997 v 991 GT2 RS

They’re the only road-go­ing 911s ever to mix forced in­duc­tion with that fa­bled RS moniker. How does the 997 and sub­se­quent 991 GT2 RS com­pare?

Total 911 - - Contents - Writ­ten by Lee Sib­ley Pho­tog­ra­phy by Daniel Pullen

It’s the bat­tle of Porsche’s only blown Rennsports as the 997 GT2 RS takes on its 991 sib­ling

When we think about ‘Porsche’ and ‘Rennsport’, which con­no­ta­tions spring to mind? For me it’s the many in­gre­di­ents which make the vis­ceral ex­pe­ri­ence of a raw 911: os­ten­ta­tious aero; a stripped in­te­rior; loud, me­chan­i­cal noises from in­side the car; ra­zor sharp throt­tle re­sponse and di­rect, un­fil­tered steer­ing. The con­cept of a tur­bocharger wouldn’t be high on the list of too many en­thu­si­asts.

Per­haps it should though, for Porsche’s his­tory with tur­bocharg­ing is as rich as its nar­ra­tive with rac­ing, the com­pany’s en­deav­ours on the track spawn­ing the con­cept of its Rennsport cars for the road in the first place. Even be­fore the com­pany had un­veiled its 911 Turbo to the world in 1975 it had al­ready set about try­ing to race it. Built by Nor­bert Singer, the 2.1 Turbo RSR was con­structed ac­cord­ing to FIA Group 5 rules and pit­ted along­side sports ‘sil­hou­ette’ cars from ri­vals in­clud­ing Fer­rari and Ma­tra. It raced at Le Mans in 1974 – with ev­ery toplevel Le Mans Porsche since us­ing forced in­duc­tion. It fin­ished 2nd over­all to a Ma­tra driven by a cer­tain Gérard Larrousse, keep­ing a host of open-cock­pit pro­to­types hon­est. It was no fluke: the RSR Turbo went on to record an­other 2nd place in the Watkins Glen 6 Hours, 7th at the 1,000km at Paul Ri­card and 5th at the Brands Hatch 1,000km on the way to help­ing Porsche fin­ish third in the World Sports Car Cham­pi­onship that year.

Alas, it was to be the only tur­bocharged 911 to of­fi­cially adopt the Rennsport name. New rules from the FIA stip­u­lated a change, Porsche go­ing on to spawn the 911 Turbo-based 934, 935 and

936 there­after.

That is, un­til 2010. Fol­low­ing three gen­er­a­tions of GT2 in the 993, 996 and 997, Porsche un­veiled the 997 GT2 RS. Os­ten­si­bly a Franken­stein of the 997.2 Turbo S and 997 GT3 RS 4.0, it was a car­bon­clad, light­weight mon­ster with rose-jointed rear sus­pen­sion, its tuned, twin-turbo mo­tor mak­ing it the most po­tent road 911 of all time with a mighty 620hp at its dis­posal.

Al­though it never re­ally fea­tured in top-level works or cus­tomer rac­ing (save for Jeff Zwart’s record-break­ing Pikes Peak run in 2011), the 997 GT2 RS looked to be shar­ing the 2.1 Turbo RSR’S des­tiny of be­ing an ex­otic anom­aly in­ter­wo­ven in the

Porsche Rennsport ta­pes­try. There was no in­di­ca­tor of a suc­ces­sor in the pipe­line, the 991 gen­er­a­tion skip­ping the GT2 moniker en­tirely. Then, in au­tumn 2017 at, of all places, the launch of a new Xbox rac­ing sim, Porsche an­nounced the ar­rival of its 991 GT2 RS.

With only 500 997 GT2 RS’S and an es­ti­mated 2,000 991 GT2 RS’S world­wide, it’s not of­ten you’ll see one of each gen­er­a­tion side by side. How­ever, that’s ex­actly the sight we’re treated to on ar­rival at Sil­ver­stone’s Porsche Ex­pe­ri­ence Cen­tre ahead of our twin test of both th­ese per­for­mance go­liaths. Rep­re­sent­ing GT2 RS gen­e­sis, the es­tab­lished 997 is the plat­inum smash hit, its 991-shaped re­place­ment pos­ing as the awk­ward sec­ond al­bum. Can it re­ally take Porsche’s blown Rennsport to a new level?

We’re yet to turn a wheel in ei­ther, but the 991 is al­ready as­sert­ing it­self, tow­er­ing above the 997. The 991 sim­ply looks like a Cup car, al­beit with li­cence plates, its rear wing dwarf­ing the 997’s com­par­a­tively mod­est pro­por­tions. We’ll save the com­par­isons for later, though. After a quick cuppa and sign-on, it’s time to get reac­quainted with the 997.

While its once-ex­treme ap­pear­ance has been blunted some­what by the 991, the 997 is still a vis­ual feast. There’s car­bon de­tail­ing all over the car, from the front boot to rear deck­lid, to the wing mir­rors, front lip, rear PU vents and side air in­takes. The matte fin­ish con­trasts nicely against the gloss of the car’s Jet black paint, its golden, cen­tre-lock­ing GT2 wheels adding vi­brancy. Its rather more meaty ap­pear­ance in com­par­i­son to, say, a 997 Turbo con­tem­po­rary comes cour­tesy of re­pro­filed front fend­ers in or­der to fit girthy 245-pro­file tyres – the fend­ers are one-piece like the GT3 RS 4.0, rather than two-piece like the 3.8-litre GT3 RS. The gap­ing side air in­takes have lost their hor­i­zon­tal slat, al­low­ing for a big­ger vol­ume of air to reach the twin in­ter­cool­ers housed fore of the rear wheels, while at the back of the car that large, fixed rear wing fea­tures ad­di­tional open­ings which act as in­duc­tion in chan­nelling air straight to the flat six below.

In­side it’s a lairy mix of bright-red Al­can­tara, worn sub­stan­tially by the years of vig­or­ous driv­ing this GT2 RS has been sub­jected to here at the PEC. There’s a cage, the rear seats have been deleted and the re­moval of sound dead­en­ing and glass, the lat­ter re­placed by plas­tic, means the tur­bocharged flat six re­ver­ber­ates its bassy note into the cabin on start-up.

To drive the 997 GT2 RS is a won­der­ful ex­pe­ri­ence. As we’ve al­luded to pre­vi­ously in this mag­a­zine, it’s a weird mix. The de­tail of its touch points are pos­i­tively Porsche RS: the shift is short and pre­cise, the steer­ing is per­fectly weighted and full of feel, the chas­sis taut and re­spon­sive. And then there’s the engine, which strays rad­i­cally from the cus­toms as­so­ci­ated with a Rennsport. Though im­pres­sive for a turbo car, throt­tle re­sponse sim­ply isn’t in the same league as a ra­zor-sharp nat-asp

RS, but the ap­peal of the GT2 is ev­i­dent not half a sec­ond later. Those VTG tur­bocharg­ers spool up from as lit­tle as 2,000rpm and cat­a­pult you for­wards with a fe­ro­cious­ness unimag­in­able in even a GT3 RS, its rush un­re­lent­ing all the way to the red­line. We build the pace grad­u­ally as the laps tick by, though it’s very quickly ev­i­dent the rate at which this thing moves is, quite frankly, ab­surd. Al­ready it’s clear the art of driv­ing the GT2 RS is in man­ag­ing the throt­tle and the in­sane lev­els of un­end­ing boost which it so ef­fort­lessly serves up.

That said, it’s nowhere near as lumpy as a 997.2 Turbo or Turbo S. This is where that core Rennsport DNA shines through: the GT2 RS is sur­pris­ingly well bal­anced, dis­play­ing a clear fi­nesse to the way it drives. The steer­ing, again, is mar­vel­lous, trans­mit­ting so much de­tail through the wheel you can feel quite

clearly the sur­face changes over dif­fer­ent patches of Tar­mac around the cir­cuit. It all helps in­tri­cately trans­late the state of play at the front wheels, vi­tal when try­ing to keep this thing point­ing in the right direc­tion. The clutch too has a nice, af­fir­ma­tive weight­ing to it, sim­i­lar – along with the gearshift – to a 997.2 GT3 RS. It be­ing a man­ual pro­vides an­other di­men­sion to the 997’s drive; sim­ply put, you need to be a dab hand at heel and toe as it’s the only way to ef­fec­tively get in a smooth gearshift, such are the speeds you’re car­ry­ing that cor­ners ar­rive as soon as their pre­de­ces­sors are dis­missed.

As is the tra­di­tional 911 way, you have to re­ally weight the 997 up to get it quickly and safely through a turn. Even on the PEC’S tight cir­cuit it re­quires a very heavy ap­pli­ca­tion of the brakes to scrub speed ef­fec­tively, those PCCB’S do­ing a mighty job of re­duc­ing the GT2’S ve­loc­ity. They’re get­ting a work­out al­right, and only they would be up to the task of ef­fec­tively stop­ping this thing, their im­me­di­acy in bite and in­abil­ity to fade your only ally in keep­ing this Rennsport rocket in check. Trail­ing into the cor­ner to get the nose to drop and tuck in, it’s a quick switch with your foot­work to feather in the gas to power out of a cor­ner. Push too late and you’d be los­ing time to the im­me­di­acy of a nat-asp car’s re­spon­sive­ness, too early though and the GT2’S tail will start wag­ging as it gets out of shape all too quickly. With a bit of heat in them those Miche­lin PS Cup 2 tyres (in the GT2 RS’S unique size) do a mighty fine job of keep­ing trac­tion in the main but, need­less to say, the po­ten­tial per­ils are size­able and ever present.

Ses­sion over, we leave the cir­cuit and re­turn back to base. It’s only been 20 min­utes, but in truth I’m glad for the rest. It’s a se­ri­ous work­out, the GT2 RS. It’s so fast yet so ana­logue and, bereft of the

tech­nolo­gies be­stowed upon the 991, gives you much to do. It can be over­whelm­ing: at times it feels like try­ing to bat­tle a house fire with only a gar­den hose.

We park the 997 and head to­wards the 991 – the GT2 RS’S ‘awk­ward sec­ond al­bum’. There are so many well-sculpted el­e­ments to the 991’s de­sign that you could ap­praise its par­tic­u­lars for hours. In­deed, I’ve al­ways been of the opin­ion that cars are made to be driven, but this is the first 911 I’d con­sider plop­ping in the re­cep­tion of my house, such is the ex­quis­ite level of de­tail present.

Even look­ing at it sug­gests Porsche has taken not so much a quiet step but a quan­tum leap for­ward with its beastly 911. There are now NACA ducts in the bon­net to feed ex­tra air to the brakes; re­pro­filed vents above the front wheel arches; a mag­ne­sium ‘dou­ble bub­ble’ roof to re­duce the car’s cen­tre of grav­ity; re­pro­filed side air in­takes to bet­ter flow air to the in­ter­cool­ers; larger, wider wheels; a gap­ing pri­mary air in­take; a mon­strous Cup wing, and a pro­nounced dif­fuser, which bet­ter deals with air flow­ing out the back of the car. Even the new GT2 RS’S huge front split­ter now has sup­ports mounted be­hind the front cen­tre grille due to it sag­ging un­der high ve­loc­ity around the ‘Ring. There’s rear-axle steer­ing too, plus spray jets to keep the in­ter­cool­ers cool, not to men­tion the com­pul­sory PDK Sport gear­box.

As you can see by com­par­i­son to the 997, the 991 looks and in­deed feels ab­so­lutely huge. It weighs 100kg more, but the beauty of the 991 is you’d be hard-pressed to ever feel it. Not only is it ridicu­lously fast in a straight line, but it’s still so well bal­anced in the cor­ners, the 991’s 100mm ex­tended wheel­base and ac­tive rear steer pos­i­tively con­tribut­ing to that.

It’s also much, much louder in­side the new GT2 RS. Ad­dress­ing a mi­nor crit­i­cism that the 997 was a lit­tle too quiet for an oth­er­wise os­ten­ta­tious 911, from start-up there’s an almighty boom in the cabin as the 3.8-litre, twin-tur­bocharged 9A1 engine fires into life, de­vel­op­ing into a thun­der­ous ex­plo­sion of noise un­der ac­cel­er­a­tion. It is pos­i­tively in­tox­i­cat­ing! There are plenty of pops and bangs from the ex­haust as un­burnt fuel is dis­pensed of, this a de­light­ful, vis­ceral ex­pe­ri­ence com­pared to the aug­mented cack­ling of a tur­bocharged 991.2 Car­rera on over­run.

There are sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween the two GT2 RSS in terms of power de­liv­ery – that slight lag re­mains, and it’s an art to learn to ap­ply the throt­tle at the right time. Power, how­ever, is a big step up. The 991 boasts an 80hp in­crease over the 997, its 700hp mak­ing it the most pow­er­ful street 911 of all time. How does that feel from the cock­pit? Well, its ac­cel­er­a­tion is enough to scram­ble your brain, but you need to some­how see through all of that, as con­trol­ling this in­sane power source is a mere mor­tal – you.

It’s easy to drive at low speeds, just like the

997, but push on and the car be­comes ab­so­lutely wild. Again though, there’s a fi­nesse to counter that bru­tal­ity, which in the 991 has been turned up to ten on both fronts. The steer­ing is now elec­tri­cally as­sisted, it light but per­fectly weighted, that Sport GT wheel more er­gonom­i­cally re­fined, and nicer to hold as a re­sult. The 918 bucket seats are com­fort­able to sit in too – you can slope into them with more ease than the 997’s Car­rera Gt-spec seats, and they pro­vide a firmer grip over the 997 too.

Rear-axle steer­ing helps the car pivot more read­ily on tighter turns while adding sta­bil­ity at the back on faster bends, but don’t think that makes the car in­domitable – far from it. It’s still twitchy, and the tim­ing of your throt­tle ap­pli­ca­tion is just as cru­cial on cor­ner exit in the 991. Those huge rear boots squirm for ev­ery mil­lime­tre of grip on the PEC track’s sur­face, so the new GT2 RS still needs to be re­spected. Gear changes up and down the PDK gear­box are a lit­tle more harsh than, say, a pad­dleshift Car­rera, but it is light­ning quick; im­pres­sively so.

Of course with no man­ual gear­box there’s no need for your hands to leave the wheel now, which is just as well, such is the rate at which you’re cov­er­ing ground, the 991 de­mand­ing a con­stant del­uge of small, pre­cise in­puts to the wheel to keep the car happy. It’s just ridicu­lously fast! There might be less phys­i­cal in­put re­quired, but the 991 nev­er­the­less de­mands you to think faster.

The 991 has taken the GT2 RS into a whole new strato­sphere of per­for­mance. It’s fun, but oh, the speed! I keep hav­ing to apol­o­gise to the in­struc­tor be­cause I’m swear­ing so much. The thing is an ab­so­lute mon­ster, a beast that wants to break loose at any op­por­tu­nity. It’s so ex­plo­sive, yet at the same time so tac­tile and pre­cise. It’s an ab­so­lutely bloody bril­liant feat of en­gi­neer­ing. The fact all this comes in a car adorned with li­cence plates means it’s quite pos­si­bly Porsche’s finest achievement yet.

So, where does this leave th­ese two be­he­moths? Pleas­ingly, the 997 hasn’t been over­shad­owed here: it’s still ev­ery bit as ex­tra­or­di­nary as it was from launch, de­liv­er­ing a tra­di­tional Rennsport ex­pe­ri­ence but with a bru­tal ex­tra punch of torque. Purists may pre­fer it as the car that’s more re­ward­ing, as it leaves you with so much to do. The 991 un­ques­tion­ably takes some of that in­volve­ment away, but that’s no bad thing – so mind-bend­ingly rapid yet ca­pa­ble is this thing that, re­ally, therein lies its charm. Plus, it’s not like you’re go­ing to be bored at the wheel of it any­time soon, ei­ther!

I’ll take the 997 though. It might not be as quick or as clin­i­cal as the 991, but it’s no slouch by any means, and still ex­tremely ca­pa­ble on track. More than that though, it of­fers greater re­ward to push it to the limit, serv­ing up more of an emo­tive con­nec­tion be­tween car and driver on the way to do­ing so. At a time when cars are ev­i­dently be­com­ing com­put­ers with wheels, that bond be­tween car and driver be­comes ever more rel­e­vant for the en­thu­si­ast. Re­gard­less, both th­ese ex­treme RS it­er­a­tions fly in the face of those who swear by the pu­rity of an at­mo­spheric 911 engine. De­liv­er­ing a pos­i­tively in­sane driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence with­out sac­ri­fic­ing on fi­nesse, a tur­bocharged Rennsport is surely one of the best recipes for a Porsche 911, ever.

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