Beyond the comfort zone

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Porsche’s motor sport department has made sure this latest GT3 deserves its RS label – but should they have gone to such extremes?
By Andrew Frankel

There is a car magazine – mercifully not this one – that makes its journalists fill in a risk assessment form every time they leave the office to drive a car. Had I been made to complete one before driving the Porsche 911GT3 RS it would have made interesting reading.

Please quantify the risk: I’m going to be driving as fast as I dare a rear-engined car in as close to race specification as its number plates will allow, in snow, slush, ice and fog on tyres best described as lightly scratched slicks known to work properly only on warm, dry surfaces. I will be turning off all the electronic aids and oversteer is not so much expected as inevitable. Risk of damage to car or driver? I’d rather not think about it.

In the event the health and safety people would have been proud of me. Mindful of my civic responsibilities I drove north from Nice airport with mouse-like timidity. Even as the road headed for the hills and the hills turned to mountains I remained a model citizen. It was only when I found a pass closed by snow at the top and therefore entirely deserted at the bottom did I start to drive the GT3 RS as its maker intended.

Stung by criticism that the last GT3 RS was too similar to the GT3, Porsche’s motor sport department (which is responsible for all its racing and GT3/GT2 road cars) decided to ensure that accusation would never be levelled at it again. There’s not enough space to detail all the changes and then tell you what it’s like to drive, but here are a few of the more interesting highlights.

For the first time, the RS engine has more power than the GT3, 450bhp as opposed to 435bhp, and all from 3.8 normally aspirated litres. It has a titanium exhaust to save weight and a single-mass flywheel for the same reason. The six-speed manual gearbox is the same (no flappy paddles here, thank you very much), but its internal ratios have been shortened by 11 per cent except for top, which is six per cent lower. This means that, perversely, its top speed is actually a couple of mph lower than a GT3’s.

Its suspension retains GT3 springs but has much more aggressive damper and rollbar rates and a substantially wider track both at the back (which is standard RS practice) and at the front (which is not). This has necessitated the use of the wider body from the 911 Turbo for which an entirely new aero package has been developed, generating even more downforce than the current GT3 which itself boasted five times the downforce of the previous generation GT3. At 186mph the GT3 RS is effectively 170kg heavier than it is at rest.

Most of the time it is the negative aspect of these modifications you feel most keenly. For all its visual aggression and ‘no prisoners’ attitude to the open road, the standard GT3 is actually a remarkably comfortable car in which to travel a few hundred miles. The RS is not. Its ride is too firm and noise levels in the cabin (it has a boom-inducing Perspex rear screen) are incompatible with long-distance cruising. Make the mistake of driving it through a town, or try to park or turn it around in a tight spot, and that flywheel will try to make an idiot out of you: progress can be jerky and unless your clutch work is notably deft it’s damnably easy to stall, much to the amusement of onlookers.

Even some of the advantages are hard to find. Clearly it’s quicker than a GT3 because it’s 15bhp more powerful and 25kg lighter, but you’d need a more sensitive backside than mine to spot it. Despite those super-short gear ratios, Porsche reckons it’s 0-62mph of 4sec flat bests that of the GT3 by 0.1sec. Yet at £104,841 it costs nearly £20,000 more than the GT3. Where, you might ask, is the value in that?

There’s only one way to find out and that’s to rent a race track, a luxury my one day in the RS did not afford. I had to do it the hard way, building up the effort levels on the pass, and waiting for hours until I was convinced that I really did have the mountain to myself. Even then it wasn’t easy because the Michelin tyres are as useless with no heat in them as they are beyond belief once up to temperature. But as the day wore on the road dried out, the sun crept higher and the GT3 RS came good.

The best thing about the GT3 RS is that there’s no best thing about the GT3 RS. Drive a Ferrari 599GTB and it’s the straightline shove that grabs you; do the same in a Lotus Exige and you’ll emerge befuddled by the way it goes around a corner. But what is truly exquisite about the GT3 RS is that all its abilities meld together into one seamless whole to create a car greater even than the sum of its parts.

I don’t know which will live longer in my head, the yowl of the flat six at 8500rpm, the speed of the short throw gearchange, the lucidity of the steering or the gut-busting grip of those tyres. What I do know is that at that moment, there was not a car on sale I’d have rather been driving.

But beyond this I expect the longest-lasting impression, because it was the least expected, was how easy it was to drive very, very fast, easier even than a normal GT3. Thanks to the track and suspension revisions there’s more grip at the front, resulting in the most neutral handling balance of any 911 I’ve driven. A GT3 is a riot but it keeps you busy and needs to be driven according to the traditional slow-in, fast-out 911 protocols if unruly slip angles are not to develop at both ends. But thanks to its more equable spread of grip, you can take greater liberties in the RS and lean on its nose, confident that it will grip. In fact, and contrary to what I’d expected it’s not a natural power-slider. It’ll do it, but requires more provocation than you’d think.

So, GT3 and the change or GT3 RS? I’d have the GT3 even if it didn’t save me a bean. However wonderful these cars are in unrepresentative, isolated situations, the real question is what do you do with them? And the GT3 provides the much easier answer: you use it every day whether you’re going to work or dashing across Europe. By contrast the GT3 RS is really a road-legal track car, scintillating at nine-tenths and above, pretty pointless below it. Only if you’re a track day devotee or simply want the most extreme Porsche on sale does its case before come clear.

Before I drove the RS the basic GT3 was the car I coveted more than any other. Now that I have, and mesmerising though the RS can be,

I feel no grounds for modifying that view.

Porsche 911 GT3 RS
Engine: flat six, 3797cc
Power/Torque: 450bhp at 7900rpm, 317lb ft at 6750rpm
Gearbox: six-speed manual
Tyres: f: 9Jx19 245/35 ZR 19, and r: 12Jx19 325/30 ZR 19
Fuel/CO2: 21.4mpg, 13.2g per km
Acceleration: 0-62mph in 4.0sec
Suspension: f: struts with wishbones; r: multi-link axle
Brakes: standard brake discs and aluminium monobloc calipers, f: 380mm, r: 350mm
Top Speed: 193mph
Price: £104,841

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