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
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