashed it all the same.

The good news is that this one is even more powerful, to the tune of 80bhp, and has even more torque. So much, in fact, that the lunatics in Weissach who dream up these cars briefly came over all responsible and seriously considered retaining the four-wheel-drive system from the 911 Turbo S, from which the GT2 RS is derived. But where’d be the fun in that? With 691bhp from a massively tuned 3.8-litre twin-turbo flat six in a car weighing just 1410kg with the optional ‘Weissach pack’ (comprising magnesium wheels, a carbon roof and – get this – carbon-fibre anti-roll bars and a titanium roll cage), it is a barely believable 31sec per lap quicker around the ’Ring than the car it replaces. The one I crashed.

Of course you don’t get that kind of decrease in lap time with just some extra power brought courtesy of bigger turbos, a titanium exhaust and an engine remap. Tyre technology has moved on in giant leaps since the start of the decade and the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres on the GT2 RS are bespoke to the car. It has stiffer springs than the Turbo S but softer anti-roll bars. A huge aero programme, featuring the biggest wings ever seen on a standard production Porsche, now brings downforce you will not mistake in quick racetrack corners, while all the refinements already seen on the last-generation GT3 RS (such as its carbon-fibre bonnet and engine cover) are common to the GT2 RS as well.

If the looks fail to scare you, the sound will finish the job. Andreas Preuninger, the man behind all of Porsche’s GT-series cars, told me with unconcealed glee that the car sounds the way it does because, “It does not pretend to be something else, and is allowed to sound like a late 1970s 935 race engine.” I can confirm he is not kidding. It growls into life, its voice deep, mean and urgent. Some 911 straight sixes sound wonderfully mellifluous even at idle; this, emphatically, is not one of them. Having heard the bark, you’d not be human not to wonder about the bite to come.

If you read anywhere else of someone reckoning to have got the most out of this car on the public road, I’ll show you either a fantasist or someone who should never be allowed to hold a steering wheel again. It evoked in me a feeling I’ve felt in a few other road cars, but only really specialist stuff like the LaFerrari and McLaren F1. They made the network of roads and streets feel like a net around the car, one from which you try to break free at your peril. Driving becomes an exercise in saintly restraint. Attempts to savour the performance become mere frustrations, impotent little squirts, still strong enough to eliminate straights in all but an instant, and close the gap to the car in front faster still. You need to take it somewhere where it can be released.

In the meantime there is still stuff to enjoy. It rides remarkably well and the noise levels in the cabin are acceptable despite its polycarbonate side and rear screens. If you asked for yours to be fitted with navigation, entertainment and other usual refinements, you could happily use one every day. The enormous front Michelins tramline a little, but no more than you might expect from such a car, and otherwise the steering is excellent. But all the time you’re aware that you’re clopping a racehorse around a manège, and while it will do it, that is not its purpose in life.

I know this because I was able to complete a dozen laps of the Silverstone Grand Prix circuit in the car before I had to give it back. Laps in which every other car on the track day, be it Ferrari or Caterham, simply became obstacles to be approached, negotiated and dispatched.

Usually I’d expect such a car to be quite difficult to drive until you’d learned its ways and then, with familiarisation, become progressively easier. That would be logical, but it was not quite my experience. In fact at first I could barely believe how well behaved it was. As you can imagine the power is immense, but it arrives far more progressively than in the last GT2 RS; in all my time in it, the new car didn’t scare me once. The most obvious manifestation of this is a level of traction you could scarcely credit to a rear-drive car with more than 550lb ft of torque to transmit. I don’t know how it does it, but I’m mightily glad it does. An easily understood measure of just how successful Porsche has been here is that it will get to 62mph in 2.8sec, quicker with two driven wheels than the Lamborghini Huracán Performante is with four.

But after a while, the GT2 RS actually becomes a little harder to drive. This is because the performance is so enormous, it places highly unusual demands on the chassis and, in particular, the brakes. This is a car that indicates more than 170mph on the approach to Stowe, meaning even the biggest carbon discs Porsche can squeeze behind the rims are going to have their work cut out. Likewise, the tyres and suspension provide apex grip of more than 1.6g if you believe the little indicator on the dash, but the car still feels like it has more power than grip. And that’s the thing: drive a GT4 or GT3 race car and I guarantee its power will be by far the least exciting component of its dynamic make-up: in relative terms they stop and corner far better than they accelerate. The GT2 RS is the reverse, so even on Britain’ biggest racetrack, the car needs managing.

Which I must say I quite liked. I want to feel involved in the actions of cars like this, feel that whatever skill I have is making a difference. The PDK gearbox removes an element of that involvement (all RSs are PDK now and, besides, I bet Porsche doesn’t have a stick shift that would take the torque), but the need to look after the tyres and brakes puts much of it back. And you’ll still go faster than anything else wearing a number plate.

In the end a car I’d approached with some trepidation turned out to be one I absolutely adored. It’s not perfect – you can feel the heavy back end become restless through the left, right, left, right, left Becketts complex – but which 911 ever was different? What mattered far more was that I felt in charge of it in a way I never had in its predecessor. Put it this way: before I drove it, there’d never been a GT2 I’d preferred to its contemporary, normally aspirated GT3 stablemate. But if you parked every last one of them in the Silverstone pitlane – 911R included – I’d walk past the lot for one more lap in the GT2 RS.


Porsche 911 GT2 RS

Price £207,506 Engine 3.8 litres, 6 cylinders Power691bhp@7000rpm Torque 553lb ft@2500rpm Weight 1440kg (1410kg with Weissach pack) Power to weight 480bhp per tonne Transmission seven-speed paddle shift, rear-wheel drive 0-60mph 2.8sec Top speed 211mph Economy 23.9mpg CO2 269g/km