996 GT3 SHOOTOUT
Words: Johnny Tipler Photography: Amy Shore The GT3 was Porsche’s first crack at a spicy, Rs-style version of the 996. We drive both Mark 1 and Mark 2 versions – and, what-d’ya-know, they’re both Speed Yellow! How cool is that for two hot numbers?
Gen 1 and gen 2 GT3S go head-to-head in a road racer showdown
So sleek, so purposeful; no other Porsche has quite the same shark-like demeanour as the 996 GT3. With good reason, too. The company’s radical evolution from air-cooled, hand-crafted cars to robotised production-line water-cooled models from 1996 demanded a flagship, something to lead the charge, a competitionorientated car along the lines of the ’73 2.7 RS and its 964 and 993 RS successors. Launched in May 1999, the 996 GT3 did the business straight away, combining a higher performance, normally-aspirated engine with sports-tuned, track-focused suspension to produce a highly-strung thoroughbred. Like RSS from previous generations, the GT3 demands to be put through its paces every time it’s fired up and, as we’ll find out, it never disappoints.
Named after the FIA’S GT3 endurance racing class, it was immediately pressed into service for the showcase Carrera Cup and Porsche Supercup race series, as well as being the weapon of choice for contenders in stand-out events like the Nürburgring 24Hours, and the N-GT class of the FIA GT Championship from 2000 which it cleaned up in. In its first-ever race, Manthey Racing’s GT3 won the GT class at the 1999 Le Mans 24-Hours in the hands of Uwe Alzen/patrick Huisman/luca Riccitelli. Soon enough, inhouse super-tester Walter Röhrl lapped the daunting Nürburgring Nordschleife in 7m 56s, in other words, sub-8m, a statistic immediately seized upon by Porsche PRS, since it was the first production car ever to do so. It looked the part, too: subtle chin spoiler and narrow air-dam, aerodynamically configured and flared sills, and fixed doubledecker ‘swan neck’ rear wing.
The GT3 was the progeny of Andreas Preuninger, Manager of Porsche High Performance Cars and head of Porsche’s GT series production department. Known for his purist approach to driving, Preuninger designed a set-up calculated to inspire maximum driver involvement, and that excluded the Tiptronic and later PDK gearboxes. Unveiled at the 1999 Geneva Show and released in May that year, the 996 GT3 was based upon the recently introduced Carrera 4 bodyshell, modified to accommodate the GT3’S dry-sump oil tank, different engine mounts, and larger fuel tank. Relying on engine upgrades rather than forced induction to achieve higher performance, the GT3 body had no need of Turbo- or Gt2-style vents, an absence that complements its overall sleekness. Now for the science bit. While standard 996 Carreras were powered by the 3.4-litre flatsix at the time, the GT3 was equipped with a new 3.6-litre unit. Regarded as bulletproof, the 3.6 “Metzger” engine was built up using the 964 crankcase, allied to a pair of water-cooled cylinder banks and camshafts in an arrangement conceptually similar to the 959 supercar and 956/962 and GT1
racing models. Re-engineered in normallyaspirated format for greater production volume and wider homologation potential, with higher 11.7:1 compression ratio, Variocam timing adjustment and four-valves per cylinder, its plasma-nitrided crankshaft and titanium conrods enabled it to rev significantly higher than the standard engine. The six- speed transmission and dual-mass flywheel with 40-per cent LSD was derived from the 993 GT2, and at launch, the 360bhp @ 7200rpm GT3 was the most powerful normally-aspirated 911 ever to go on sale. The 0–60mph sprint took 4.7 seconds, while top speed was 187mph.
It had the handling to match as well. The suspension was lowered by 30mm and consisted of adjustable dampers, stiffer flywheel, allowing the revs to rise and fall springs and adjustable anti-roll bars, with more rapidly. The Comfort features leathercross-drilled and ventilated 330mm disc upholstered bucket seats, but no rear seats or brakes with four-pot calipers and ABS 5.3. centre console. In both cases the space-saver Wider track was obtained by means of 5mm spare is replaced by a puncture repair kit and spacers, set off by lightweight ten-spoke 18-in inflator – all very well if you detect your tyre wheels, 8in front, 10in rear, shod with 225/40 deflating but useless if it’s shredded by the and 285/30 ZR 18 tyres. Designer Preuninger time you come to a standstill. The Mk1 was the last Porsche to have a throttle cable, and apart fromabs it had no other driver aids. It ” was also the last road-going Porsche to be built on the motorsport production line, and though it’s a heavier car than the standard 996 Carrera, the Mk2 is heavier still. The Mk1 had a reputation for worn synchro rings, but a second batch of cars incorporated steel synchro rings, which the Mk2 received as a is on record as being committed to providing matter of course. maximum ‘feel’ with the GT3, on the premise In 2004 the Mk2 appeared on the scene, that a fast car lacking sensory appreciation is along with the GT3 RS. There’s a school of worthless. To provide greater scope for thought that believes the GT3 was softened to achieving this sensational overload, roadproduce more of a contrast with the hardgoing models come in two trim levels: Comfort edged GT3 RS version introduced at the or Clubsport, the latter featuring racing seats same time, and if nothing else, the presence and rear roll cage at no extra charge. Club of cup holders perhaps hints at such a revised Sport versions also employ a single-mass status. The Mk2 (you’ll also see them referred
Designer Preuninger committed to maximum ‘feel’ with the GT3
to as gen 1 and gen 2 now) was the first GT3 to be available in the USA, traditionally legislatively averse to tuned versions. Externally the Mk2 displays several stylistic changes, too, some subtle, some not so subtle. Less exaggerated, kind of like Art Deco’s rigidity against Art Nouveau’s floridity. That’s to say that, visually it was toned down. The headlights were modified to differentiate it from the Boxster, and to expand the fried egg simile, the Mk2’s eggs occupied less of the frying pan. The front and rear aprons are different, too, earning the Mk2 some maturity in the process, with slightly different geometry and slope angles to the inlets and air ducts – which should ideally have mesh behind them to stop ingress of garbage. The 18in ten-spoke wheels were simplified, side skirts massaged to provide more aero, and the rear wing configured as a platform on a pair of struts instead of the Mk 1’s elegant swan- neck biplane. More significantly, power rose to 381bhp with torque up to 284lb ft, most of which was available from 2000rpm, and it was shorter geared in fifth and sixth. Suspension was further lowered and firmed, brakes were beefed up with six-pot calipers up front, with Porsche’s ceramic composite brake system optional – for a trifling £5356 extra. Still, when track-testing a GT3 with ceramic brakes, Autocar magazine’s test team discovered that, ‘not even several committed laps of the Nürburgring could induce any fade.’ Sticky tyres aided traction, too: bespoke semi-slick Michelin Pilot Sport N1 tyres were developed specifically for the GT3. It was, however, 30kg heavier than the Mk1.
At launch, the GT3 was well received. ‘A joy to use,’ said Autocar, ‘but no quicker than the standard 911.’ Testing the car at Millbrook proving ground, they reckoned this was due to the fact that the GT3 weighed 30kg more than the regular 996 Carrera, and, ‘it wasn’t as quick as we’d hoped.’ Nevertheless, there were few other gripes: braking, they reported, ‘is chestcrushing from any speed.’ At low speeds and in town it was not an illuminating experience, though there were compensations: ‘For an engine that offers 100bhp per litre, it has an unnatural dose of deportment at low speeds.’ And handling, too: ‘the payback is stunning body control on any given road, just grip and composure.’ Turn-in was found to be much sharper than the standard model, ‘more on its toes with front-end bite.’
When the Mk 2 GT3 became available, Autocar magazine was on the case again: ‘the latest GT3 is in a different league from its ancestor when it comes to straight-line go,’ they claimed, ‘…so it qualifies as a genuine supercar.’ More compliant than its predecessor, they ventured. ‘Rock hard and