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?
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
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.