Fan­tasy Road

THE GOT­THARD PASS, A NEW 911 GT3— AND THAT’S JUST SCRATCH­ING THE SUR­FACE

Automobile - - Contents - By Ben Barry

A swarm of su­per­cars takes on the Alps’ Got­thard Pass with­out the in­con­ve­niences of speed lim­its or traf­fic.

THE RAIN HAS stopped, but head­lights still glim­mer on the road’s slick sur­face, and fog swirls over the moun­tain­side like lace cur­tains whip­ping in the breeze. Im­me­di­ately ahead, there’s a Fer­rari 812 Su­per­fast and a Dodge Viper ACR. Be­yond them, Mercedes-Benz CLK GTR and Porsche 911 GT1 road cars queue side by side, ho­molo­ga­tion spe­cials from 25-unit pro­duc­tion runs. In the rearview mir­ror, a Fer­rari FZ93 and As­ton Martin Za­gato Shoot­ing Brake stand out in the line of ex­otics that coils down the Tar­mac, coach-built rar­i­ties nor­mally found in mu­se­ums. Soon we’ll run with this in­cred­i­ble pack up the Got­thard Pass in Switzer­land, closed spe­cially for the oc­ca­sion. No on­com­ing traf­fic, no speed limit.

The event’s or­ga­niz­ers claim that the Got­thard Pass has never be­fore been closed for fun, nor has any other street in Switzer­land. The road climbs to 6,909 feet over the Saint-Got­thard Mas­sif in the Alps, ty­ing Ger­manspeak­ing An­der­matt in the north to Ital­ian-speak­ing Airolo in the south, a vi­tal link that just so hap­pens to be awe­some to drive.

In fact, there are three ways of mak­ing it from An­der­matt to Airolo. You can drive the orig­i­nal cob­ble­stone route or take the Got­thard Strassen­tun­nel, con­structed in 1980 to by­pass the al­ti­tude and the wig­gly bits in an ar­row-straight line. The third op­tion is the newer moun­tain road, built along­side the orig­i­nal cob­ble­stones. What this road lacks in his­tory, it makes up for in driver ap­peal, geog­ra­phy you’d nor­mally re­quire a parachute to ap­pre­ci­ate, and the ma­jes­tic engi­neer­ing of its vast tun­nel sand precipice-span­ning bridges. Guess which road we’ re tak­ing?

Flo­rian Lem­berger, a lawyer spe­cial­iz­ing in fi­nance, reg­u­larly or­ga­nizes driv­ing events with the Su­per­car Own­ers Cir­cle, and he some­how con­vinced the Swiss author­i­ties to close the Got­thard Pass. In to­tal, 72 su­per­cars are here, the rules dic­tat­ing that only one ex­am­ple of each may at­tend, though there’s been some in­evitable flex—it’s hard to be­grudge a trio of McLaren P1s. There’s def­i­nitely only one Maro En­gel driv­ing a race car, though. “It’s a chance to drive the SLS but also a once-in-a-life­time op­por­tu­nity to drive the Got­thard Pass,” the DTM driver says. “I couldn’t miss that.”

FOR $3,400, TWO GUESTS GET A NIGHT AT THE CHE DI HO­TEL, AN EVENING MEAL, AND THE CHANCE TO RUN UP THE PASS AS FAST AS THEY LIKE BE­FORE LET­TING LOOSE ON A NEARBY AIR FIELD.

For a pretty rea­son­able €2,800 (ap­prox­i­mately $3,400), two guests get a night at the high-end Chedi ho­tel in An­der­matt (Lem­berger’s real estate fund bought the place), an evening meal and pre­sen­ta­tion, and the chance to run up the Pass as fast as they like be­fore let­ting loose on a nearby air­field.

Our ride is some­what mod­est in this com­pany, but it holds its own: the lat­est Porsche 911 GT3 with 4.0 liters, 500 horse­power, and a six-speed man­ual trans­mis­sion. You’ll pay $144,650, if you can get one. That’s the same as a PDK model, but you get a me­chan­i­cal—not elec­tron­i­cally con­trolled—lock­ing rear dif­fer­en­tial and lose 37 pounds, and the 3.8-sec­ond 0-60 time is 0.6 sec­ond slower.

A day ear­lier, we col­lected the car from Stuttgart and were soon driv­ing in pour­ing rain in one stretch through Ger­many, touch­ing 160 mph once it dried and traf­fic thinned on un­re­stricted au­to­bahns, slow­ing over the bor­der into Switzer­land with its colossal speed­ing fines, then skirt­ing past Zurich on to­ward the Alps.

There are de­tail changes through­out this 991.2gen­er­a­tion GT3: re­vi­sions to springs and dampers, a new op­er­at­ing logic for the rear-wheel steer­ing, and a new engine cover and rear wing that sits three-quar­ters of an inch higher. The lat­ter sounds in­signif­i­cant, but you no­tice how much more it impedes rear vi­sion than be­fore. To­gether with a re­vised rear dif­fuser, though, the pay­back is 20 per­cent more down­force, Porsche says.

Most cru­cial of all, a new 4.0-liter nat­u­rally as­pi­rated flat-six, the one shared with the GT3 Cup, RSR, and GT3 R race cars, re­places the 3.8. Along with that 500 horse­power, it pro­duces 339 lb-ft of torque, in­creases of 25 hp and 15 lb-ft over the 3.8. And you of course also get to choose man­ual or dual-clutch auto.

The 4.0-liter in the pre­vi­ous GT3 RS and R is mind­blow­ing, but there’s even more en­ergy to how this new GT3 revs, an ex­tra kick to a power de­liv­ery that feels en­tirely free of in­er­tia. Push past 5,000 rpm, and the howl gets even wilder, and when you’re scream­ing to an

out­ra­geous 9,000 rpm, it con­sumes the cabin. This is eas­ily the best-sound­ing 911 of the present lineup, a hair-rais­ing sound­track ri­valed by few mod­ern per­for­mance cars.

As we ar­rive in An­der­matt, teenagers with $3,000 cam­eras spill into the road like some hy­brid of Hol­ly­wood pa­parazzi and 1980s Group B rally fans. They move in zom­bielike packs, stirred by the growl of an ap­proach­ing V-8 or V-12. They know the GT3 is wor­thy of a pic­ture, but it’s un­der­stand­able when the ho­tel valet asks us to park around the back.

A young guy, Johan Jakob­s­son, seeks us out. He runs what must be an in­or­di­nately suc­cess­ful whole­sale cof­fee busi­ness (“and a few other com­pa­nies”) and will drive his Fer­rari 458 Spe­ciale over the Got­thard Pass. “The man­ual?” he asks, eye­ing the GT3. “May I sit in­side?” He sets the per­fect driv­ing po­si­tion, grips the wheel, and slices the gear lever back and forth with a sat­is­fied grin. “I’ve or­dered one,” he says. “I know some­one at Porsche. They got me on the list.”

Be­neath the ho­tel, the park­ing lot is filled with the most re­mark­able cars you’ll ever see. There’s a Fer­rari FXX K, the track-only ver­sion of Maranello’s al­ready in­sane LaFer­rari hy­per­car. The owner fires up the V-12, the al­most painful yelp of ev­ery throt­tle stab in­ten­si­fied by the con­crete walls.

Nearby there’s a Fer­rari F12 TRS (one of two), its body in­spired by the 1957 250 Testa Rossa and its sil­very gold paint ap­par­ently in­spired by C-3PO. The hood leaves the V-12 partly vis­i­ble, its blood-red plenum cov­ers ex­posed like a beat­ing heart, and its chopped wrap­around glasshouse is more speed­boat than su­per­car. The driver turns out to be a min­der be­cause the real owner can’t be here. He also owns the red one.

There’s an As­ton Martin One-77, one of the new-old Jaguar E-type Lightweights, a Maserati MC12, a beau­ti­ful Fer­rari 250 SWB that’ll be voted car of the meet, and a lovely Porsche 930 Turbo with a RUF CTR con­ver­sion.

That evening, I at­tempt to min­gle con­vinc­ingly with the su­per-rich. There’s the guy who loaned his McLaren P1 to Fer­rari for bench­mark­ing ahead of LaFer­rari’s launch; an Ital­ian prop­erty de­vel­oper, he would’ve been in his late 20s back then. El­liot Ross looks even younger, and he owns the 911 GT1. He’s from Scot­land, says the GT1’s clutch is heavy; you can’t see out of the cock­pit, but he loves it. Oh, he’s also got a Fer­rari Enzo and an F50.

Eu­ge­nio Amos, 32, owns the CLK GTR, a V-12-pow­ered ho­molo­ga­tion spe­cial made so Mercedes could con­test the FIA GT cham­pi­onship of the late 1990s. He says he made money in real estate, has raced in the Blanc­pain en­durance series, and is en­joy­ing the car. “There’s plenty of trac­tion, and even on cold tires or if you drift it, it’s not so bad,” he says. Gah.

More than ever it seems like ev­ery­one is build­ing a low-vol­ume sports car. Paolo Garella is here in a Glick­en­haus SCG 003 mule; Ameerh Naran runs a pri­vate-jet busi­ness and has se­cured an engine deal with BMW for his sports car; the CLK GTR owner plans a “kind of Singer ver­sion of a Lan­cia Delta In­te­grale” and has cre­ated a full-size clay model of the project. There’s even a pre­sen­ta­tion for the As­ton Martin AM37 power­boat.

The next morn­ing, this most ex­tra­or­di­nary gath­er­ing of su­per­cars fires to life out­side the ho­tel, the con­stant vol­leys of revs sound­ing as though a SWAT team is storm­ing the lobby. With the poor weather, some cars, like the FXX K and TRS, are head­ing straight to the air­field. The rest roll through An­der­matt’s nar­row main street, ready to run the Got­thard Pass in small packs at timed in­ter­vals. I can hear the first cars leav­ing, our group edg­ing closer all the time, nerves jan­gling, the road still dis­ap­pear­ing into fog above.

As a flag waves, a Fer­rari 360 Chal­lenge Stradale leads us away. There’s the gruff growl of its flat-plane-crank V-8, the yell of the 812 Su­per­fast’s V-12 im­me­di­ately in front, and the in­duc­tion suck from the GT3’s flat-six as I re­lease the clutch and get back on the gas after each gear change; that’s a markedly dif­fer­ent sig­na­ture from a GT3 with a PDK. As the rock faces close in to our right, the rush of me­chan­i­cal noise com­bines into one swirling din, soar­ing on the straights, rum­bling through the corners.

The GT3 feels sen­sa­tional. There’s no doubt the PDK shifts faster, but the phys­i­cal­ity of the man­ual def­i­nitely adds another di­men­sion of in­ter­ac­tiv­ity: The short lit­tle shift lever de­mands you work a bit to pull it home, and the clutch is de­lec­ta­ble with its mid­weighted heft and oily con­sis­tency. Some might find the brake is higher than ideal for hee­land-toe down­shifts; you might have to roll your foot over ex­ces­sively to blip the throt­tle dur­ing down­changes. At least the blips come au­to­mat­i­cally in Sport mode.

But the pre­ci­sion of the GT3’s steer­ing—there’s more def­i­ni­tion at its top-dead-cen­ter, per­haps a side ef­fect of the chas­sis tweaks—the vi­o­lent stop­ping power of its car­bon-ce­ramic brakes, the car’s per­fect bal­ance, and the way its feral speed never feels like it’ll over­load the chas­sis un­less you de­mand it are un­real. It is dif­fi­cult to imag­ine feel­ing more at ease in any­thing else here.

The road flows so smoothly as it rises from the val­ley that there’s lit­tle need to brake hard ini­tially, but the wet, high-speed kinks get me wob­bling at the wheel, pray­ing the Porsche’s cold front tires bite. They al­ways do. We climb quickly, and the route be­comes more tech­ni­cal, as­cend­ing ag­gres­sively through hair­pins, those kids step­ping out into the road again, dig­ging for YouTube gold and—you’ve got to as­sume—des­per­ate for us to crash.

Some­one tries. As we ap­proach the sum­mit, the road en­ters a tun­nel that hugs the moun­tain­side, pro­tect­ing the road from rock falls and avalanches. I hear the 812 ac­cel­er­ate, pre­sum­ably the bet­ter to hear its rau­cous V-12 melody. We’re do­ing prob­a­bly 80 mph, and as the revs flick up, I watch the Fer­rari’s back end snap out of line, the wig­gle quickly slapped down by elec­tron­ics. It’s prob­a­bly no bad thing that the fog be­comes much thicker as we reach the top of the Pass, forc­ing the pack to slow ahead of the check­ered flag.

“WHAT AN UN­BE­LIEV­ABLE EVENT,” HE SAYS AS WE PULL TO A STOP. “I’VE NEVER EX­PE­RI­ENCED ANY­THING LIKE IT.”

I park, un­able to see more than the road around me, and wait for pho­tog­ra­pher Richard Par­don to get a ride to meet me as one ex­tra­or­di­nary car after another punches like a phan­tom from the gloom. No one, it seems, balled them­selves up.

Writer and pho­tog­ra­pher re­united, we run with a Lam­borgh­ini Aven­ta­dor S Road­ster with Monaco plates to­ward Airolo, and as the fog lifts, its V-12 bat­tle cry rises, slam­ming gear changes giv­ing a throaty punc­tu­a­tion to the sound­track. The GT3 never loses touch.

At the air­field, sud­denly it’s a sum­mer day, and we watch as McLaren P1s duel against Porsche 918 Spy­ders in hy­per­car drag races. They ac­cel­er­ate off the line like mar­bles fired from stretched elas­tic bands, a sonic blur of screech­ing tires and hy­brid-pow­ered fury, the crowd peer­ing into the dis­tance, un­able to see whether Eng­land or Ger­many ac­tu­ally won, just two hy­per­cars on fast­for­ward van­ish­ing in the haze.

We line the GT3 up against a Mercedes SLS Elec­tric Drive, fig­ur­ing we’ll be de­stroyed off the line by its in­stan­ta­neous torque. I give it 4,000 rpm, drop the clutch, and feel the fat rear tires bite, and the car pulls hard. I glance to my right, and the SLS falls back, the sur­prise mak­ing me laugh out loud. The SLS draws level by the time the Porsche is in third, but it can never over­haul the GT3 and can’t keep up as we push past 140 mph.

I line up again, this time with the RUF CTR. I beat it off the line but watch in de­light as it re­fuses to fall back, main­tain­ing the gap as we shift at peak revs from fourth to fifth. We cross the line, and the Greek ship­ping mag­nate— yes, they ex­ist!—and owner Aris Pis­si­o­tis draws up, boy­ish joy and the rush of adren­a­line writ­ten all over his face, laugh­ing with a thumbs-up punch­ing out of the win­dow.

“What an un­be­liev­able event,” he says as we pull to a stop. “I’ve never ex­pe­ri­enced any­thing like it.”

Truth be told, nei­ther have we. There’s a plane to catch and a GT3 to drop in Stuttgart, and the clock’s tick­ing. But one more run? Why not. AM

by BEN BARRY photography by R I C H A R D PA R D O N

Su­per­car spot­ters mobbed the event (left), pre­sum­ably re­ally hop­ing we didn’t crash. Or per­haps hop­ing we would. The car park of the Chedi ho­tel in An­der­matt, Switzer­land, (right) had never seen any­thing like it. No valet park­ing to­day.

The Fer­rari

FXX K (top left) made much noise in the un­der­ground car park, but it didn’t run up the Got­thard Pass be­cause of the FXXing weather.

McLaren P1s, a Glick­en­haus SCG 003, a Porsche 993 GT2 Club­sport, and oth­ers queued up for blasts down the airstrip near Airolo.

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