991.2 GT3 RS v ri­vals

The 991.2 GT3 RS has as­serted its au­thor­ity all over the Green Hell, now we pitch it against its pre­de­ces­sors around the de-re­stricted Isle of Man

Total 911 - - Contents - Writ­ten by Kyle For­tune

Our world-first drive of the new GT3 RS, so how does it com­pare to Porsche’s other Gen2 911 Rennsports?

“It won’t be un­der seven min­utes,” said GT di­rec­tor An­dreas Pre­uninger when I asked him about a Nür­bur­gring lap­time at the 991.2 GT3 RS re­veal in Fin­land ear­lier this year. He was wrong: it is, and com­fort­ably so, the Lizard green RS lap­ping the ‘Green Hell’ in 6 min­utes 56.4 sec­onds in the hands of Porsche works racing driver Kévin Estre. That’s 24 sec­onds faster than the pre­vi­ous GT3 RS, which is lit­tle short of in­cred­i­ble.

It un­der­lines the changes to the sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion car, re­vi­sions which, on pa­per at least, look rel­a­tively in­signif­i­cant. The en­gine is now that of the cur­rent GT3, al­beit fea­tur­ing a dif­fer­ing in­take and ex­haust.

Its power creeps up – not leaps up – to 520hp, it revving to the same, glo­ri­ous 9,000rpm. The in­crease is just 20hp over the GT3 and the Gen1 GT3 RS, Pre­uninger sug­gest­ing in Fin­land that the ex­tra power would only ac­count for a sec­ond or so worth of im­prove­ment.

Aero­dy­namic re­vi­sions, the im­me­di­acy and in­tri­cate con­trol of the en­gine, the elec­tronic dif­fer­en­tial, rear-wheel steer­ing and PDK trans­mis­sion and, cru­cially, the sus­pen­sion would play their part, too. The new car bor­rows heav­ily from its GT2 RS sib­ling, that means 991 Cup in Nür­bur­gring spec­i­fi­ca­tion-de­rived, solid-mounted sus­pen­sion, with spring rates dou­ble that of the out­go­ing RS, but softer dampers and anti-roll bars. It’s here that Pre­uninger sug­gests the big­gest gains have been made, and on the road there’s no deny­ing they’re rev­e­la­tory.

If the 991.1 GT3 RS felt the most dis­tinct de­par­ture from its mere GT3 re­la­tion pre­vi­ously, then the 991.2 shifts the RS genre into a dif­fer­ent area again. The changes on the road are scarcely be­liev­able. Had you told me a 991.1 GT3 RS could be so com­pre­hen­sively out-pointed I sim­ply would not have be­lieved you. The most fa­mil­iar el­e­ment is its

en­gine, Porsche’s nat­u­rally as­pi­rated 4.0-litre unit a mas­ter­piece, pre­vi­ous ex­pe­ri­ence of it in the stan­dard GT3 un­der­lin­ing that. In the RS it’s sharper, even more im­me­di­ate and sounds ab­so­lutely in­cred­i­ble. The GT depart­ment has worked ex­ten­sively on the sys­tems con­trol­ling it, in­deed, the en­tire GT3 RS project de­fined by adding pre­ci­sion and ac­cu­racy to every sin­gle el­e­ment of the car’s con­trols.

You no­tice that as soon as you brush the ac­cel­er­a­tor, the en­thu­si­asm to spin up to its red­line even more ap­par­ent than with the GT3. The dif­fer­ing in­takes, the ti­ta­nium ex­haust and the loss of some car­pet and sound dead­en­ing give it a clearer, more evoca­tive voice, too, the me­chan­i­cal sound not raw, but cul­tured with edge. Peak power’s at 8,250rpm, but just try and avoid chas­ing that red­line at 9,000rpm. There is no let-up as you do, the re­ward not just the evoca­tive notes the flat six cre­ates, but the con­tin­ued rush of ac­cel­er­a­tion across its en­tire rev-range.

We’ve not got the Nür­bur­gring at our dis­posal to­day to ex­plore that, in­stead we’ll make do with the de-re­stricted coun­try roads around the Isle of Man. The RS can stretch its legs here, though it might not be able to do so were it not for the so­phis­ti­ca­tion of the sus­pen­sion. It’s here, specif­i­cally, that the GT3 RS takes an evo­lu­tion­ary leap over its pre­de­ces­sor. The GT2 Rs-de­rived set-up al­lows in­cred­i­ble con­trol and com­po­sure, de­spite tar­mac that’s about as far re­moved from a racing track as it could pos­si­bly be. Im­per­fec­tions on the sur­face are the norm, smooth tar­mac here ev­i­dently anoma­lous, which makes it even more in­cred­i­ble to think that the bike rac­ers who call these roads home dur­ing the TT races carry so much speed down these same roads.

To say the RS’S sus­pen­sion fil­ters those tough sur­faces out would be disin­gen­u­ous. In­stead it’s de­fined by its con­trol, with­out any loss of com­mu­ni­ca­tion, the sus­pen­sion the great­est fa­cil­i­ta­tor in the GT3 RS’S in­creased speed. Driv­ing down the same road in the 991.1 RS, the wheel is busy, the chas­sis run­ning out of ideas be­fore the en­gine’s had a chance to do its thing. In the new car that’s sim­ply not the case; there are no clear lim­i­ta­tions to the sus­pen­sion’s abil­ity, it so ap­par­ent it feels like you’re driv­ing down a com­pletely dif­fer­ent stretch of road. The steer­ing re­mains crisp, richly de­tailed and beau­ti­fully weighted, yet un­cor­rupted and res­o­lute. What’s clear is that there’s no need for the con­stant cor­rec­tions of the Gen1 car as the front wheels’ tra­jec­tory is kicked off-line by the dif­fi­cult sur­face rolling be­neath the tyres, the new RS is au­thor­i­ta­tive and con­trolled, ex­cep­tion­ally so.

That in turn al­lows – de­mands, even – you to ex­plore the en­gine’s per­for­mance that bit more.

Do that and the com­bined ef­forts of Pre­uninger’s team are clear, the GT3 RS work­ing co­he­sively as a pack­age, the en­gine mated not just to a chas­sis that’s en­abling in al­low­ing its per­for­mance, but a trans­mis­sion, too. You barely have to tap the pad­dle on the steer­ing wheel and the PDK gear­box has selected an­other ra­tio, and the en­gine’s sear­ing to­wards its red­line all over again. Down­shifts too are so in­stan­ta­neous that there’s no paucity in the re­sponse, it so quick in its shift­ing you’d swear it’s pre­dic­tive. It too fa­cil­i­tates the feel­ing that this RS takes the GT cars to an­other level, the Gen1 car’s shifts feel­ing slovenly, rel­a­tively speak­ing here, in com­par­i­son.

RS mod­els have, by def­i­ni­tion, al­ways been about in­cre­men­tal gain, a col­lec­tion of small but sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ments to cre­ate a greater whole. That’s ob­vi­ous here, though small as the changes might sound, the over­all ben­e­fit is demon­stra­tively greater than any same-se­ries RS re­vi­sion be­fore it. The Gen2 car feels not like a de­vel­op­ment of the car that pre­ceded it, but some­thing far greater than that.

The aero changes – those NACA ducts, with their many ben­e­fits for air flow, weight sav­ing and brake cool­ing up the front – don’t bring any clear ad­van­tages driv­ing on the road, but will surely have helped Estre achieve that out­ra­geous lap time. What is clear is that the greater wheel and body con­trol are key in im­prov­ing the front axle re­sponse.

There’s no slack in the steer­ing either; add some lock and the nose goes ex­actly where you want it to, it so faith­ful, un­cor­rupted and sharp that you can lean on it with ut­ter con­vic­tion, cer­tain in its re­sponse. Thank the tyre’s con­tact patch be­ing bet­ter used and the sus­pen­sion’s more so­phis­ti­cated con­trol for al­low­ing that.

Add too the de­tail changes to the steer­ing’s con­trol sys­tems, both on the front, as well as the rear-wheel steer­ing el­e­ments, and the GT3 RS cor­ners with a pre­ci­sion that’s as­ton­ish­ing. There are masses of grip, me­chan­i­cal as well as aero, though it’s the for­mer that’s ap­par­ent at the sort of speeds that are pos­si­ble even on the Isle of Man’s speed-en­light­ened coun­try roads. Throw mois­ture into the mix, our drive largely un­der­taken on wet roads, and the GT3 RS’S corner­ing forces are even more im­pres­sive. Trac­tion too is mighty, though breach both it and grip and the RS’S tran­si­tion is so quickly com­mu­ni­cated and caught as to make it feel like the most nat­u­ral thing in the world.

It’s that con­trol, the co­he­sive whole that dom­i­nates the driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. There’s an im­mer­sive qual­ity to how it drives that’s be­yond any­thing that comes be­fore it. That’s all down to

“The com­bined ef­forts of An­dreas Pre­uninger’s team are clear… this RS takes Porsche’s GT cars to an­other level”

the de­tail, the in­fin­i­tes­i­mal changes made to the en­gine, gear­box, elec­tronic dif­fer­en­tial, steer­ing and sus­pen­sion. It adds up to an RS that moves the game on hugely. That ac­counts for those 24 sec­onds in Ger­many. Sig­nif­i­cantly, though, those track gains aren’t made at the ex­pense of road abil­ity, in­deed they’re be­cause of it. The RS’S magic re­mains in its ex­tra­or­di­nary breadth of ca­pa­bil­i­ties, be­ing ar­guably greater than any sports car, whether it hails from Porsche’s cat­a­logue or not, and this new RS is demon­stra­tive of that.

Yet here I am get­ting ex­cited about step­ping into a 996 GT3 RS. Call it nos­tal­gia, my first RS ex­pe­ri­ence be­ing in the first mod­ern-era, wa­ter-cooled 996. That was back when it was launched, bor­row­ing the UK press car in win­ter and driv­ing it vir­tu­ally all night on greasy, dif­fi­cult roads and en­joy­ing enor­mously its pu­rity, its ded­i­cated take on the RS leg­end that went be­fore it. That was 14 years ago, and yet the mem­ory is still fresh.

Get­ting into the 996 GT3 RS to­day, in the com­pany of all the cars that fol­lowed it – with the ex­cep­tion of its 997 4.0 RS re­la­tion – doesn’t feel like such a huge step back in time. Vis­ually it’s so sim­ple, the rear wing, con­sid­ered out­ra­geous when it was new, looks pos­i­tively meek com­pared to the cars that fol­lowed it. The re­spect­ful nod to its leg­endary 2.7 RS pre­de­ces­sor via con­trast­ing blue graph­ics on the flanks and the colour-coded wheels couldn’t be more evoca­tive. It’s rare, too, with un­der 700 built. It’s demon­stra­tive of an era where moder­nity wasn’t mol­ly­cod­dling; there’s con­tem­po­rary per­for­mance, crash struc­tures, mod­ern tyres and re­li­a­bil­ity, but nei­ther is there trac­tion or sta­bil­ity con­trol.

I’m won­der­ing to­day if that’s wise, as the roads are some­what damp. That it’s de­mand­ing is part of its enor­mous ap­peal. I’m more ten­ta­tive with the

996 RS than the new car, build­ing up to its lim­its slowly, re-learn­ing its quirks and build­ing a trust in it. The en­gine, a 3.6-litre with a quoted 381hp – though Pre­uninger ad­mits none left the fac­tory with less than 400hp – al­low­ing a 4.4-sec­ond 0-62mph time, some 1.2 sec­onds adrift of the new car.

The en­gine, though not as trig­ger-sharp in its re­sponse, nor as in­dul­gently greedy for revs, has plenty of heart, pulling strongly, the manual trans­mis­sion that con­trols it as ana­logue as the rest of the driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. It’s the steer­ing that’s the big­gest dif­fer­ence, though. Turn the steer­ing wheel and there’s a yawn­ing pause be­fore any­thing hap­pens. It is ini­tially un­set­tling, though you learn that it will turn in, even if it does so by feel­ing like the rear­axle’s do­ing the turn­ing. I’m still sold on it, not least be­cause its per­for­mance re­mains in the league of

real-world use­able, while still re­main­ing de­mand­ing of you as a driver.

I’ve lost count of the times I’ve driven the grey car here. It’s some­thing of a leg­end in Porsche cir­cles, even the GT depart­ment staff re­fer­ring to RO10

HBY as ‘Hee­bee’. A Gen2 997 RS, it’s been on the UK Porsche press fleet since it left the pro­duc­tion line in Ger­many, and I’m smit­ten. If the 996 GT3 RS rep­re­sents a bridg­ing point be­tween the ana­logue old school and moder­nity, then this car can very much be con­sid­ered its zenith. Key is the way the front axle re­sponds. No, it’s not as ut­terly faith­ful as the new RS, but com­pared to the 996 it’s a rev­e­la­tion. There’s feel at the wheel, the nose turn­ing in neatly, the steer­ing weight so finely judged and the mes­sages com­ing from it beau­ti­fully crisp. The en­gine, too, is sen­sa­tional, its 3.8-litre with its 450hp out­put is of­ten shad­owed by the lim­ited-se­ries 4.0 RS that was spun off it, but in no area is it lack­ing. Over­all it’s not as sharp or as out­ra­geously fast as the new car, but with its manual trans­mis­sion and the de­mands it places on you as a re­sult I’m not sure it would be any bet­ter if it were.

“Which one?” I’m asked. If I had to take away the keys to one car I’d be mas­sively con­flicted. The new RS is in­cred­i­ble, a car that’s game chang­ing, yet it achieves its ex­tra­or­di­nary abil­ity with­out de­tach­ment, it rich in feel, de­mand­ing and en­gag­ing and mind­blow­ingly, re-cal­i­brat­ingly rapid.

Even so, it’s a toss up be­tween the ear­lier cars for me. I think, ul­ti­mately, I’d be frus­trated with the new RS, sim­ply be­cause the op­por­tu­ni­ties to re­ally, re­ally en­joy it would be lim­ited – how­ever gen­uinely en­gag­ing it proves at or­di­nary speeds. The 996 RS comes close, more so than it per­haps should, that nos­tal­gia and the way it looks hav­ing a lot to do with that, but it’s the Gen2 997 GT3 RS that is the one I’d take home. Just why comes down to a num­ber of rea­sons: it’s fast enough and it’s mod­ern, yet has enough char­ac­ter to ap­peal across a broader spec­trum of driv­ing sit­u­a­tions. Yes, the manual trans­mis­sion plays its part in that, but it’s demon­stra­bly not the clincher here.

All three are in­cred­i­ble cars for their own dif­fer­ent rea­sons, and while it’s in­dis­putable that it’s a case of good, bet­ter, best when placed in time or­der, all rep­re­sent the RS per­fectly in the pe­riod they ex­isted. Maybe ex­cept the new car, as it’s so ad­vanced the Rs-genre to feel as if it’s years ahead, which it is… un­til the next one.

Be­low 997.2 still gen­uinely en­gag­ing on the pub­lic road, 991 how­ever needs der­e­stricted roads or a track to re­ally thrill

Pho­tog­ra­phy by Porsche AG

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