Road-legal 996 Cup
Few experiences are as tantalising as driving a race car on the road. We head to the hills of Eberbach, Germany to sample a special 996 Cup
It’s built for heavy-duty competition on the race track. We take the first water-cooled 911 Cup car for a spin on the road…
Race cars are uncompromising, focused machines. Designed, developed and engineered exclusively for the rigours of motorsport, they gestate new technologies for upcoming road cars and, in the case of the 996 Cup, inspire a new generation of 911 enthusiasts to get out and race.
Even though race cars are meant to prove their mettle on closed circuits, there is a guilty indulgence to driving a race car on a public road. They seem so out of place among the mundane, mass-produced cars littering the public highway that the driving experience is truly unique; the machine’s performance potential makes you feel untouchable.
When we originally approached the owner of this car and asked about the possibility of featuring it in an issue of Total 911, he simply said: “No problem, we just put garage plates on the car and you can drive it.” His response took us by surprise, but I was excited by the prospect of driving a 996 Cup on the public road. This is going to be one hell of a drive.
The 996 Cup first appeared as early as the 1998 racing season. Although it offered 360bhp and
360Nm in 1998, by 2002 those outputs had increased to 380bhp and, again, an identical 380Nm. For the 2002 season six-piston calipers were installed at the front which clamped 350mm discs, while the rear retained 330mm discs. A total of 138 Cup cars were manufactured that year, which was a record at the time for production-based race cars built by Porsche AG. The same year also saw the introduction of a new powertrain feature: the transmission was cooled by means of an oil spray, as well as an oilwater heat exchanger.
This Pure white 2002 996 Cup in our pictures has a particularly interesting history. It was allocated as a test car to respected Porsche engineer Roland Kussmaul until 2005. During that year the car was sent to Asia and placed in a livery for an exhibition, but was never raced there.
During the years it was in Herr Kussmaul’s custody it received several upgrades from the factory for the purposes of testing, before the results of this work were implemented to new clients’ cars. For example, the car has its rev limiter set at a heady 8,000rpm – at the time it was one of the highestrevving Cup cars ever to have been developed at the factory. So, needless to say, the car has a thick and fascinating history file.
The car’s first private owner was Dr Siegfried Brunn of Brunn Racing fame, who purchased the car for endurance racing in 2005. Subsequently the shocks were upgraded with Sachs units and a different limited-slip differential and long-distance racing tank were fitted. Dr Brunn is a respected citizen of the town, and even the local authorities recognise him when he takes race cars out on the road for a brief shakedown or to quickly test an aspect of the car.
The car eventually participated in a race at the Nürburgring in 2006, when Philip Brunn drove the car to a top-15 finish. Ten years later it was sold to its second owner, a South African Porsche collector.
On to today. We find ourselves outside the small, picturesque German town of Eberbach. A mechanic pours some 100-octane racing fuel into the 996
Cup’s fender-mounted fuel filler. The white Cup car provides an appetising contrast to the light- and darkgreen hues of the surrounding forests and mountains. It looks totally out of place compared to its natural surroundings, although the Pure white body panels – clean without any sponsored wraps or stickers – look more like those of a road than race car.
Compared with its road-going counterparts the 996 Cup sits closer to the road; has a larger, sharper rear wing and BBS split-rim wheels, but once you climb in – over the roll cage – and lower yourself into the bucket seat there is no doubt that the car will offer a vastly different experience compared to a road car. The fact that the steering wheel needs to be clicked into place is another highlight!
Today these roads are littered with bikers enjoying the perfect, dry summer weather in
Europe, but a few decades ago one of these roads was used for an annual hillclimb event… and it’s not difficult to understand why. The route we’ve chosen for our drive offers a perfect combination of hairpins mixed in with some faster corners. The forest scenery is tremendously inviting, especially as you watch the black tarmac curve and thrust its way through the greenery in front of the car.
Once you’re in situ, the Recaro race seat offers almost no body movement in either the lateral or horizontal axis, while the extrusions around your head obscure a large part of the cabin from your vision. Then, once you have clicked the five straps into the centre unit of the harness, you can just about move your head and arms, but that is it; you feel 100 per cent strapped in and part of the car.
As I’ll be driving the car on the road there is no need for a helmet, which is a rather liberating concession that allows me to absorb what the car has to offer with all of my senses. When you look around, apart from the dashboard, which is the same as in road-going 911s, there is little more than white, bare metal in sight.
Unlike newer Cup cars (and other race cars, for that matter), this 16-year-old Cup car can still be started with a twist of the key to the left of the steering wheel. I first click the Alcantara steering
wheel into the steering column, and as the engine kicks in a loud, intense, mechanical clattering emanates from behind the seat. The most challenging aspect is to pull away smoothly from standstill. You need to give plenty of throttle input and let the clutch slip, but at the same time you want to expedite this manoeuvre as much as possible to minimise clutch wear.
I immediately notice that something is wrong
– the car doesn’t want to exceed 40mph, no matter what I do. Eventually, after we’ve parked the car and gone through all the settings, we realise I accidentally activated the speed limiter!
Finally, with the limiter disengaged, I’m off. The moment the 996 Cup picks up speed there is an urgency from the drivetrain that signals the car’s true intent. Mash the throttle pedal flat and the revs rise quickly. Past 6,000rpm, for the final 2,000rpm in its allotted range, the engine starts to sound its best as that flat six sound intensely and harshly enters the cabin. The din overwhelms all the other mechanical noises and provides a racing soundtrack for the driver, as well as those fortunate onlookers that find themselves in the same valley as this road.
Needless to say, as the 996 Cup ascends the mountain pass, photographer Charles and I need to
“Seeing a 911 race car navigating traffic before heading up through the hills is an experience not to forget”
raise our voices to mild shouts in order to hear each other clearly. It’s all in vain, however; in gleeful defeat we give up talking to one another as our wide eyes and euphoric laughter quickly sum up our thoughts of this exceptional car.
Each and every gear shift is a highlight. Not only is each swap precise and short, but if you glance down for a moment you can see how the ’box’s linkage mechanism operates. It does feel as if the gear lever is slightly higher than that of the road car, but I think it is because you are sitting lower in the Cup car than in the road car.
As you press the throttle pedal, its lack of inertia, by virtue of the utterly majestic motor and the lightness of the car, is immediately evident as the 380bhp supplies near-instant acceleration, especially if you keep the engine speeds higher up in the rev range. The brakes feel expressly potent underneath my foot but, as is often the case with race cars, they scream loudly when the pads rub the discs.
On these narrow roads a three-point turn also quickly turns into a six- or seven-point manoeuvre, owing to the car’s wide turning circle. But the moment you have made that final turn you can indulge in the raw, intoxicating drivetrain sound of an engine that can trace its roots to the Le Mans-winning GT1 race car. On a constant throttle, mechanical noise is at its lowest, but the moment you climb off the throttle or put your foot down that cacophony returns instantly.
Hydraulic power steering allows the steering wheel to bristle with feedback. I can feel exactly when the front axle loads up, and even more so when the front wheels sniff out any tramlines or undulations in the road. This is obviously exacerbated by the front camber settings, allowing the nose to easily point into a corner when you turn the wheel
– a road car simply cannot replicate that. Even shod with wet-weather racing tyres the 996 Cup’s grip is immense. As I turn into corners there is virtually no body lean; the car changes direction at will.
Later that afternoon as the previous owner pilots the car in front of us, it is notable how flat the 996 Cup corners. The wheels exhibit minimal horizontal movement, which, given the limited space under the wheel arches, is just as well.
Although you will never get the tyres up to working temperature on a public road and be able to attack corners with the same ferocity as you would on a race track, seeing a 911 race car navigating traffic before heading up through the hills is an experience not to forget.
Suffice to say the 996 Cup is one of the most exciting 911s that I’ve driven on the road. It’s hard to explain, but the purity and compromising nature of a race car awakens an urge in you to experience it on a road – the visceral nature of a track-bred car delivers exhilaration in a way few standard 911s can replicate.
What’s more, the cleanliness of this car and the fact it has covered only 6,800 miles – although race cars’ lives are measured in hours, not miles – further adds to the occasion of driving it.
Would you want to drive the 996 Cup regularly on the road? Probably not, but maybe for a quick, exhilarating trip once every month or two, certainly! The 996 GT3 road cars feel comparatively luxurious after a stint in the Cup. To illustrate my point, a day after my drive in this car I spent two days at the wheel of a 996 GT3. The latter is a car that you can drive comfortably on track or across Europe, but it can’t offer that raw, intense and unforgiving experience of the Cup car…
The 996 might still divide opinion to this day but, as with every 911 range, the race cars are at the pinnacle of their generation. Apart from the 996 GT3 RS endurance racers, the 996 Cup sits at the very peak of the 996 Porsche Motorsport pyramid.
BELOW Mezger unit can trace its routes back to the Le Manswinning GT1 of 1998