My first race in the 991 RSR
Ben finally gets his hands on the latest version of Porsche’s mid-engined 911 RSR
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…