996 GT2 road test

The GT2 has long been over­looked, but the time is right for it to shine. To­tal 911 buck­les up for a drive in Porsche’s first wa­ter-cooled ex­am­ple

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It’s the most af­ford­able GT2, but can the 996 be con­sid­ered a true 911 per­for­mance great?

It is snow­ing. That’s sub­op­ti­mal for any pho­to­shoot, and more so when the sub­ject will be a 996 GT2. Ap­par­ently the UK is be­ing beaten by the ‘Beast of the East’, a Siberian weather front. So it’s snow­ing on the M25, London’s hate­ful or­bital mo­tor­way. I’m not even at Paragon and I’m think­ing of call­ing it all off: the mo­tor­way gantry signs are warn­ing of se­vere weather and not to travel un­less it’s es­sen­tial.

I’m not sure ‘want­ing to drive a 996 GT2’ counts as ful­fill­ing that cri­te­ria, but I fig­ure it’s worth push­ing on as I’ve yet to re­ceive a call from pho­tog­ra­pher

Rich Pearce say­ing oth­er­wise. Oddly, within 20 miles of Paragon’s Sus­sex lo­ca­tion I en­ter some­thing of a weather oa­sis, with bright sun­shine and no clouds. Per­haps the Beast from the East is fear­ful of what’s in Paragon’s show­room; af­ter all, the GT2 has some­thing of a rep­u­ta­tion. Right­fully, or wrongly, I’m still hop­ing to find out, and ar­riv­ing at Paragon I’m im­me­di­ately struck at how sub­tle it is.

My last GT2 ex­pe­ri­ence was with the new one, the 991 GT2 RS, on UK roads for these very pages, and the fig­ures the cur­rent car pro­duces makes those of its an­ces­tor look rel­a­tively mild. For the record, the 3.6-litre tur­bocharged flat six en­gine de­liv­ers 462bhp and 620Nm of torque. That’s enough for a

4.1 sec­ond 0-62mph time, a 195mph top speed and the sort of top-dog sta­tus in the early mil­len­nium that helped ce­ment the GT2’S leg­end. Con­sider that a cur­rent 991.2 Car­rera GTS de­vel­ops within 10bhp of that max­i­mum out­put and weighs only a few kilo­grams more and you could be hood­winked into think­ing that the 996 GT2 isn’t quite the men­ace the con­tem­po­rary tests made it out to be.

That im­pres­sion is fur­ther en­hanced by the GT2’S com­par­a­tively meek looks, par­tic­u­larly com­pared to the some­what overt cur­rent model. Based on a

996 Turbo it’s fa­mil­iar, though GT2 spot­ters will ap­pre­ci­ate the dif­fer­ing front bumper with its top vent, size­able air in­takes ei­ther side and more pro­nounced lower lip with its black lead­ing edge. There are dif­fer­ing lower sills punc­tu­ated by al­loy wheels which would usu­ally wear GT2 wheel caps – this car in­stead favour­ing some stealth­ier Porsche crests – while there are punc­tured wings like its

996 Turbo rel­a­tive. The fixed rear wing is the most ob­vi­ous change over its Turbo brethren, com­ing in car­bon if Club­sport was spec­i­fied, sav­ing as much as 2.8kg over the stan­dard item.

The up­rights that hold it aloft at the rear are struc­tured as in­takes, help­ing feed cool­ing, life-giv­ing air to the 3.6-litre tur­bocharged flat six that re­sides un­der the en­gine cover. If you prised the badge off its rear the GT2 could pass as an aero-en­hanced

911 to the unini­ti­ated. That’s ar­guably a good thing, al­low­ing the 996 GT2 to pass with­out at­tract­ing too much at­ten­tion. That’s par­tic­u­larly true with Paragon’s im­mac­u­late ex­am­ple, painted in Po­lar sil­ver: the orig­i­nal owner ob­vi­ously didn’t plan any track ac­tiv­ity and negated tick­ing that Club­sport op­tion. There’s no cage, and the seats are black leather­cov­ered sports items rather than cloth buck­ets.

There isn’t a race har­ness or fire ex­tin­guisher in sight ei­ther. This is a GT2 in the tra­di­tional sense of its nomen­cla­ture: bet­ter spec­i­fied for grand tour­ing than Nür­bur­gring lap­ping, even if it’d still be able to do so with real con­vic­tion.

Be­ing a 996 GT2 there’s no trac­tion con­trol or sta­bil­ity sys­tems, PSM not ar­riv­ing with the GT2 badge un­til this car was re­placed by its 530bhp

997 Turbo-de­rived re­la­tion. Here there’s a man­ual trans­mis­sion, a six-speeder and the ra­tios and fi­nal drive re­main un­changed from the 996 Turbo, but the syn­chro­nis­ing rings are made of steel in­stead of brass for the greater forces be­ing placed upon them by the GT2’S 3.6-litre tur­bocharged flat six.

An evo­lu­tion of the 911 Turbo’s unit, the twin tur­bocharg­ers are re­vised for higher through­put, push­ing the charge pres­sure up to a 2 bar max­i­mum. There’s a higher com­pres­sion ra­tio, yet the en­gine’s charge air tem­per­a­ture re­mains the same as the Turbo, thanks to charge air cool­ers with greater ef­fi­ciency. The re­sult of that is 462bhp, up 42bhp over the 996 Turbo, torque too grow­ing from 560Nm in the Turbo to a far more as­sertive 620Nm in the GT2.

That peak power ar­rives a bit ear­lier than in the Turbo, too, at 5,700rpm over 6,000rpm, the GT2’S greater twist ar­riv­ing at a higher 3,500rpm and hang­ing around un­til 4,500rpm. For the 2004 model year Porsche in­tro­duced some changes to push those out­puts higher still. Changes in the elec­tronic en­gine maps yielded a 483bhp out­put and torque gain­ing a fur­ther 20Nm for a 640Nm max­i­mum, al­low­ing the GT2 to shave a tenth off its 0-62mph time and add a cou­ple of mph to its top speed, the changes also al­low­ing it to pass ever more strin­gent emis­sions tests both in Eu­rope and the USA.

To­day 462bhp doesn’t feel like its lack­ing. Sit­ting in the GT2 af­ter speak­ing to Paragon’s staff un­der­lines just how nice an ex­am­ple this one is. With just over 27,000 miles on its odome­ter it feels new in­side. It’s sat­is­fy­ing to sit in an early 2000s car and not have it aged by an ancient-look­ing sat-nav screen, the centre con­sole here re­tain­ing a Din-sized CD player with ven­ti­la­tion and air-con­di­tion­ing con­trols above it. There are sil­ver-coloured di­als in the fa­mil­iar

996 in­stru­ment clus­ter, these not even con­tain­ing a GT2 script to high­light this 996’s al­pha sta­tus. Only some car­bon-fi­bre trim around the centre con­sole, hand­brake lever and the trim strip dis­sect­ing the dash top from the bot­tom hint at this car’s po­ten­tial.

Fir­ing up that Gt1-de­rived flat six im­me­di­ately dis­pels any pre­tence of ci­vil­ity. The rear cabin, de­void of seats and some sound­proof­ing, fills with a deep, bassy res­o­nance. For a tur­bocharged en­gine it’s par­tic­u­larly vo­cal, no­tably more so than its 996 Turbo sib­ling, the flat six’s tim­bre over­laid with a rous­ing in­tent. Any thoughts as to the weather have dis­si­pated, the sun­shine around Paragon’s show­room re­leas­ing us from the me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal malaise we en­coun­tered on our jour­ney down. Even so, the in­ten­tion isn’t to go too far. On the way down I’d dis­cov­ered some roads that would give the GT2 a good chance to re­veal its abil­i­ties, well within our weather oa­sis. Paragon’s Mark Sumpter warns it’s pru­dent to get some heat into the GT2’S tyres be­fore ex­plor­ing what it’s re­ally ca­pa­ble of.

With the need for a splash of fuel, Pearce and I head off ten­ta­tively, with Sumpter’s warn­ing at the fore. He’s not wrong, the first squeeze of the ac­cel­er­a­tor hav­ing the rear squirm mo­men­tar­ily as the cold tyres strug­gle to find pur­chase on the sim­i­larly frigid Tar­mac. It’s a quick, tan­ta­lis­ing re­minder of the GT2’S force­ful rep­u­ta­tion, and its all­too-ob­vi­ous lack of elec­tronic driv­ing aids lend­ing a help­ing hand when you’re not pay­ing at­ten­tion.

Im­me­di­ately I like it; it’s unanaes­thetised by moder­nity, yet there’s per­for­mance that’s ut­terly con­tem­po­rary. Keep­ing it be­low 3,000rpm and short­shift­ing up the ‘box quickly, it’s a rel­a­tively easy car in traf­fic. Only the heavy clutch pedal with its rel­a­tively high and abrupt bite might cause some dif­fi­cul­ties for some, but for oth­ers, my­self in­cluded, it’s all part of the im­mer­sive en­gage­ment that de­fines it. There’s a need for pru­dence, not so overtly fo­cused as to ut­terly dom­i­nate the pro­ceed­ings, but def­i­nitely a need for re­spect. I’ll ad­mit that I’d been a lit­tle bit ret­i­cent about the GT2’S rep­u­ta­tion, though Paragon’s peo­ple all said that along with the Car­rera GT that was sit­ting be­hind it in the show­room when I ar­rived, it’s one of a hand­ful of Porsche that re­quires you to be on point.

With some fuel in the tank, and as much heat through it as UK traf­fic and roads al­low, there’s some time to revel in the GT2’S nuances. There’s feel at

the steer­ing wheel, but the 996 does demon­strate how well the GT depart­ment has ad­vanced its frontaxle re­sponses. It turns in, but there’s a light­ness to the nose that’s ini­tially unnerving, a touch of push that you need learn to push through be­fore you start putting the power on. A touch of trail brak­ing helps, but you need to be gen­tle when you roll off the brake so as not to un­duly un­set­tle the GT2’S stance. The ride is sur­pris­ingly civilised for some­thing with such fo­cus, the sus­pen­sion cop­ing well with the rolling to­pog­ra­phy that de­fines UK road sur­fac­ing, though it is beaten by the oc­ca­sional rip­ple and bump of bro­ken sur­faces, man­hole covers and the like. It’s not jar­ring, just ap­par­ent, that not en­tirely sur­pris­ing given the GT2’S remit.

That sus­pen­sion can be tai­lored to suit, too.

Rid­ing 20mm lower than a Turbo, the anti-roll bars are ad­justable, the springs are able to be re­placed for rac­ing items while there’s also the possibility to tweak the ge­om­e­try for the use of rac­ing rub­ber. Within those wheels are PCCB Car­bon Ce­ramic brakes, this be­ing Porsche’s first pro­duc­tion sports car ap­pli­ca­tion of its lighter (around 50 per cent), con­sis­tent fric­tion-brak­ing sys­tem.

There aren’t any hair-rais­ing hard mid­dle pedal mo­ments to­day, the con­di­tions not con­ducive to it, though the brakes bite with con­vic­tion and fine pedal feel. The discs lighter weight – re­duc­ing the un­sprung mass by 16.6kg – is ob­vi­ous too which, com­bined with the GT2’S crash di­et­ing, sees it tip the scales some 150kg lower than the 996 Turbo, a size­able pro­por­tion of that re­duc­tion a re­sult of the loss of the Turbo’s stan­dard four-wheel drive.

To­day, it could be ar­gued, that four-wheel drive might be use­ful, the weather catch­ing up with us when we’re do­ing some static and de­tail pho­tog­ra­phy, when snow ar­rives at our shoot. The snow is brief, but it’s bit­terly cold, and the once dry but cold road has a lu­bri­cat­ing layer of mois­ture on it be­tween the GT2’S rear tyres and the sur­face be­neath them.

Pearce is un­fazed, but with his frozen dig­its in mind I’m quick to do the driv­ing photographs, the first time the GT2’S full force makes it­self known, un­der­lin­ing that it’s some­thing very spe­cial in­deed. It’s a quick car sub 3,500rpm, but when those two tur­bos re­ally start work­ing the GT2’S per­for­mance is in a dif­fer­ent league. That it feels force­ful to­day when the num­bers as­so­ci­ated with it have been hugely sur­passed by its GT rel­a­tives and nearly matched by the most po­tent cur­rent Car­reras is tes­ta­ment to the GT2’S leg­end. The rear wheels lose their bat­tle for grip and I’m ap­ply­ing quick cor­rec­tive lock as I gin­gerly back off the ac­cel­er­a­tor to al­low the rub­ber a chance of find­ing trac­tion.

It ini­tially shocks, fright­ens even, but then you find your­self want­ing the hit again, push­ing the ac­cel­er­a­tor down to the floor for the glo­ri­ous sen­sa­tion of rush­ing, thun­der­ing pace, al­lied to the need to be on top of things should it all get too much for those rear wheels. It’s ex­cit­ing, the GT2 a thrilling, de­mand­ing drive that asks more of its driver than any mod­ern 911, even those with an RS badge. Yet there’s a du­al­ity of purpose here that al­lows it ci­vil­ity, mak­ing this a car you can gen­uinely use… with a few pro­vi­sos. Snow be­ing a fine ex­am­ple of when you might want to park it.

With un­der 1,300 built it’s a rare car, too, and with in­ter­est in the GT depart­ment’s most un­hinged, tur­bocharged flag­ship at a peak now there’s no ques­tion that de­mand is ris­ing for the orig­i­nal cars that pre­ceded it. That it so clearly de­fines what the GT2 stands for to­day is re­veal­ing, it a car that’s be­guil­ing not be­cause of its fear­some rep­u­ta­tion, but rather the de­mands it places on you.

In a world where a Gt-divi­sion car can be en­joyed by many, the pu­rity and po­ten­tial lu­nacy of the 996 GT2 only gets more ap­peal­ing as it ages, these cars look­ing un­der­val­ued along­side their more com­mon GT3 and GT3 RS rel­a­tives. The time has ar­guably come for this of­ten-over­looked anom­aly that of­fers a be­guil­ing mix of moder­nity and big per­for­mance. It’s a force­ful re­minder of why we love driv­ing, and there’s lit­tle out there that de­liv­ers a more de­ci­sive blow.

ABOVE This GT2 Com­fort has all the in­te­rior ap­point­ments of its 996 Turbo brethren. How­ever, its sav­age per­for­mance is a marked dif­fer­ence to the Turbo’s ci­vil­ity

ABOVE It’s long lived in the shad­ows of the 911’s over­all his­tory, but it ap­pears the GT2 has a lot to look for­ward to

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