From the archives: the Porsche 911 GT3 RS goes rallying
No stereo, no aircon, no cupholders, no satnav – good. The 997.2 GT3 RS might be low on luxury, but your compensation is 450bhp. Now, let’s go rallying
Ask Andreas Preuninger, manager of Porsche High Performance Cars, what part he’s most proud of on his new baby the 911 GT3 RS, and the answer comes back as "all of it". But my inner geek has a thing for the intake manifold. It’s only saved 1kg, but Porsche re-designed it anyway. It sums up the whole philosophy of finessing perfection, this obsession with detail. To give you another example, the carbon fibre rear wing has a non-uniform profile between the sides and centre because the airflow is different over the wheelarches compared to the middle of the car. And the amount of downforce this RS generates at 100mph is the same as the old car had at 190.
Images: Barry Hayden
This feature was first published in Issue 203 of Top Gear magazine (2010)
The exhaust silencers are now titanium, the single-mass flywheel has had 1.4kg shaved since the gen-one RS, the brake hubs are aluminium and save 1.2kg a corner. The list goes on: lightweight wheels, aluminium body panels, plastic rear window, canvas straps for internal door handles, no heavy flappy paddle gearbox (Preuninger: "Grandmas can use paddles. They aren’t challenging"). Even the leather has gone from the dash and doors – tap on the roof and it sounds thin, like a caravan's. There's also an option to spec a lithium-ion battery, which brings a 10kg weight-loss benefit. And costs £1,268.
If you want to throw away more weight, you can. Specify bucket seats to lose 10kg, swap the enamel bonnet badge for a sticker, remove the radio and aircon, change the xenon headlights to halogens (and ditch the washer units in the process)...
Continue this process of subtraction as far as it will go and you’ll end up with a car that’s 25kg lighter than the GT3. That’s only the weight of a small child, but it’s still impressive because the RS is 40mm wider than the standard GT3, which is itself not a fat car. Look at it another way: in stripped-out form, the GT3 RS is only 80kg heavier than the Porsche Cup racer. "Lightweight is fun," says Preuninger. "You have to appreciate the grams." Oh, we appreciate the grams alright.
This is a pin-sharp car, but there’s comfort now, a new respect for your fillings and spine. Don’t for a moment think the RS can’t be driven every day. Ok, at idle the lightweight flywheel rattles like a tin of nails and the revs jump around like a racing car.
The interior light pulses slightly as the revs rise and fall – it’s not rough, but these are the key reasons Preuninger says customers would choose the GT3 over the RS. The latter lacks refinement, relatively speaking. Nor is the rear wing to everyone’s taste. But other than that, this car is surprisingly easy to drive for long periods of time.
All of a sudden, taking it rallying makes perfect sense. Yes, the GT3 RS – rallying. A car with a front splitter that crunches horribly when driven over sleeping policemen, yet one which a quick YouTube search reveals tackling snow stages. So we head up the Col de Turini in the French Alps to see just how well 450bhp, rear-wheel drive, semi-slick tyres and snow mix.
In my hands, not especially well. Any full-throttle work doesn’t seem like a good idea, especially in a car worth £104,841. Just because the GT3 RS is stripped out doesn’t mean it’s cheap – as ever with Porsche, less is more, and it costs more too. You still pay £5,677 extra for the ceramic brakes and £3,604 for the lighter seats.
The beauty of this GT3 RS is how alive it makes you feel. There are some über-powerful saloons out there which don’t even have a conversation with the driver, let alone engage with them, at anything less that 80/90mph. In the GT3 RS, it’s like being sat next to Jonathan Ross at a dinner party. There’s constant chatter no matter what the speed, so driving at 30mph is nearly as satisfying as driving at 80.
And at no moment does any part of the GT3 RS feel at odds with any other. Everything is perfectly balanced and in harmony with all the other bits around it. No matter how many times we head up and down the Col, the ceramic brakes are superb, the steering sharp and precise, the ride firm but controlled. Nothing dominates your senses, so you can concentrate on every aspect of the car.
Lower down the mountain from the Col, where it’s drier and you open the Porsche up more, all of those 450 horses become far more obvious. Press the sport button and a couple of baffles are opened in the exhaust which release an extra 26lb ft of torque, and the engine note gets a lot snarlier. Porsche hasn’t bothered to alter the throttle mapping when you press the sport button – rightly given it’s already sharp enough as it is.
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Flex your little toe by the tiniest amount and the car will react. It’s fantastically intuitive – you don’t so much sit in the RS as become a part of the ECU, with a lovely thin-rimmed steering wheel to connect you. There is no frilly stuff between what you do and what the car does. Man and machine in perfect harmony, or any other cliché you prefer.
And because of this, it’s not scary. The GT3 RS comes as standard with Porsche Active Drivetrain Mounts. rather than traditional rubber ones, PADM uses hydraulic dampers to control how much the engine can move – in a normal 911, the mounts allow for about 20mm of movement. In the RS, you get 3mm. Combine this with the decreased body roll at the rear, and Porsche engineers have virtually eliminated that classic 911 rear-end porpoising. Because of this, and because this car is 40mm wider at the rear than the GT3, and comes on sticky, foot wide rubber, the RS never feels like it will break away from you.
Those Michelin tyres aren’t quite as extreme as you’d imagine given the reasonably high side walls. As Preuninger acknowledges, just because the RS is a sports car doesn’t mean it should ride badly. Give the tyres taller profiles and the car is more comfortable during normal road use, but go harder with increased speed and cornering g, and tyre pressures build so the sidewall becomes stiffer.
Ultimately, that’s the greatest trick this second-gen 911 GT3 RS pulls. There are lots of fast cars out there, lots of stripped-back racers. But what Porsche and Preuninger have managed to do is save weight, still keep a smattering of luxury and make people feel like driving gods. Take the RS to the shops, take it to the track, pick the kid up from school – hell, as we found, take it rallying. It might be an expensive way to feel like you’re The Stig... but it’s [flick hair] so worth it.