The changes might be subtle, but the differences are dramatic | by Andrew Frankel
How would you like your very fast sports car to be? This is one you can jump into and with confidence drive almost as fast as you’ll ever drive it the first time you chance across a suitable road or track. It is fun, it is easy and requires very little of you as a driver. I like such cars.
Or perhaps you incline towards another, the kind you must learn, chapter by chapter, immersing yourself and not moving on until each detail is fully understood. More than most, this new Porsche 911 GT3 RS belongs in the latter category.
In the past and with the sole exception of the malevolent turbocharged GT2 RS, an RS sticker on a GT Porsche meant a car merely optimised for really fast driving, a car focused slightly more on track than road rather than the other way around. It would not have a bigger engine and there’d be little or no more power.
It would of course be lighter, have different suspension settings and even mildly tweaked gear ratios, but that would largely be that. A GT3 RS was really just a better, more focused GT3. And now this.
This GT3 RS will be remembered not as the one that broke the mould, but smashed it into several thousand pieces and ground it into the dust. With each successive generation of RS, Porsche customers have said ‘love it but next time, could we have just a little more?’ With this generation, such conversations will cease. Porsche has given these customers precisely what they sought – and with such commitment that some may feel they should be more careful about what they wish for.
The new GT3 RS is not just a comprehensively tweaked GT3, it is dramatically different in every way that matters, none more so than the way it gets around a track. But for now let’s consider how it got that way.
Porsche’s first call was to give it a different body. These days 911s come in three sizes and the GT3 is classed as a medium, the RS as a large (it uses the extra-wide Turbo body, then pushes out the front wheel arches further still). This provides not just a broader footprint, but the chance to use the Turbo’s side inlets to ram air into the engine.
At speed that alone is worth 10bhp.
What engine should that be? A new one, stroked out from 3.8 to 4 litres. As the previous generation 4-litre GT3 RS was a very limited-run special edition, this is the first time a series production RS has had a larger engine than that of the GT3. It develops 493bhp, 25bhp more than a GT3 but with a fat wall of additional torque all the way from idle.
The suspension receives stiffer rear springs, new dampers, new roll bars, new geometry and, hung off it, the wheel and tyre combination found in the 918 Spyder hypercar. Except even that wasn’t quite good enough for Porsche, who tinkered not with the size but the compound and construction of the tyres to optimise them for a rear- engine, rear-drive application.
Like all RS models this one needed to be lighter too, no mean feat given its heavier body and bigger wheels and tyres, so Porsche went to town on the materials budget. The doors were already aluminium and stay that way, but the bonnet and front wings are now carbon fibre while the roof is made from magnesium. The exhaust is titanium. So now the car is 10kg lighter than the GT3, not much but an impressive achievement in such circumstances.
But the single largest change was to the aero package. See that deep front splitter and huge rear wing? Together they produce three times more downforce than does the GT3 body or, if you’d like it expressed another way, 80 per cent of the downforce generated by Porsche’s latest Carrera Cup racer.
If ever there were a statement of intent, this surely is it.
Except it doesn’t feel that way, not at first. In fact it feels very much like business as usual. Inside there’s a small steering wheel, the odd badge, some carbon fibre trim and a red-line on the tachometer reduced from the GT3’s 9000rpm to a trifling 8800rpm, a symptom of a long-throw crankshaft that, incidentally, is made from the same steel as the crankshaft in Porsche’s 919 Le Mans car.
The car is quiet, comfortable and in all ways sufficiently civilised for daily use. You may even wonder why Porsche went to so much effort to make a car that appears so little changed. Go to a track, preferably with fast and difficult corners, and you’ll soon find out.
It lets you do the easy stuff first. The acceleration is mighty, enough to propel a normally aspirated, sub 4-litre car from rest to 125mph in fewer than 11sec, and the searing howl that goes with it no more or less than that of a thoroughbred racing car. The brakes, at least the optional ceramic rotors on the car I drove, are tirelessly powerful.
And there’s grip of a kind you’ll only recognise in a road car if you are acquainted with cars like McLaren’s P1.
But as you drive harder and harder, peeling away layers of hidden talent like the skins of an onion, you become focused more and more on the fact that this is a road car on street tyres and sooner or later you’re going to come across something it can’t do.
But it doesn’t happen that way. Once you’re past the point at which a normal GT3 would simply have given up, the RS changes its character dramatically. No longer happy to acquiesce and play your game your way, it becomes ever more assertive and lively, challenging you to push still harder and find what next it has in store for you.
For me this progressed to the point where I was still learning about it when I ran out of time in the car. Right on what appears to be the limit it is not easy to drive, but by then you’re driving it in a way you’d never think of driving any other 911. You back it into corners on a trailing throttle, actually encouraging the rear to break loose and then riding it out on the throttle. In longer, slower corners it will over- and understeer several times between entry and exit. Only in quicker curves, when the moderating influence of those wings can be brought to bear, does it calm down.
So what should we make of this? As a stand-alone product it would make no sense, for the GT3 RS is simply too extreme and demanding when driven the way its maker intended. But it’s not, it’s part of a growing family. There’s the standard, superb GT3 and, next year, a third, back-to-basics version with a manual gearbox and a brief to be a joy to drive on the open road.
Given the existence of these alternatives, I’m pleased the pinnacle GT3 is a car that challenges you as a driver: I’ve always believed that with any car you tend only to get out what you put in and, yes, the GT3 RS does ask a lot of its driver. But in return is the most involving, rewarding driving experience of any modern 911. For me, that’s an effort worth making.
Engine: 4.0 litres, 6 cylinders, normally aspirated
Power: [email protected] rpm
Torque: 339lb [email protected] rpm
Transmission: seven-speed double clutch, rear-wheel drive
Top speed: 193mph