991 GT3 RS road trip

The Isle of Man’s TT course is To­tal 911’s best driv­ing road on the planet. Lee drives it in Porsche’s best Rennsport

Total 911 - - Contents - Writ­ten by Lee si­b­ley Pho­tog­ra­phy by ali Cu­sick

When it was launched in 2015, Porsche’s 991 GT3 RS moved the Rennsport game on sub­stan­tially from its pre­de­ces­sors. Equipped with a 4.0-litre flat six en­gine pro­duc­ing 500hp in a body that gen­er­ated more than dou­ble the down­force of the 997 GT3 RS 4.0, the 991 also boasted rear-axle steer­ing, a seven-speed PDK gear­box and huge 21inch rear wheels bor­rowed from the 918 Spy­der.

The caveat, of course, was the big­gest, widest and heav­i­est RS ever, but that didn’t mat­ter. The car was quicker, faster and more ef­fi­cient than ever be­fore too, with a ‘Ring lap time of seven min­utes 20 sec­onds to en­dorse it as the most ac­com­plished Porsche Rennsport of the time. Even works driver Nick Tandy has said it’s the near­est thing to a Cup car that you’re ever likely to get. The 991 GT3 RS is a mon­ster of a sports car – and therein lies its big­gest prob­lem. Top­ping out in sec­ond gear sees 73mph reg­is­ter on the RS’S speedome­ter, which is enough to break the max­i­mum UK speed limit. Red­line in third takes you past 100mph, which will guar­an­tee the loss of your driv­ing li­cence if caught – yet the RS still has an­other four for­ward ra­tios to go.

It may well come with li­cence plates af­fixed to its front and rear bumpers, but the re­al­ity is you won’t even be­gin to tap into the 991 GT3 RS’S ca­pa­bil­i­ties on a public road. This is a race car, born and bred, and a race car needs a race track to call home. Or does it?

If I were to prof­fer the idea that a suit­able play­ground for Porsche’s lat­est RS awaits just the other side of a ferry ride from the UK, to a chal­leng­ing public road that can have dis­as­trous – per­ilous, even – con­se­quences for those who get it wrong, then you may well as­sume I’m talk­ing about the Nür­burg­ing Nord­schleife. And, while it’s true the ‘Ring is a happy hunt­ing ground for many a GT3 RS, on this oc­ca­sion our des­ti­na­tion lies on a ferry east of the UK main­land, not west. I am, of course, talk­ing about the Isle of Man.

Home to the fa­mous TT mo­tor­cy­cle race held an­nu­ally since 1907, its 37-mile course is made up en­tirely of public roads around the is­land, which is a self-gov­ern­ing ter­ri­tory with Bri­tish Crown de­pen­dency. For two weeks per year in ei­ther

May or June, th­ese roads are closed to the public, respawn­ing into a world stage for two-wheeled speed freaks to test their tal­ent and nerve on a timed run of the cir­cuit. For the other 50 weeks, how­ever, the roads are just that, help­ing to trans­port some 83,000 in­hab­i­tants around the is­land. Much of the mo­tor­rac­ing para­pher­na­lia re­mains though, and as for the speed lim­its, well, out of town there aren’t any.

What’s more, the course of­fers plenty for the driv­ing en­thu­si­ast by way of chal­lenges. Longer than the Nür­bur­gring by some 24.1 miles, Isle of Man’s TT has plenty in com­mon with it: there are a num­ber of sur­face changes through­out, its weather is as fa­mously in­ter­change­able, the track vary­ing in al­ti­tude by some 1,400 feet, while a vast ar­ray of cor­ner types and cam­bers are thrown in along the way. In short, it’s a proper driver’s play­ground, surely the best place on earth to take a 991 GT3 RS out­side of a track – and that’s ex­actly where we’re headed for our lat­est To­tal 911 ad­ven­ture.

But first, we have to get there, which in­volves a five-hour drive from Lon­don via Birm­ing­ham to pick up pho­tog­ra­pher ex­traor­di­naire Ali Cu­sick. Our sub­se­quent jour­ney up from the Mid­lands largely con­sists of mun­dane mo­tor­way driv­ing, which you’d think would trou­ble the RS in terms of its gen­eral prac­ti­cal­ity, though hap­pily it does not.

De­spite the re­moval of most of the sound dead­en­ing oc­cu­py­ing the 991’s cabin (the R sheds

an ad­di­tional 4.5kg), road noise is palat­able. Sure, our voices are raised to over­come tyre roar from those 325-sec­tion rear shoes, but it’s not enough to de­tract us from spend­ing the ma­jor­ity of the jour­ney en­gaged in con­ver­sa­tion. The RS, mean­while, is im­pres­sively com­pli­ant rid­ing on the UK’S bat­tered mo­tor­way sur­faces. Where a sim­i­lar drive in a 997, or par­tic­u­larly a 996 RS, would re­quire more work at the wheel to keep the car from track­ing down ev­ery slope or in­dent in the road, the 991 just points for­ward, com­pletely un­de­terred, its en­gine coast­ing at just 2,900rpm thanks to a long sev­enth gear. Easy.

We fol­low the road signs to Heysham docks and board the boat pretty quickly, an an­gled ap­proach re­quired to get the low-slung Rennsport up the ferry’s steep ramps. It’s no drama, though, and we leave the RS parked while we re­tire to the up­per deck lounges for our 66-mile jour­ney across the Ir­ish sea.

Four hours later, we dock in Dou­glas, Man’s cap­i­tal, sit­u­ated on the east side of the is­land. A vast ma­jor­ity of its in­hab­i­tants live here, its ap­pear­ance re­mind­ing us of Black­pool in the UK, mi­nus any don­key rides along the beach. It’s over­cast but dry (thank­fully, given the RS is shod in Miche­lin Pi­lot Sport Cup 2 rub­ber) and, with an hour or so of mean­ing­ful day­light re­main­ing, we elect to head

“The 991 GT3 RS clearly has a tal­ent for lav­ish­ing its driver with un­prece­dented lev­els of power and grip to ex­ploit”

straight to the TT course as the 991’s satin black wheels com­plete their first rev­o­lu­tion on Manx soil.

The TT’S home straight is sit­u­ated in Dou­glas, just a short climb up and away from its sandy beaches, which we find within min­utes. It’s an im­pres­sive sight: the start/fin­ish line is punc­tu­ated by a full pits setup with a com­men­tary box tow­er­ing above a long row of garages. A con­crete pit wall re­tains its ad­ver­tis­ing boards, a small grand­stand op­po­site ready to ac­com­mo­date a throng of spec­ta­tors. It doesn’t half gal­vanise the driver in you. If it wasn’t for the steady stream of traf­fic pass­ing through it, this home straight wouldn’t look out of place on any bona fide cir­cuit in the UK. We pull up at the en­trance to the pit lane, which siphons off from the main road, and jump out the car for a closer look, tak­ing in a huge map of the course im­printed on a side­board next to a long list of TT win­ners in years gone by.

As it hap­pens, we spend so long gaw­ping at the first 200 yards of the cir­cuit that we for­get about the re­main­ing 36.9 miles. Ali even­tu­ally halts our in­quis­i­tive ex­er­cise by point­ing at the sky. “We’re los­ing light al­ready, he says.” Blast.

There isn’t time for a full lap tonight, so we mod­ify our plans, elect­ing to head north up to Ram­say. This means our first taste of the TT cir­cuit will be anti-clock­wise (it’s tack­led in a clock­wise fash­ion for com­pe­ti­tion), but we’ll be tak­ing in the no­to­ri­ous moun­tain sec­tion be­fore turn­ing around and head­ing back to Dou­glas, the lo­ca­tion of our overnight stop.

We join what turns out to be the evening com­muter rush, traf­fic through the moun­tain­ous

A18 sec­tion (also part of the main route be­tween the cap­i­tal and Ram­say, Man’s sec­ond-largest town) en­sur­ing there’s a long line of cars in front of us. What’s more, as we climb in al­ti­tude, it be­gins to rain, re­duc­ing vi­sion and forc­ing me to rein in any am­bi­tions of long, ac­cel­er­a­tive over­takes past slower traf­fic. We have no choice but to sit tight in line and, by the time we get near Ram­say, it’s nearly dark.

All is not lost, though: our brief so­journ onto the TT course has taught us a few things. Chiefly, the road is, in places, as lumpy and bumpy as seg­ments of the Nord­schleife, prompt­ing Ali and I to pon­der the in­san­ity re­quired to fly along such a sur­face at 200mph on a near weight­less mo­tor­bike, with only two wheels con­nected to the floor – fleet­ingly at that. It’s not that the sur­face is crashy by any means, but there are un­du­la­tions which, when driven over at pace, must surely un­set­tle an overly stiff ve­hi­cle, be it car or bike. We later find out by chat­ting to a lo­cal that this is part of the TT’S ap­peal for competitors, its sur­face giving driv­ers and rid­ers plenty to do when deal­ing with a chas­sis that will be mov­ing around a lot as a con­se­quence.

We also re­alise that cats eyes in the mid­dle of the road are no­table by their ab­sence, ever a dis­creet nod to the fact this is a race track in dis­guise. Road­side kerbs through sec­tions of the course too are painted black and white, de­spite be­ing raised. In fact, there’s rac­ing mise-en-scene quite lit­er­ally ev­ery­where and, sit­ting at the wheel of a 500hp su­per sports car equipped with roll cage and huge rear wing, it’s dif­fi­cult to ig­nore the red-blooded urge within to just think ‘sod it’ and en­gage my own full-out race mode. It doesn’t hap­pen though, and we soon head back to Dou­glas and our overnight digs.

Need­less to say, I’m frus­trated by our start on Man and elect to put that right the very next morn­ing. We arise early and head out to the car, the RS’S Sport Chrono clock telling us it’s just be­fore 5:30am as I slot the 911-sil­hou­et­ted key fob into its ig­ni­tion, ready­ing the Rennsport for ac­tion. There’s com­plete dark­ness and si­lence along Dou­glas’ prom­e­nade, save for the

gen­tle lap­ping of the Ir­ish sea against its sandy shore. Such tran­quil­lity is soon bro­ken as the GT3 RS’S DFI flat six jumps to life, grab­bing an im­me­di­ate 800rpm rhythm as the car’s PDLS spectacularly il­lu­mi­nates the road ahead. Aware the flat six’s coarse hum­ming will very quickly wake the lo­cals from their slum­ber, I make haste in head­ing off, leav­ing PDK in fully auto mode for early change-ups while the en­gine is brought up to tem­per­a­ture.

Grip­ping the soft Al­can­tara wheel, I’m feed­ing it slowly through turns as the car and I head east out of Dou­glas on the A1 to tackle the TT course in its cor­rect, clock­wise flow, the road switch­ing be­tween 30mph and 40mph en route to St Johns. Driv­ing the course the cor­rect way, I now see signs de­ployed as mile­stones at the road­side, each named for up­com­ing corners or no­table win­ners of the TT. Hunt­ing for them keeps me en­ter­tained, as the lim­ited sec­tion lasts for the ma­jor­ity of the base of the TT’S loop. Turn­ing right at St Johns up the A3, I see the first na­tional speed limit sign il­lu­mi­nated by the RS’S main beam, hov­er­ing in the dark­ness ahead. I ready my­self for a quicker drive. Three… two… one… GO!

I pin the RS’S ac­cel­er­a­tor pedal to the floor and in an in­stant the trans­mis­sion has dropped three

cogs from 5th to 2nd, the glow­ing red rev counter, lan­guish­ing at 1,600rpm just a mo­ment ago, now ping­ing up and round the tacho to a scream­ing ca­coph­ony of noise be­hind. Ring­ing in my ears, the DFI Rennsport’s sound is elec­tri­fy­ing, it higher in pitch than a growl­ing Mezger unit of old. The TT road dinks left and then right ahead un­der a blan­ket of black, snaking north-westerly to­wards Man’s east coast, and I’m largely hold­ing throt­tle po­si­tion as the RS is fed through each lightly cam­bered bend. A cou­ple of tighter corners re­quire a de­fin­i­tive press of the brake pedal to scrub speed off the car be­fore turn­ing in, PCCBS scrub­bing speed from the RS with lit­tle fuss. This is such a won­der­fully bal­anced car: there’s so much nat­u­ral grip at its front end that gen­er­ally the RS just ghosts each turn. In true Rennsport guise, the car comes alive when re­spond­ing to sharper in­puts from the driver.

The A3 opens up for its north­ern sec­tion, Quarry Bends faster and more sweep­ing as the black-and­white kerbs lin­ing ei­ther side of the road flash by in a blur. It’s point and shoot through here, the GT3 RS glued to the floor as we drift from left to right to keep some sort of a rac­ing line. I’m care­ful to keep in lane on this two-way road though: it’s still pretty dark and no­body else is about, but you can’t be too care­ful.

Sulby Straight, scene of 200mph+ sprints in the

TT, pro­vides the first op­por­tu­nity to re­ally reach for the GT3 RS’S 8,800rpm red­line. Ex­e­cuted in PDK Sport’s auto mode, geared specif­i­cally for track use, the sys­tem won’t change up un­til you’ve hit it. Un­wind­ing the car at the start of the straight and feed­ing in the throt­tle, the Rennsport promptly demon­strates how sub­lime its power de­liv­ery is right through the rev range. It be­gins with throt­tle re­sponse, which has a pin-sharp im­me­di­acy that its tur­bocharged 991 Rennsport cousin will never be able to match. From there, power de­liv­ery is so won­der­fully lin­ear, with very lit­tle drop-off in in­er­tia dis­played be­tween peak power at 8,250rpm and its max revs some 550rpm later. What a ma­chine!

En­ter­ing Ram­say, I bring my speed down to the re­quired 30mph as houses and a smat­ter­ing of con­ve­nience stores ap­pear at the road­side. Street­lights il­lu­mi­nate the way ahead, which I still have all to my­self, and be­fore long, past Cruick­shank’s Cor­ner, a na­tional speed limit sign ap­pears at the end of the last row of houses. Here we go again.

Con­tent with the prow­ess of PDK in auto mode, this time I slip the drive se­lec­tor left to en­gage fully man­ual mode, while again de­ploy­ing PDK Sport.

This time I’m in con­trol of gear se­lec­tion via the RS’S steer­ing-wheel-mounted pad­dles, their touch light yet sturdy, their travel min­i­mal.

Af­ter a slight curve right, there’s a short, flat straight ahead be­fore ‘The Hair­pin’ (you’ll never guess why it’s called so), which marks the be­gin­ning of a fairly steep as­cent of around 500 feet in the space

of just over a mile. Tear­ing for the hair­pin, I be­gin lean­ing hard on the Rennsport’s brakes to rid speed, pulling on the left pad­dle to drop a first cog, then a sec­ond. The rate at which the RS swaps ra­tios in PDK Sport is as­tound­ing: each change is in­stan­ta­neous in tim­ing, cut throat in ex­e­cu­tion, yet it doesn’t un­set­tle the car’s bal­ance one jot.

I turn the car in and the RS darts left, its nose hunt­ing for the apex like a preda­tor go­ing in for the kill. The steer­ing sys­tem is so good: why can’t all 991s be like this? Any snif­fles aimed at elec­tric as­sis­tance would be ban­ished for­ever. We hit the apex, and I hastily wind off lock while my right leg coun­ters with a firm press of the ac­cel­er­a­tor. What hap­pens next leaves me gen­uinely dumb­struck.

Trac­tion on cor­ner exit has al­ways been the ace up any 911s sleeve, yet the GT3 RS thrusts out of the cor­ner with a turn of pace I’ve never ex­pe­ri­enced in a road ex­am­ple be­fore. I’m be­ing cat­a­pulted up the hill­side, bang­ing back up through the gears, even­tu­ally let­ting off slightly to make a sweep­ing right turn that tight­ens fur­ther round. Its tra­jec­tory catches me out a lit­tle, such is the RS’S pace, but only a mi­nor ad­just­ment in throt­tle po­si­tion brings the nose back, the en­gine held at a tan­ta­lis­ing 5,500rpm be­fore the road straight­ens and then bam! I’m back on the gas and mon­ster­ing Goose­neck be­tween mile­stones 25 and 26 of the TT’S Snae­fell moun­tain course. It’s so quick yet so easy. The 991 GT3 RS clearly has a tal­ent for lav­ish­ing its driver with un­prece­dented lev­els of power and grip to ex­ploit.

Past here, I’m back on the same sec­tion of road we reached the evening be­fore. Called the Moun­tain Mile, it’s a long stretch of near straight as­phalt cut­ting right through the course’s most lofty sec­tion. It al­lows the Rennsport to com­fort­ably ex­ceed triple fig­ures, where it hun­kers down into the road with im­pres­sive force. Pressed hard into the floor past 100mph, it sim­ply feels un­shake­able.

The re­main­ing mile­stones fly past: Bun­ga­low, Dukes Bends, Kep­pel Gate, be­fore the check­ered kerbs lead me back into Dou­glas. One lap done. We man­age an­other loop be­fore morn­ing com­muters fill the roads, at which point we stop for break­fast be­fore head­ing back out for pho­to­graphs. An­other two laps are com­pleted, and I feel I’m learn­ing more about the course each time, push­ing the car harder as a con­se­quence.

I know this, as by early af­ter­noon the car is mov­ing around be­neath me a lit­tle more (though part of this is down to slight tyre degra­da­tion). I’m mak­ing fast, mi­nor in­puts at the wheel to counter this and keep the car happy, though in truth the RS never re­ally feels like it’s be­ing shaken from the road, the stiff­ness of the RS en­sur­ing there’s not as much tyre roll at the shoul­ders as you’d get in a 991 GT3.

In fact, road-hold­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties in the 991 GT3 RS are so good, with so much grip af­forded from those Miche­lin Pi­lot Sport Cup 2s, that I soon start play­ing a game to see how early I can get on the throt­tle from cor­ner exit. Only once does this catch me out af­ter a bout of rain around Goose­neck, the Rennsport’s rear wan­der­ing side­ways and prompt­ing some dras­tic op­po­site lock.

In is­sue 158 of To­tal 911 we said the Isle of Man’s TT course was the best driv­ing road on earth, and it’s for good rea­son. It has it all: his­tory, ex­cite­ment, space, scenery and speed. In many ways the TT dis­plays el­e­ments of other fa­mous roads or tracks, from the Nür­bur­gring’s in­ten­sity, or Spa’s in­ter­change­able weather, to the bar­rier-less climb up a moun­tain­side rem­i­nis­cent of the Pikes Peak Chal­lenge. In re­al­ity though, there is noth­ing else on earth quite like the Isle of Man TT, and driv­ing this 991 GT3 RS around it has to be one of the most in­tox­i­cat­ing ex­pe­ri­ences I’ve ever had in a Porsche.

By late af­ter­noon we’re board­ing the ferry back, this time bound fur­ther south to Liver­pool. Sad­ness quickly creeps in, man­i­fested from a re­al­i­sa­tion that, once back on the main­land, the UK’S roads won’t of­fer any­thing like the same chance for me to re­ally wring the Rennsport’s neck, some­thing I’d be­come ad­dicted to on that Manx play­ground.

We knew how ex­hil­a­rat­ing the 991 GT3 RS is as a driv­ing ma­chine, but, the car is noth­ing with­out an equally sub­lime road in which to drive it on. Maybe that TT course re­ally is Man’s best friend.

“There is noth­ing else on earth quite like the Isle of Man TT”

Left to right Road sign marks sub­tle start to the TT course; Moun­tain sec­tion’s lumps and bumps are rem­i­ni­scient of the ‘Ring; Bar­rier-less climb from Goose­neck to Moun­tain Mile evokes Pikes Peak as­cent

BE­LOW Check­ered kerbs add to the TT’S rac­ing mise-en-scene right around its 37-mile course

BE­LOW The GT3 RS makes a tight turn into The Hair­pin be­fore blast­ing up Ram­say’s hill­side to­wards the lofty Moun­tain Mile

991.1 Gt3 rs


Model Year En­gine Ca­pac­ity Com­pres­sion ra­tio Max­i­mum power Max­i­mum torque Trans­mis­sion 3,996cc 12.9:1

500hp @ 8,250rpm 460Nm @ 6,250rpm Seven-speed PDK

In­de­pen­dent; Mcper­son strut; PASM

In­de­pen­dent; Multi-link; Rear-axle steer­ing; PASM

9.5x20-inch cen­tre­locks; 265/35/ZR20 12.5x21-inch cen­tre­locks; 325/30/ZR21 Sus­pen­sion Front Rear Wheels & tyres Front Rear Di­men­sions Length Width Weight

4,545mm 1,880mm 1,420kg Per­for­mance 0-62mph Top speed

3.3 sec 193mph

BE­LOW Fast, smooth S-bend at Hail­wood’s Rise takes competitors on to the TT’S high­est point at 1,385ft above sea level

above GT3 RS shoots out of Goose­neck and stretches its legs well into triple fig­ures on the Moun­tain Mile

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