PORSCHE TO PORT WAKEFIELD
SOMEWHERE IN SOUTH AUSTRALIA IS A LOST GRAND PRIX CIRCUIT. WE WENT LOOKING FOR IT IN PORSCHE’S ULTIMATE ROAD RACER
A 911 GT2 RS helps us hunt down the long-lost home of the 1955 Australian Grand Prix
WE ARE RECOMMENDED A FEW ROADS – GORGE, CHAIN OF PONDS AND NORTH EAST. DETOUR? OF COURSE
N SOUTH AUSTRALIA, you can walk where Jack Brabham once raced, swatting away flies and wondering where the hell you’ve just driven yourself to. A paddock near Port Wakefield, 100km north-west of Adelaide, could be any other as you drive past on the adjacent dirt road, the landscape flat, featureless and so dull, even grass struggles to take up permanent residence. Yet through the low saltbush in this expansive place with its big blue sky and distant horizons, the remnants of Australia’s first bitumen purpose-built car racing circuit can be found.
Having stepped over the low fence and walked into the paddock looking for the old 2km-long Port Wakefield grand prix circuit – trespassing, technically, given it’s private property – we find surviving portions of bitumen, slowly receding back into the earth. In the distance, the road on which we arrived is no longer visible, hidden below the knee-high arid scrub. But poking above it is the distinctive roofline of a 991 Porsche 911, in mercury silver, raking backwards to the most enormous rear wing you’ll ever see on a road car. It’s a 911 GT2 RS, and without being able to see the road it’s parked on, it looks like it’s just landed in the middle of the paddock from the sky itself. You couldn’t imagine a stranger place to see the fastest production car in the world, according to Nurburgring lap times anyway.
We’ve driven it here to pay homage to the Australian chapter of Porsche’s history, as we celebrate 70 years since “No 1” hit the public road in Germany. It was in Port Wakefield, in 1952, that Porsche celebrated its first motorsport victory on Australian soil – two 356s finishing one-two in class for the Standing Start Quarter Mile, at the Port Wakefield Speed Trials, held down the road (sort of) at the old military proofing range. In the hands of Ken Harper and Ken McConville, member and president respectively of the Australian Motor Sports Club, the 356s recorded quarter mile times of 20.9 and 21.0 respectively to take top honours. Of course, very few people had heard of Porsche at the time, and nobody knew that these would be the first of many Australian motorsport victories, including very nearly an Australian Touring Car Championship in 1969.
It was Alan Hamilton, driving a trick 911T/R, that missed out on the ’69 ATCC crown by a single point to ‘Pete’ Geoghegan in his Ford Mustang. It was Alan’s father, Norman Hamilton, that first recognised the potential of the then-unknown Porsche brand (you can read the famous and amusing origin story of Porsche in Australia on page 65). As well as being only the second official Porsche agent outside Germany, Hamilton convinced Ferry Porsche to build the first two right-hand drive models, which became the first two Porsches to arrive in Australia, a Fish Silver 356 Cabriolet and a Maroon 356 Coupe. Unveiled at a cocktail party at Albert Park on November 1, 1951, it was these two cars that Harper and McConville raced at Port Wakefield in 1952.
To find these old, happy hunting grounds, we set off from Australia’s newest racing circuit, The Bend Motorsport Park. Last month you would have read how the 911 GT2 RS set a scorching first production car lap record (3:24.079) on The Bend’s epic, 35-corner, 7.77km configuration. It won’t be setting any records on its way north to Port Wakefield today, other than perhaps Most Smartphone Photos Taken Of One Car in 24 Hours, as we discover, this being the first GT2 RS in South Australia and causing quite a stir.
Even in this silver, the GT2 RS is hardly subtle. Wide hips conceal enormous 325mm rear tyres wrapped around low-offset 21-inch wheels, that enormous rear wing towers as if stolen off
a 911 RSR racer, the front lip juts aggressively outwards, while gill-like carbon-fibre vents on the front guards and NACA ducts on the bonnet hit the GT2 RS’s intent home. Peaking inside reveals a wicked interior, red Alcantara stretching up the inside of the A-pillars to the ceiling as if specced by Lucifer himself.
The GT2 RS interior is otherwise standard 991 fare, red and black Alcantara thrown around with diabolical abandon. There’s a more road-friendly seat belt harness (compared to the race-ready, FIA-tagged offering of a GT3), yet an extinguisher still takes up residence in the passenger footwell, a cage scaffolds itself through where the rear ‘seats’ would normally be, the rear wing visible in the rear vision mirror over the top of the cage’s central ‘X’-brace. The speedometer reads to 400km/h. Just sitting in the GT2 RS is something special.
Having inserted the chunky keyfob and turned it, like a key, the GT2 RS idles, impatiently, in a way that might remind some of heavily modified RB26-powered GT-Rs or 2JZ Supras. Very loud, deep and with the occasional miss in the idle, it’s distinct.
With the intercooler spray tank empty from a Mr W. Luff’s exploits the day before, Supercheap Auto is our first destination to find some distilled water. It’s impossible, it turns out, yet we are papped by yet another smartphone by Tim, digitally distributing his spy shot, like a Stasi agent, to the tight-knit community of South Australian car nuts. Just like that, we feel like we’re being watched. And it turns out Tim can recommend us a few roads – Gorge, Chain of Ponds and North East, in fact. Detour to Port Wakefield? Of course.
Having passed through the charmingly Germanic Hahndorf in our Teutonic Terroriser, a small moustachioed old man approaches. “How much?” Seems to be the most common bystander question of the day. We tell him the figure. He is quiet; his eyebrows raise. And just when we thought this bloke was normal, he goes full South Australian on us. “It’s horny,” he grins, eyes wide. I grab the photographer and almost launchcontrol out of there.
The twisty roads beckon. As we find ourselves in the Adelaide Hills in Porsche’s bellowing, loud, technical-sounding 515kW beast, we begin to explore the GT2 RS itself. First lesson – warm the tyres and the brakes because when cold, the GT2 RS feels to be at a quarter of its ability, the cold front tyres chattering as the front pushes easily, the enormous carbon-ceramic brakes feeling wooden, about a quarter throttle all that’s usable as those big, grumpy rear Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2s slip and slide around. But already we’ve noticed one thing: the power. Even warming up on part throttle, the GT2 RS is charging at an enormous clip. There’s a foreboding sense that all the power in the world is about to be unleashed.
Full throttle in the GT2 RS is something that will never leave you, and not just because you feel like you’re getting about 100kW more than you thought to brace yourself for. It picks you up from low in the revs and hurls you forward with a turbocharged wallop of low-down torque, into a rushing, scenery warping, power-rich top-end as potent as any narcotic. I’ve never felt a car accelerate harder from 2000rpm. Even in the driver’s seat, you feel 10 per cent passenger the first few times you experience the full accelerative might of the GT2 RS.
But just as remarkable as the power is how in control you always feel. The way you can mete out what feel like individual kilowatts via the throttle pedal is astonishing, particularly for such a heavily turbocharged engine. And really hits home that the difference between scary power and fun power is control.
At any given moment, you feel intimately across how much
traction you’re using of those rear tyres. And of traction, there is a surprising amount, with the sensation of it increasing as the car squats hard, owing to the physics of its rear-engine layout. Yet even the inherently strong 911 purchase stands no chance against 515kW and your right foot. Squeeze in just a little bit too much throttle and the GT2 RS squirrels with wheelspin as it charges like a scalded dog down the road.
The limit of traction is so disproportionately accessible compared to the other limits of the GT2 RS. Maximum lateral grip, once the tyres are warm, is track-only stuff, unless you take your brain out. The brakes are seemingly as powerful as the engine; your physical ability to withstand G-forces becomes as limiting a factor as grip itself. This is a car that shrinks around you, like all other 991 911s, yet you are going so much faster, it demands maximum concentration.
While the power is the most remarkable thing about the GT2 RS, it distracts from the brilliance everywhere else in the car. The handling is sublime, the PDK ultra responsive and making the old manual of the 997 GT2 RS nothing but a memory. Unlike the GT3, a manual wouldn’t work in the 991.2 GT2 RS. It’s just way too fast.
This would also be a terrifying car with the electronics off. It would be here you’d find the old “widow maker” DNA. In the PSM Sport setting, enough power oversteer is permitted on corner exit, with so little throttle, even with the tyres up to temperature, that you would think at least four times about deactivating the ESP or traction control. And even then, you wouldn’t blame Porsche for programming in a “are you sure?” prompt as a final step. Predictably, you do find yourself questioning the wisdom of Porsche removing the all-wheel drive system, yet while the GT2 RS would be undoubtedly even faster, it would be less exciting and possibly less appealing. Danger and fear, it seems, is part of the GT2 RS allure.
After unboxing the GT2 RS on the roads in Adelaide’s Hills, as much as I dared anyway, and coming down from the drug that is its power, I noticed I had no clue what the GT2 RS is like at its highest engine speeds. In complete contrast to a GT3, there is so much performance available below 5000rpm that you never really feel robbed of revs like you might in, say, a Ferrari 488. Not even for the noise, either – the GT2 RS sounds awesome at all engine speeds, a thrummy, brooding, almost warbly, bassy blare. There’s burbling on the overrun and a little bit of blow-off valve if you go looking for it, although interestingly it’s devoid of the excessive under-load turbo hissing of a 720S or a 488.
YOU COULDN’T IMAGINE A STRANGER PLACE TO SEE THE FASTEST PRODUCTION CAR IN THE WORLD
As we drudge up the Princes Highway towards Port Wakefield, the GT2 RS, at normal speeds, stuns again at how easy it is to drive. Visibility is good, the ride is okay, the tyres are noisy but tolerable. Curiously, even at 110km/h in 19 degrees ambient, the water temp sits at 114 degrees (well within its normal range). Explains somewhat the huge apertures of the front bar, which push the aesthetic limits, required to feed the enormous radiators dispelling probably another thousand kilowatts of energy.
It turns out the GT2 RS is not merely a rear-drive 911 Turbo with a big wing, sticky tyres and the boost turned up. Its engine represents a new level of turbocharged performance. Unlike other new-age turbo supercars that seem engineered to imitate the linear power delivery of a naturally aspirated engine, the GT2 RS owns its turbocharged-ness with truly breathtaking mid-range punch and a level of response and throttle precision we’ve never felt from a turbo engine before.
We roll into dusty Port Wakefield, amongst the road trains, wondering what it must have felt like arriving here 66 years ago in a 356. As we turn off in search of the old Port Wakefield circuit, people stare at the GT2 RS with the most confused looks on their faces – and we needn’t wonder a moment longer.
MONTACUTE CHAIN OF PONDS
OPPOSITE TOP As well as patches of original bitumen, you can find the occasional tyre that marked the track limits of the old Port Wakefield circuit. You’d need a Cayenne to drive on what’s left of the track LEFT There’s not much out here. Windswept and dry, Port Wakefield town has a vibe like you’ve driven five hours from Adelaide. It’s 100km away