From Weis­sach with love

The most en­gag­ing 911s in his­tory have been cre­ated by a crack Porsche Mo­tor­sport team in Weis­sach. To kick off this cel­e­bra­tion of their great­est hits, An­drew Frankel drives the best un­lim­ited-pro­duc­tion Gt-se­ries Porsche yet, the 911 GT3 RS of 2010

Autocar - - PORSCHE GT SPECIAL - PHOTOGR APHY STAN PA­PIOR

We’re in the moun­tains: fa­mil­iar ter­ri­tory in a car I feel I’ve known all my life. Yet it still sur­prises

I’m sit­ting in a car park at the end of a long moun­tain road lis­ten­ing to the GT3 RS. Its 444bhp 3.8-litre flat-six was switched off a while back, but still it is not si­lent. It ticks, as struc­tural com­po­nents, body pan­els and exquisitely en­gi­neered me­chan­i­cal parts all made of dif­fer­ent ma­te­ri­als of dif­fer­ent shapes and thick­nesses cool down at dif­fer­ent rates. Tick, tick, tick.

New cars don’t tick any more, or maybe they do, but just need a few years and many thou­sands of miles on the clock be­fore they will. This one is seven years old, it’s nearly up to 30,000 miles and, I’m guess­ing, is the hard­est-driven sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion ‘997’ GT3 RS of them all. It was the orig­i­nal press car and would have been thrashed, slid and spun count­less times. Porsche’s press of­fice would be much too dis­creet to men­tion it and there’s no ev­i­dence to sug­gest it but I’d be sur­prised if, in all those miles on road and track, some­one, some­where had not also had an un­in­tended in­ter­ac­tion with the coun­try­side in it. It ticks beau­ti­fully as the heat of the mo­ment slowly leaches away from its body.

It lives with Porsche be­cause when its nat­u­ral work­ing life con­cluded, I guess some time in 2011, no one could quite bear to see it go. Per­haps that’s be­cause by then it had a name. Thanks en­tirely to the last three let­ters of its num­ber­plate, it is known to all in this busi­ness sim­ply as ‘Hebe’. Or per­haps it’s be­cause even then it was clear that this car was spe­cial, even by the stan­dards of Gt-se­ries 911s. It’s my happy task over the next 1500 words or so to try to ex­plain why.

But ac­tions speak louder than words, so I’ll tell you what I did when I knew Hebe was com­ing to stay: I just slipped the fact into con­ver­sa­tion with a few free­lance col­leagues who’d long since cul­ti­vated that look of su­perb in­dif­fer­ence wheeled out when pre­sented with an op­po­site num­ber upon whom for­tune has smiled. “Hebe, eh?” they’d say. And smile. With this car, you re­ally can’t help it.

Hebe ar­rived on a truck and lit­er­ally the first thing I needed to do was go shop­ping. I’m blessed to have a few other op­tions for such a task, not least the brand-new 911 I run on Au­to­car’s long-term f leet, but it never oc­curred to me to take any­thing else. I love do­ing in­con­gru­ous stuff in ex­otic cars – I’m par­tic­u­larly proud of hav­ing taken a Lam­borgh­ini Aven­ta­dor SV through a Mcdon­ald’s drive thru – but the great thing about this GT3 RS is it’s so stag­ger­ingly us­able. It is nar­row by su­per­car stan­dards, rides ab­surdly well for this kind of car and, so long as you don’t bury the pedal above 4000rpm, is even quite quiet. The boot is big and that carbonfibre rear wing the ideal place to rest your Lidl bags (Hebe went to Waitrose, too, I promise) while you fur­tle around in your pocket for its sin­gle, non-re­tractable key.

Here’s an­other won­der­ful as­pect about the 997-se­ries GT3 RS and an­other rea­son why you’d want to take it shop­ping. Look at that wing, the Miche­lin Pi­lot Sport Cup 2 tyres, its stance, those car­bon brakes and the de­cals, and its race-track cre­den­tials shout back at you. And yet there’s so much to en­joy, even in heavy traf­fic. The feel of its steer­ing, the ac­tion of its gear­lever and the per­fectly matched weight of its pedals are all there to be savoured be­low the ur­ban speed limit.

And this you should do. You’d not rip the cork out of a mag­num of Petrus, lift and swig di­rect from the bot­tle and nor should you with one such as this. It’s im­por­tant to do some bor­ing stuff first: if I may fur­ther tor­ture the anal­ogy un­til

it’s on its knees beg­ging for a bul­let, this is the swirling in the glass bit, the ap­pli­ca­tion of the hooter to its rim and the draw­ing deep of its aroma into your lungs. Round Weis­sach way, it ap­pears that 2010 was one of the bet­ter years.

So let’s take a small sip and you can put the spit­toon away: this one’s stay­ing on board. The road is open­ing up, your limbs are loos­en­ing, and you can hear the flat-six just be­gin­ning to warm to the task ahead. A word is form­ing in your head and it is ‘me­chan­i­cal’. More than any­thing else, that is what this car feels like, and if that sounds like a state­ment of the bleed­ing ob­vi­ous, it’s not. Like all peo­ple in their 50s, I think I feel about 30 but the prob­lem is I can’t re­mem­ber what 30 ac­tu­ally felt like, so I’m prob­a­bly kid­ding my­self. Like­wise, if all you drive are mod­ern cars of­fer­ing elec­tric steer­ing, f lappy pad­dles and un­em­ploy­ment for your left foot, it’s too easy to for­get how once at least cer­tain

cars felt com­pletely dif­fer­ent. And it wasn’t that long ago. When you change gear in Hebe, you’re not just mov­ing a lever. You’re en­gag­ing in the me­chan­i­cal process re­quired to dis­en­gage one gear wheel and en­gage an­other. When you press the clutch and feel your left quad com­plain, you know it feels that way be­cause that weight is ab­so­lutely re­quired to en­sure the long-term re­li­a­bil­ity of a trans­mis­sion de­signed to tol­er­ate a life­time on and off the race track.

We’re in the moun­tains now: fa­mil­iar ter­ri­tory in a car I al­ready feel I’ve known all my life. And yet it still sur­prises. I didn’t think it would feel that quick, not least be­cause I’ve very re­cently got out of a brand-new 690bhp GT2 RS, but I was wrong. On the road in the GT2, I found my­self un­will­ing to do much more than dip a toe into the wa­ters of what it could do and had to wait for the track to find out more: in Hebe, that wasted zone doesn’t ex­ist. I’m not say­ing you can use all it has to of­fer all the time, but when the roads are open, empty and dry, you don’t feel that frus­tra­tion of be­ing per­pet­u­ally held back by the bounds of com­mon sense and so­cial ac­cept­abil­ity. On the con­trary, you feel re­leased.

At first, it’s all about the engine, Mezger’s mas­ter­piece. Even to­day, its 8500rpm red­line seems sky high but I’m not shy about go­ing there. The car may be quite old and the engine has done enough miles to have cir­cum­nav­i­gated the globe, but it feels just nicely run in, stronger and more pow­er­ful than when new, bet­ter than ever.

Be­sides, the higher the revs, the hap­pier a Hebe you have. Its engine is just too small, its out­put too high, for it to be blessed with much mid-range torque, and were the snarl-howl­shriek of the flat-six not com­bined with the best gearshift ever to visit a road car, that could be a com­plete pain. In the event, it is more than a plea­sure: it feels like a priv­i­lege. All I’d al­ter are the gear ra­tios, which are need­lessly wide for a car like this and mean that un­less you re­ally do wring its neck in ev­ery gear, you’ll be in dan­ger of fall­ing be­low peak torque when you en­gage the next one.

So strong is the engine’s per­son­al­ity and so dom­i­nant its pres­ence in the cabin that it takes a while for the truth about its role in this car to emerge. The fact is that it’s a mere en­abler, not what the GT3 RS does best but the provider of the means to take you there.

Now we must ven­ture into a twi­light world be­yond 0-60mph times, top speeds, power out­puts, Nür­bur­gring laps or in­deed any­thing that can be mea­sured or ex­plained by facts and num­bers alone. Here, all that mat­ters is how this car feels and how, in turn, it makes you feel. What you need now is some steel in your heart, a glint in your eye and some heat in those fat, sticky Miche­lins.

Push the car, hard. Get some load into the sus­pen­sion to bring it to life. Use the ce­ramic brakes prop­erly, get them hot and then the pedal will f lood with feel. Only then will the pedal plac­ings make sense and your hee­land-toe down­shifts come nat­u­rally. Heel-and-toe? An­other fast-dy­ing art. Then re­mem­ber this is a 911. That’s not a warn­ing be­cause Hebe doesn’t have a trai­tor­ous bone in its body, but still the old rules ap­ply: get into the cor­ner early, then use the engine – not just its power but also its lo­ca­tion over the back wheels – to cat­a­pult you out of the turn. And if the tail moves lat­er­ally, just re­duce the lock and keep go­ing. Then the mo­ment will come when the car and you seem a sin­gle ma­chine. Your brain is its brain, your limbs the de­liv­ery mech­a­nism for its in­struc­tions. And when you find your­self in a car park lis­ten­ing to the tick, tick, tick of the car as it cools, that is the mo­ment to which you will re­turn again and again. That’s why this is not just the best un­lim­it­ed­pro­duc­tion Gt-se­ries Porsche I’ve driven, but one of the best cars of any kind. I hope one day to make its ac­quain­tance again.

The mo­ment will come when the car and you seem a sin­gle ma­chine

Miche­lin Pi­lot Sport Cup 2 tyres grip well but there’s greater en­joy­ment to be had from the pre­ci­sion of the chas­sis’ re­sponses

This par­tic­u­lar GT3 RS has done 30,000 miles yet its engine feels just about run in

Lever and rim de­liver tac­tile feed­back

Gear ra­tios could do with be­ing closer

In the right con­di­tions, you can ex­er­cise a 911 GT3 RS on public roads and ap­pre­ci­ate its abil­ity while be­ing so­cially re­spon­si­ble

Carbonfibre wing: overt sign of in­tent

Its su­perb brakes are car­bon-ce­ramic

PORSCHE 911 GT3 RS

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