The 2018 GT3 RS and Röhrl: something to savour


Porsche has launched its new GT3 RS, with the help of a rally legend – on ice

Positive experiences you’re likely to remember for the rest of your life usually require more than one component to be right, particularly in the automotive world. I could give you a LaFerrari but if all you ever got to do in was sit in solid traffic, it’s not a tale you’d be mentally filing away for the grand-children.

My most recent experience I’ve converted from here today, gone tomorrow short-term electrical memory into something chemically based, and therefore rather more durable, required three components.

The first was Porsche’s new 911 GT3 RS which, unless Porsche has been more than usually leak-resistant, will be the very last 911 of the current generation. An all new car, code-named 992, will be shown at the Los Angeles Motorshow in November. As I understand it, the GT3 RS is late. In the normal run of things it would have appeared last summer, leaving the titanic 700bhp twin turbo GT2 RS as the current car’s last and loudest laugh. But in 2016 Lamborghini nicked Porsche’s Nürburgring lap record and while Porsche may just have tolerated losing that title to an external competitor, to have it taken away from an internal stablemate was intolerable. So Porsche swapped them around, launched the GT2 RS and obliterated the Lambo’s lap time before winter weather put paid to all further attempts for many months.

But the GT3 RS has benefited from the delay and shares so much of the suspension, material and aerodynamic enhancements of its sister, it would only be a mild generalisation to call it a normally aspirated GT2 RS. It also has a little more power than the GT3, whose 4-litre powertrain it shares: thanks to better breathing it’s homologated 20bhp higher at 513bhp, though in truth Porsche says its real, representative output is at least 523bhp.

The second component was the driver. Normally I detest doing passenger ride stories, because I’d always rather drive and regardless of what you might read elsewhere from time to time, very little meaningful data or reliable impressions result. But when that driver is Walter Röhrl, I’m prepared to make an exception. To many of us who do this for a living, Walter occupies a position merited by very few others, and almost none with whom we come into regular contact. The son of one of my closer friends has ‘Walter’ for a middle name in the great man’s honour. To be driven by Röhrl is to witness a man operating at a level that is hard to understand, impossible to emulate.

Related: Porsche GT2 breaks ‘Ring record

But we still need our third element, and today up here on the stone cold side of the Arctic Circle, it is in plentiful supply: ice.

I wait by a track carved into the snow, the temperature an unwavering -28 degC. The inimitable sound of a Porsche flat-six engine yowling up near 9000rpm heralds Walter’s arrival, the sight of a GT3 RS on studded tyres and full opposite lock means my wait is over.

Someone opens a door to reveal a grinning Walter. This is unusual: Röhrl is a serious man but not even a four times Monte Carlo rally winner and double World Rally Champion can maintain an imperturbable outlook in the face of such a fortunate confluence of circumstances.

“Hello. Let’s go,” is all he says, as I fight with my seatbelt. And then he’s gone, studded tyres spraying snow and ice into elegant plumes behind us. What should I do? Try to examine the technique of the master so as to try to impart to you some small sliver of what this experience is like, try to record it on my telephone or sit back and enjoy the ride? I end up doing all three, the last only after the first two have proven futile. I can’t see the pedals so don’t know whether he’s treading on one, the other or both, let alone which feet he’s using. And my attempt at filming is hopeless: we are never straight for a moment as Walter throws the car this way and that and you’d need a stronger arm than mine to hold the camera straight.

So I just savour it instead.

As you might imagine, Walter Röhrl has concealed a few tricks up his sleeve in his 50 years of driving rally cars, but his most sublime skill is not his ability to keep a car sideways, but to do so without seemingly losing forward momentum. It is spectacular to watch and indescribable fun to experience.

Aged 70, Walter is proving to this day that if you have it and you use it, you just don’t lose it. Sadly I don’t. 

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