It's the little things that count

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Visually the latest 911 GT3 is similar to its predecessor, but a host of subtle changes make for a superior car
by Andrew Frankel

Some insight into the minds of those who created this new Porsche 911 GT3 was revealed by an entirely innocent question asked at a recent round table discussion in Stuttgart with Andreas Preuninger, the man responsible for its ultra-high performance road cars. The questioner asked why Porsche’s new seven-speed PDK paddle-shift transmission would not be available even as an option on the GT3, and we all nodded sagely and waited for Preuninger to explain that PDK was developed in conjunction with the all-new direct-injection engine recently introduced into the 997, while the GT3 engine, being a motor sports product, was based on the original GT1 race engine and therefore incompatible with PDK. But that’s not what he said. He said: “First, PDK adds 30kg; second, PDK cars do not have a clutch. And if you want to do really big drifts, sometimes you need a clutch.”

Following the act of the last GT3 must have been a hellishly difficult brief. I spend my life questioning cars. I’m paid to be cynical, difficult to please, to sniff out marketing bullshit and to find faults however small and wherever they may lie. And reading what I wrote about the last GT3, my only serious complaint was the gearbox which, it turned out, was a bad example and not representative of customer cars. It was the only sports car on sale I’d have been seriously inclined to spend my own money on, were it not for a job that ensures I would hardly ever have used it.

And when you first see it, you might well conclude that Preuninger and his colleagues had decided there was no point in changing a winning formula. After all, they sold 5200 of the old GT3 or, as he puts it, “slightly more than double what we had dreamt of being the maximum possible”. Visually there’s very little difference: there are new vents at the front and back, a new front spoiler and a different rear wing, but it appears to be all cosmetic. Just don’t suggest that to Preuninger. In fact those oh-so-subtle changes to the bodywork have increased downforce at maximum speed by a factor of five. “Find some quiet autobahn and try a really fast lane change at 250km/h and you’ll really feel it then.” So I did. And I did.

In fact everything related to the performance of this car is different to the previous GT3. The engine now displaces 3.8 litres rather than 3.6, gives 435bhp instead of 415 and will rev to 8500rpm rather than 8400. Mid-range torque rises too, by 18lb ft to 317lb ft.

The suspension receives stiffer front springs but softer anti-roll bars (identical to those used on the now discontinued GT2), the front brakes increase in diameter from 350 to 380mm, while even the tyres, visually identical to the previous generation, are of a different compound and construction to counter claims that the old car was perhaps too exciting in very wet conditions.
But you have to look for little wires attached to the engine mounts to reveal just how hard Porsche has thought about this car. For around £1000, you can equip your GT3 with active engine mounts containing fluid whose viscosity changes when introduced to an electrical current. So when you’re travelling slowly the engine is allowed to move about by up to 2cm, improving refinement and, more importantly, traction out of slow corners. But if you’re travelling fast on a track, this movement is restricted to less than 2mm, to stop the engine wandering around the engine bay just when you need its mass to be as stable as possible. Without the active mounts, movement can be up to 1.6cm.

The result is a car that over a single lap of the old Nürburgring will put a quarter of a mile between it and an old GT3. Moreover, Porsche says Walter Röhrl has lapped the track in under 7min 40sec. Porsche has its own Ferrari Scuderia and despite the Ferrari’s extra 75bhp, bigger brakes and a paddle-shift transmission that will save at least 1.5sec every 10 shifts over the manual GT3, Preuninger says Röhrl has so far failed to get it around the Nordschleife in less than 7min 45sec.

Of course those five seconds saved may have no meaning beyond bar room bragging rights, but they do at least belong to a car costing £81,914, or less than half what Ferrari will charge you for its Scuderia.

The GT3 first shows its skills on the fast moving but heavily populated autobahn leading from its Zuffenhausen home towards the Swabian Alps and the roads where Preuninger and his chums sign off such cars. It rides beautifully, cruise control engaged in the slow but steady traffic, engine no more than a pleasant background hum. Then the derestriction sign appears, the road clears, and a couple of blipped downshifts later it’s accruing speed at a preposterous rate for a car with a normally-aspirated engine displacing less than four litres.

In seconds 300km/h has been acquired, and only then does its acceleration suddenly slow dramatically. Preuninger says it will do 312km/h or 193mph, a velocity he rightly dismisses with a shrug as ‘just a number’. But howling up through the gears towards it, waiting in each one for the 8500rpm change-up light, is a treat as rare as it is special. A GT2 is faster and more powerful by far than this, but is also less immediate, intimate and exciting.

In the mountains you’ll get the most of the Michelin Cup tyres only when they are really hot, though they’re progressive enough even when cool. A Pirelli alternative will be available later in the year with a deeper tread pattern that’s reckoned by Porsche to be slightly slower but a better all-rounder, with a particular advantage in the wet.

But what you notice most is not its raw grip, but the willingness of the GT3 to bend itself to your will. This is not a car that simply goes where you point it: it will understeer and oversteer like all proper 911s always have, but the scope it provides for you to control these forces is wider than any other 911 I’ve known. Though it will perform to visual extremes, greater enjoyment is derived from feeling the effects of minute adjustments to wheel or throttle, the kind whose input and effect would be noticed only by the most observant of passengers. In short it is the most precise, lucid and satisfying Porsche of the modern era.

The only question left is for how long. Preuninger’s next project is the RS version of this car and we’ll see it later this year. I never quite saw the point of the last RS which was no more powerful than the GT3 but a lot wider and more expensive. It is something that has also been communicated with some force by its customers. “And we listen to our customers,” says Preuninger with equal force. So it can be taken as a given that the new RS will be much more extreme even than the last one: more powerful, more focused and, I’d be happy to bet, substantially lighter too. How extreme? Preuninger’s smile is that of someone who knows something you don’t. “Believe me, Andrew, this is not a kindergarten car any more.” I’ll leave you to mull over that one yourself.

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