996 CSR first drive
RPM Technik’s latest project is built with the track in mind, but can it hold a candle to a GT car from Weissach? Total 911 puts the CSR EVO to the test…
It’s the most track-focused CSR project yet. Kyle Fortune puts RPM Technik's latest project to the test at Bedford Autodrome
There’s a very nice 996.2 GT3 sitting in the RPM Technik showroom when I arrive early on a Wednesday morning. There’s a track booked, but the GT3 will be staying here. Instead RPM Technik’s commercial director Darren Anderson hands me the keys to the company’s CSR EVO. The CSR name has been around since 2010, RPM offering the CSR as a package of upgrades on 996 and 997s which can be done at once or over a period of time, depending on budget and expectations.
With the EVO the focus is more on track driving, it obviously a more hardcore, adjustable car that offers the serial track day enthusiast something they can drive as a daily, yet track mercilessly. As Anderson himself says, the EVO “has the broadest remit of any CSR”.
RPM Technik admits that to qualify as a CSR there has to be a minimum of work done to give the name its due. Obviously the Merlin purple demonstrator, build number 22, has the full EVO package on it, but if elements don’t chime with your desires or needs then you don’t have to have them. Add all the EVO changes up and you’re looking at around £55,000, which is a not-insignificant amount, especially as you need a 996.2 Carrera base car in the first instance. Indeed, that pushes the CSR EVO into the league of that aforementioned 996.2 GT3.
That’s perhaps a moot argument as, regrettably, the likelihood of buyers walking into RPM’S showroom, buying a GT3, chucking a lid and some Nomex clothing under the bonnet and heading to a track day are past. Blame the speculative nature of
the Porsche marketplace for that, and in particular the ‘value’ of the GT cars.
The CSR EVO represents an opportunity: this is a car that a genuine enthusiast can buy and use as they like, that indeed being a significant part of its appeal. That it’s based on the 996 only makes it more interesting, a car that the market’s traditionally described as unloved. I’ve never subscribed to that – a good 996 delivers a wonderful drive, yet as with any car there’s scope for improvement, which is where RPM comes in.
The list of changes on this CSR EVO is lengthy. It’s very obviously purple, which is deliberate given its demonstrator status, Anderson wanting it to stand out among other cars. The likelihood is CSR EVO customers will leave their cars in the standard hue, though RPM will be only too happy to take on a colour change. Overt colour aside, the bodywork changes are relatively subtle. There’s a vented CSR EVO front bumper with ducting behind it feeding an additional third radiator, a carbon ducktail and sideskirts and rear bumper with vented inserts, and a central exit for the twin exhaust pipes. There’s a carbon bonnet, upon which there’s a stickered Porsche badge, in keeping with the lightweight ethos.
That carries over to the inside: there’s a lower dash delete, RPM moving the window switches up from between the seats to the centre dash, the ashtray also being removed. Out of that neater tunnel between the Recaro Pole Position bucket seats is a longer gearstick attached to a modified linkage for an improved shift, while ahead of you is a deep-dished, leather-rimmed MOMO wheel with a yellow strip
at 12 o’clock. Without an air bag the view of the instruments is improved significantly, the rev counter finished in grey, an orange CSR logo matching the livery outside, with the redline apparent at 7,200rpm.
There’s a rear seat delete and half cage in this car, though you can do without the cage and leave those useful pews in if you need them. RPM Technik designed the CSR’S harness bar in such a way as to allow race harnesses with the rear seats in the car, answering that long-held gripe of GT cars for the breeders among us. There’s no stereo, though the air con is retained, the interior exhibiting purpose rather than feeling compromisingly stripped, even though Darren says RPM Tehcnik has managed to shave around 45kg off a 996.2 Carrera 2’s mass.
Removing the stereo might seem a step too far for the everyday usability goal, but firing the engine creates all the sound you could want. The exhaust shrieks out a bark unlike any 996 I’ve ever experienced, its note cultured but menacing with a deep resonance that’s got a racer’s edge at idle without the recalcitrance of a competition engine. Blip the accelerator and the 3.6-litre M96 unit flares immediately, that helped by the 7kg removed from the flywheel. There’s the slight chunter from the transmission that you’ll be familiar with if you’ve ever driven a GT3, the clutch release bearing audible, though that’s a good thing.
The flat six has been given a thorough series of modifications to both improve performance as well as ensure longevity. Revisions include what RPM describes as a CSR preservation pack and stage one powerkit consisting of new cams, that additional radiator, gas flowed and ported cylinder heads, an
IMS upgrade, deep sump extension, the CSR centre exhaust – this alone saving 9kg over a standard exhaust – and improved induction for an engine that’s producing 350hp at 7,100rpm. Torque stays pretty much the same, though the way it’s produced is different: the delivery is stronger from lower revs for a fatter, flatter twist that, as well as the overt keenness to rev, makes for the key differentiators over the unit it’s based on.
Today’s track in question is Bedford Autodrome, 40 miles away from RPM Technik’s Long Marston base. We cut across country as much as possible, though the dual carriageway punctuated with the many roundabouts it’s famous for sees us traverse Milton Keynes, too. The roads around Long Marston can best be described as challenging for any car, let alone a 911 that’s got an eye on track work. The surface is the stuff of chassis set-up nightmares.
There are some fierce dips and crests, a high crowning camber and usually poor but occasionally downright appalling tarmac with the odd hole or sizeable crack apparent, too. Throw in the narrowness typical of a British country road, some spatially unaware traffic and vegetation keen to reconquer the road space and it should be a horrible introduction to the CSR EVO.
But it isn’t. I’ve driven these roads many times in various 911s, and the CSR EVO doesn’t feel in any way out of its depth. That’s a real surprise, as all the talk until pulling out of the estate had been about this EVO being the most track appropriate CSR yet. It’s taut, unquestionably, but there’s real finesse to the way the chassis deals with the horrible surfaces running underneath it at ever-increasing velocities. Where a standard 996 would be running out of ideas, the CSR EVO keeps tracking straight and true. It takes a moment to recalibrate, the wince you wear as you anticipate a corrupting jolt, thud or crash just not apparent. You’re busy, but it’s detail not disruption, the CSR EVO dealing with the surface with real composure.
Try the same road at the same speed in a GT3 and you’d be backing off, the sophistication of the CSR’S suspension evident here in its control, it enabling progress rather than denying it. That’s down to RPM Technik specifying KW three-way Clubsport coilovers which offer plenty of scope for adjustment, RPM having come up with a Csr-specific set-up that works remarkably well on the roads around its base. To those coilovers there are hollow Eibach adjustable anti-roll bars, these being light yet stiff for greater control, while the lower arms offer some adjustment and polybushing features, too.
Lightweight OZ alloy wheels help reduce unsprung mass, behind which four-piston Csrdetailed calipers pinch floating discs with highperformance pads. The pedal feel is spot on. It’s firm and progressive, giving a useful platform to roll your foot over to the accelerator to heel-and-toe downshift. It works perfectly in tandem with the engine’s immediacy, backed with the rousing shriek of the engine as the revs flare. I’ll admit to being sceptical of the longer shift lever for the six-speeder, the norm for more focused cars being a stubbier lever which brings a shorter throw as a result. The CSR’S throw isn’t long, shifting through the gate with speed and precision – that it’s that bit nearer the steering wheel is no bad thing either, as you’ll want all the time with your hands on the wheel.
That’s not a reflection of being overly busy or fighting trajectory, but instead to revel in the
“Try the same road at the same speed in a GT3 and you’d be backing off, the sophistication of the CSR’S suspension evident here”
sensations coming through it. I’ve yet to drive any car with a MOMO steering wheel that’s not had an immediate increase in steering detail, but when you’re starting with a car that’s already noted for fine steering then the effect is multiplied. Add RPM Technik’s suspension trickery and it’s improved further, the way the CSR EVO’S front axle works arguably being its most appealing element. Not the dominant one, as that would suggest it’s not operating as a package, the front axle working as a cohesive whole with the EVO’S other revisions, the limited-slip differential at the rear no small part; it’s just that when you’re sat hunkered into the race seat the greatest sensation is coming though your hands.
Escaping the vagaries of a typical British country road and transferring across the speedway that is Milton Keynes is revelatory. I’ve had one of my most memorable drives ever in a 911 through here: a 996 GT3 RS, the UK’S most modern of towns being an unlikely driving nirvana. In the CSR EVO there are obvious similarities, though with it I can take more liberties on entry into the many roundabouts, more confident in what the steering wheel is doing. Similarly in exiting, often over a difficult camber which would spit an RS out of line, the CSR EVO’S line remains resolute, informing you of the surface topography without demanding any corrective action.
In the straights that separate the roundabouts the 3.6-litre flat six howls with real vigour to its redline, it feeling very linear in its pull, with urge evident all the way from low revs up. That flexibility is to its credit, particularly as a car that’ll potentially be used as a daily, it lacking the peaky, demanding nature, yet retaining the immediacy and thrill of the chase to the redline. Arriving at the track it’s more than ably demonstrated it’s an accomplished fast-road car – urgent, immediate, taut and controlled. A circuit should, in comparison, be a cinch.
With the speeds exponentially higher, if there are any vices they’ll become evident here. Bedford’s a quick track, lacking in gradient and demanding some big stops and rapid changes in direction. On arrival Anderson re-sets the coilovers for greater control, it easy enough to do so, the click wheel on the bottom allowing rebound adjustment for better control on the track, or should you want to change to a different wheel and tyre package. The set-up is such you can run the CSR EVO on semi-slicks, or aggressive, track-biased Michelin Pilot Cup 2 tyres if you’re after ultimate lap times. Today it’s riding on Michelin Pilot Sports, not the Cup 2s.
The CSR EVO feels entirely at home on the track, that obviously enhanced when you’re trussed up in the bucket seat with the race harnesses on. All the elements that made it a hugely entertaining road car are sharpened here: the way the engine picks up, the immediacy of its response to your right foot, the confidence-inspiring front axle and the strong brakes. It would be quicker still on some more aggressive track tyres, but part of the joy of it is feeling it moving around under you as you work the tyres up to and beyond their limits, the CSR EVO never anything less than communicative.
Entering a corner hot and backing off allows the usual 911 trait of weight transfer, the CSR EVO’S rear coming into play. It’s exploitable, the limited-slip differential aiding control, it only needing a bit of catching when it transitions back to the straightahead, though that’s something that could be dialled out with a bit more set-up work. Everywhere else it’s hilariously good fun, fast rather than ballistic, this a car that encourages you to exploit all of its performance rather than tip-toe around in the middle, or fearful at the top.
Leaving the track and driving it back to RPM it feels no different. The brakes are fine, only the suspension is a touch busier, simply because we didn’t take the five minutes to re-set it back to the preferential road set-up.
Arriving back at base it’s difficult not to be impressed. Yes, I still want the GT3 they’ve got, but then the CSR EVO makes a strong case as a supporting act, not merely as an understudy. With the GT3 you’d want to keep the miles off it, with the CSR EVO you’ll do quite the opposite, and that’s very much the point and, these days, a considerable part of its appeal.
“All the elements that made it a hugely entertaining road car are sharpened on the track”
Below 9kg lighter exhaust system with dual centre-exit tailpipes looks and sounds sensational
Below Kyle puts the 996 CSR EVO through its paces on track at Bedford