My first race in the 991 RSR

Ben fi­nally gets his hands on the lat­est ver­sion of Porsche’s mid-en­gined 911 RSR

Total 911 - - Racing Columnist: Ben Barker -

As reg­u­lar fol­low­ers of this col­umn will know, Gulf Racing has had to wait a full com­pe­ti­tion year to be able to run the new car, which was only avail­able to GT-PRO class en­tries in 2017. How­ever, first im­pres­sions – from both pre-sea­son test­ing and a one-off race in the Euro­pean Le

Mans Se­ries – have been very pos­i­tive.

Although the ELMS runs on dif­fer­ent tyres to the FIA World En­durance Cham­pi­onship, which will be our fo­cus this year, the ap­pear­ance in round one at Paul Ri­card was essen­tially made to al­low the Gulf team to cap­i­talise on the pre­ced­ing WEC Pro­logue at the same venue and give both the driver line-up and pit crew ad­di­tional time to get ac­quainted with the new car. What we found af­ter a pro­duc­tive week in the south of France was a clear step for­ward from the car that Gulf had cam­paigned on the world stage in 2016 and 2017, and a ma­chine that should be com­pet­i­tive in the WEC’S hotly con­tested GT-AM divi­sion.

The im­prove­ment is most no­tice­able in high­speed sec­tions where the in­creased aero­dy­namic grip re­ally gets to strut its stuff. There’s a lot more em­pha­sis on aero here than on the old car, and that makes the new RSR a lot more sta­ble at pace. With the new car be­ing mid-en­gined, there is none of the old 911’s tra­di­tional ‘pen­du­lum ef­fect’ when chang­ing di­rec­tion. The car is a lot more pre­dictable when the back does oc­ca­sion­ally step out, and is a lot more ag­ile at high speed. Af­ter years of cam­paign­ing the old rear-en­gined 911, the new char­ac­ter­is­tics take a lit­tle while to com­mit to but they en­gen­der far greater con­fi­dence.

If we take Ri­card’s fa­mous right-han­der at Signes as an ex­am­ple, the dif­fer­ence be­tween the cars is clear. The cor­ner comes at the end of the long Mis­tral straight and, in the car we used last sea­son, I was brak­ing at around the 70-me­tre mark, down­shift­ing from sixth to fifth with 50 per cent brake pres­sure. The new RSR al­lows for a higher speed turn in, go­ing in flat from the 50 me­tre board and not brak­ing un­til 40 me­tres out. On top of that I only needed around 20 per cent pres­sure and was able to get back on the power a lot ear­lier. There was no wait to get back on the throt­tle, and go­ing through there for the first time was def­i­nitely a rush.

The slower speed sec­tions, mean­while, were a lot closer to how they were in the old car, with em­pha­sis on ro­tat­ing the car for a good exit. There’s still a lot of trail brak­ing and fo­cus­ing on get­ting the nose of the car turned in but, all in all, it’s still a big step for­ward from what we’ve been used to.

While the driv­ing tech­nique re­mains much the same, the driv­ing po­si­tion doesn’t. The mi­dengined lay­out means that the cock­pit con­fines change slightly, which isn’t good news when you’re 6’5”! With a fixed seat and a pedal box that doesn’t ad­just a great dis­tance, I reckon I’ve lost about three inches of legroom… Add in a new, more re­clined seat­ing po­si­tion and there is a lot to get used to. I don’t mind the laid-back per­spec­tive, which is more akin to a sin­gle-seater, as I quite like sit­ting lower in the car and get­ting more feel­ing through the chas­sis, but the slightly raised pedal box cer­tainly makes for a slightly awk­ward pos­ture.

The new lay­out also means the me­chan­ics have to find new ways of work­ing on the car, but they have al­ready com­mented on the fact that the sec­tions ap­pear to go to­gether like Lego and can be changed seam­lessly. Un­der­neath the skin it is more tech­ni­cal than its pre­de­ces­sor, with dou­ble wish­bones and new sus­pen­sion arms at the front, while the re­vised en­gine po­si­tion means that get­ting to it is a lit­tle more tricky than be­fore.

Un­for­tu­nately, the ELMS race did not give us the re­sult that we had hoped for, with a fuel pres­sure prob­lem forc­ing the #86 car out about 90 min­utes into the four-hour event. How­ever, it was en­cour­ag­ing to have taken the class lead about ten min­utes be­fore the grem­lins struck, so the fu­ture looks bright. There’s not long to wait un­til the open­ing WEC round at Spa and we’re al­ready gun­ning for As­ton Martin and Fer­rari…

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