Shark­w­erks 4.1s

Two of Porsche’s GT 997s have been bril­liantly re­born in 4.1-litre spec – and they could well be the finest Ne­unelfers on the planet

Total 911 - - Contents -

Their GT3 RS 4.1 is one of the great­est 911s, but Shark­w­erks’ GT3 con­ver­sion is ar­guably even bet­ter

En­gine dis­place­ment is ev­ery­thing in the US. The home of the Hemi is also the land where big V8s are shoe­horned into just about ev­ery­thing, whether it’s for the school run or the race track. Big­ger is sup­pos­edly bet­ter when it comes to cars, this a heav­ily en­riched ide­ol­ogy in­grained into many as­pects of gen­eral US so­ci­ety.

How­ever, in the world of Porsche, su­pe­rior en­gine size has never formed part of the agenda. While Lam­borgh­ini’s first car in 1963 was the 3.5-litre, V12 350GT, for ex­am­ple, Porsche’s orig­i­nal 911 had a measly 2.0-litre flat six. Lam­borgh­ini still uses the V12 in its Aventador to­day, while Audi’s R8 is pow­ered by a 5.0-litre V10, and Fer­rari’s V8 and V12 pow­er­plants are con­sid­ered le­gendary among the wider car en­thu­si­ast pop­u­la­tion. De­spite this the plucky 911 sports car has con­tin­ued to bat­tle suc­cess­fully against its big­ger-en­gined ri­vals on cir­cuit, stick­ing fiercely to its win­ning recipe of a ro­bust flat six and an ex­quis­ite chas­sis.

It is this ap­proach which Alex Ross, owner of Cal­i­for­nian Porsche tuners Shark­w­erks, has al­ways found favour with. Bri­tish born, his ex­tracur­ric­u­lar in­dul­gence in Lo­tus is there­fore for­give­able, but the over­achiev­ing 911 has al­ways been the pri­mary source of his mo­tor­ing as­pi­ra­tions. This, fused with a hint of that ‘big­ger is bet­ter’ Amer­i­can way, is what has given us the Shark­w­erks 4.1.

Long-time read­ers of To­tal 911 will al­ready know of the prow­ess of the one-of-four Gulf-in­spired Rennsport in our pic­tures, which we first fea­tured in early 2015. Ac­quired in 2011 be­fore be­ing ‘run in’ with a 2,600-mile jaunt across the USA, Alex

and the Shark­w­erks team found tun­ing po­ten­tial in its 3.8-litre Mezger en­gine, this be­com­ing the trail­blazer for its pi­o­neer­ing 4.1-litre pro­gramme. It all started be­fore Porsche had even re­leased its own 997 GT3 RS 4.0 – we told you the States does it big­ger and bet­ter.

The fruits of more than five years of de­vel­op­ment in­cludes a part­ner­ship with EVOMS to pro­duce a race-spec, light­weight bil­let 80.44mm crank, CNC ma­chined from bil­let 4340 high-al­loy steel and tested to more than 9,500rpm, as well as a 104.5mm bore pis­ton and cylin­der set. The cylin­ders use steel lin­ers and the pis­tons are Te­flon-coated with anti-wear skirts and ti­ta­nium wrist pins, sav­ing 20 grams per pis­ton and wrist pin combo against fac­tory. In terms of top end, Shark­w­erks’ en­gine has ‘Ham­mer­head’ Shark-spec head­work along with race-style valve guides for longevity and cam ad­juster strength­en­ing, with ev­ery­thing bal­anced and blueprinted. A cus­tom multi-in­dexed ro­tary-style oil pump is used, and the camshafts are Shark­w­erks/evoms spec.

The en­gine case has been race-prepped with, among other things, im­proved oil­ing tech­niques ac­cord­ing to Shark­w­erks’ own wiz­ardry. This is all part­nered to EVOMSIT ECU tun­ing; an RS 4.0-litre clutch pack, though Alex says the orig­i­nal fac­tory set-up does work; a choice of Shark­w­erks light­weight street or track ex­haust, and a host of chas­sis up­grades in­clud­ing Brembo GT brakes, Bil­stein Club­sport dou­ble ad­justable coilovers, RSS rear ad­justable links, bump steer kit, thrust arm bush­ings and lower con­trol arms, plus some aero­dy­namic ad­just­ments.

Dur­ing ex­ten­sive R&D Shark­w­erks ran into in­evitable phys­i­cal lim­i­ta­tions for the OEM Porsche parts. Many of these even­tu­ally showed up in the months and years that fol­lowed the re­lease of Porsche’s 4.0 RS in tech­ni­cal ser­vice bul­letins and re­calls. The build also in­volved sig­nif­i­cant in­vest­ment from Shark­w­erks it­self, with chief en­gi­neer ex­traor­di­naire James Hendry hav­ing to fab­ri­cate his own tool­ing to make the in­stall pos­si­ble – hence why the builds can only be car­ried out at ei­ther Shark­w­erks or EVOMS.

The re­sult of Shark­w­erks’ ef­forts is a stag­ger­ing 540hp, up nearly 100hp from stock 3.8-litre spec, and 542Nm torque on 93 oc­tane fuel. Even bet­ter, Shark­w­erks says its re­vamp­ing work also helps lengthen the life of the Mezger six. For ex­am­ple, the light­weight de­sign forged tool steel con­rods – for 80.44mm stroke – were de­signed to­gether with EVOMS for longevity and strength, both com­pa­nies shying away from ti­ta­nium. There is a slight weight penalty but Alex says the ad­di­tional weight of the rod is min­i­mal in com­par­i­son to the over­all weight saved from the ro­tat­ing mass in other ar­eas: “Ti­ta­nium stretches and is best kept to 40 to 60 hour re­build race cars. In 3.6 to 3.8 stock form they have lasted a good while, but be­yond that…”

Need­less to say, it’s a pos­i­tively in­tox­i­cat­ing ex­pe­ri­ence be­hind the wheel. In fact, it’s so good that the last time we drove it we de­clared it the best Porsche 911 on the planet. We’ve since tested some tan­ta­lis­ing Porsche metal in this mag­a­zine, both new and old, in­clud­ing the 911 R, GT3 Tour­ing, 991.2 GT3 RS and 991 GT2 RS. All out­stand­ing peers of per­for­mance in their own right, none have left us as mes­merised as Shark­w­erks’ 4.1-litre GT3 RS. Make no mis­take: this ‘Bluefin’, as Alex calls it, is still the undis­puted best in To­tal 911’s book.

How­ever, the white 997.1 GT3 sit­ting next to it to­day rep­re­sents what is ar­guably an even greater en­gi­neer­ing feat. That’s be­cause it too is now re­splen­dent in near-iden­ti­cal 4.1-litre spec­i­fi­ca­tion, though in be­ing a 3.6-litre GT3 to be­gin with has sim­ply had more ground to make up to the majesty of its RS brother.

It too has been on our pages be­fore, in 2015, al­beit in Shark­w­erks’ 3.9-litre spec­i­fi­ca­tion where the car com­pleted a suc­cess­ful 75,000 miles be­fore up­grad­ing to 4.1 litres. The three-and-a-half years which have passed feel like a life­time ago, for the 997.1 is me­chan­i­cally un­recog­nis­able from its for­mer self after us­ing the blue­print of that Gulf-coloured Rennsport. The GT3 ob­vi­ously dif­fers in its chas­sis di­men­sions, its body and track widths be­ing nar­rower than the Gen2 GT3 RS, and a dif­fer­ent in­take sys­tem and in­take man­i­fold means it’s

down on power by around 25hp, but its aero is more ex­treme, mak­ing use of a Cup wing and ad­justable struts at the back, while a Cup spoiler bet­ter helps the flow of air at the front of the car.

It’s owned by Ralph Jack­son, who worked for Vasek Po­lak as a teenager in the 1950s and 1960s. Ralph has Porsche on the brain and 100 oc­tane petrol pump­ing through his veins, and also counts the 800hp GT2 built by Shark­w­erks in his ex­ten­sive Porsche own­er­ship his­tory. How­ever, Ralph doesn’t suf­fer fools gladly – he’s only in­ter­ested if it’s pukka and, hav­ing helped put many de­vel­op­ment miles on the 997.2 GT3 RS 4.1, he knew ex­actly what he was in for when the op­por­tu­nity arose to own the first 997.1 GT3 4.1 con­ver­sion. That he’s put 15,000 miles on the clock in the seven months since its con­ver­sion is some tes­ta­ment to what he thinks of its re­sults. How­ever, we’re itch­ing to have a go our­selves on these fab­u­lous roads carv­ing up the north­ern Cal­i­for­nia coast.

We hop in ‘Bluefin’ first to reac­quaint our­selves with its charm which, once it’s fully up to tem­per­a­ture, doesn’t take long at all. The ex­haust note is first to arouse our senses: it’s still got that full-bod­ied, 997.2 GT3 RS howl, yet it’s been upped a note or two. Im­pres­sively there’s no drone at low revs, but an ap­pli­ca­tion of the throt­tle pedal un­leashes a fierce res­o­nance that as­cends into pure ban­shee as the RS 4.1 screams to 8,800rpm. From Porsche only the note from the rear of the 991.2

GT3 comes rea­son­ably close in terms of its the­atre, but even that feels sti­fled com­pared to Shark­w­erks’ com­bat­ive sys­tem.

With­out ques­tion, though, the jewel in the

4.1’s crown is that bril­liantly re­worked flat six. Its abil­ity to rev so freely and so will­ingly – and for so long – is sim­ply as­ton­ish­ing. The sum of all those light­weight, up­graded com­po­nents is a Mezger on steroids. It’s hard to pick a weak spot, so ex­ten­sive is its power­band. It be­gins with throt­tle re­sponse: pick-up, from as lit­tle as 2,500rpm, has pre­vi­ously been likened to that of a Car­rera GT, and we’re not about to dis­agree. From there you can pick a spot on its torque curve be­tween 2,900 to 5,300rpm and you’ll have any­where up to 120Nm more at your dis­posal than the fac­tory 3.8, and 80Nm more than even the RS 4.0. Usu­ally re­garded as some­thing of a dead zone in a peaky Porsche GT3 Mezger, here the RS 4.1 is full of en­ergy. And that doesn’t mean ‘Bluefin’ has been robbed of any drama at the top end, ei­ther. Peak horse­power is re­alised at 7,950rpm, but let it rev all the way out to 8,800rpm and you’ll still find your­self with a su­pe­ri­or­ity of 60Nm torque over a fac­tory equiv­a­lent. A regear­ing with a longer first and shorter se­cond to fourth ra­tios adds to the drama, the RS 4.1 here ri­valling the flu­id­ity of the 911 R.

Its chas­sis, too, is ex­cel­lent, par­tic­u­larly at the rear, that bump steer kit keep­ing the back axle set­tled over the im­pu­ri­ties of the road be­neath us. Com­bined with stel­lar brakes and the usual Rennsport recipe of fast, feel­some steer­ing, this is a mas­ter­piece in en­gi­neer­ing – if its twin wasn’t pa­tiently wait­ing for its own ap­praisal, we sim­ply wouldn’t want to swap out this seat for any­thing.

Shark­w­erks’ GT3 4.1 is dom­i­nated from the out­side by that frankly out­ra­geous aero­dy­namic aid above its deck­lid. Sit­ting tall on ex­ten­sively ad­justable struts, the Cup wing with del­i­cate Gur­ney flap on its trail­ing edge is mon­strous even com­pared to the raised wing of the RS 4.1, the chunky end plates at ei­ther ex­trem­ity al­most usurp­ing the width of the GT3’S arches.

In­side, the dif­fer­ences be­tween the two cars are sub­tle, these mainly down to the gen­er­a­tional change in but­tons and switchgear on the cen­tre con­soles, while the GT3 ob­vi­ously has proper door han­dles rather than pull straps. If the worn Al­can­tara around the head of the shifter isn’t a good enough in­di­ca­tion as to how hard Ralph drives this thing, the fact he’s swapped the driver’s Sport seat out for a fold­ing Re­caro bucket surely is. There’s an al­can­tara Techart steer­ing wheel in here too, and we quite like its chunkier grip. Seat and mir­rors ad­justed, we’d bet­ter get mov­ing.

From the out­set this GT3 feels ev­ery bit as on par with its 4.1-litre fore­bear. To our ears it sounds slightly dif­fer­ent to the RS, its tone a speck more sonorous, and it’s also run­ning a more ag­gres­sive geo set-up, just how Ralph likes it, which helps give its nose a slight edge in terms of its di­rect­ness into a turn. As a re­sult the GT3 bet­ter high­lights the supremacy of the job done by the Bil­stein Club­sports and Rss/shark­w­erks chas­sis set-up be­cause in this state the nose should be tram­lin­ing all over the place, but it isn’t, the wheels stay­ing loyal and true to where they are pointed. It’s just a ridicu­lously well-bal­anced car over­all, pos­si­bly even more so than the RS.

The en­gine is, again, sub­lime. I can’t get past the in­ten­sity of its rush right to the red­line, which surely won’t ever be beaten by any­thing out of the fac­tory. It’s un­like any other 911 out there. How­ever, it’s the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the ped­als and shifter which we find most out­stand­ing in the 4.1. It’s the light­ness of the car through the ac­cel­er­a­tor, the con­fi­dence ex­erted by the mid­dle pedal, and the deft­ness of the clutch. This, mixed with that flu­id­ity of the gear­box to let you shift quickly and pre­cisely, is what makes the 4.1 so re­spon­sive, so vis­ceral to drive. If the R was the fac­tory bench­mark in terms of pre­ci­sion in this area, the GT3 4.1 usurps it. There’s noth­ing about ei­ther 4.1 I find a dis­like to, in­clud­ing the price, which Alex says starts at $59,000 for the up­grade to in­clude all of the nec­es­sary en­gine parts as well as the tun­ing, ex­haust and up­graded clutch/pres­sure plate, light­weight fly­wheel, plus in­stal­la­tion and break-in.

Since our first test drive of Shark­w­erks 4.1-litre 997.2 GT3 RS, noth­ing from the fac­tory or oth­er­wise has re­ally got­ten near it. How­ever, this thrilling Rennsport is fi­nally joined on its pedestal by its brother in arms, the 4.1-litre 997.1 GT3. We depart by telling Ralph we think his is the best 911 we’ve driven, ever, but he al­ready knows it. A long-time Porsche owner, he says it’s his best and there­fore last 911. Talk about bow­ing out at the top.


Thanks to Shark­w­erks and the le­gendary Ralph Jack­son for use of their 997s in our test.

“Let it rev all the way out to 8,800rpm and you’ll still find your­self with a su­pe­ri­or­ity of 60Nm torque over a fac­tory equiv­a­lent”

BELOW As well as un­beat­able per­for­mance, Shark­w­erks’ 4.1s have been built to last, with tens of thou­sands of real-world de­vel­op­ment miles un­der their belt

BELOW At last, the 997.2 GT3 RS 4.1 is joined at the very top ta­ble of Porsche per­for­mance by the 4.1-litre 997.1 GT3

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