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
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 rs2015
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