Chris Harris drives the Porsche 911 GT3 RS
The new GT3 RS’s ultimate weapon is something you can’t see – the air around it. Allow Chris Harris to demonstrate
The supporting press info for the new 992 generation GT3 RS contains many memorable words and statistics. It is possibly the most extreme road car the company has ever made, including all the expensive supercars, but there is one piece of information that is quietly glossed over. To become the fastest track-oriented 911 of all time, this car had to become the slowest modern GT3. A ‘normal’ GT3 will hit 198mph, but the RS stops at 184mph, because it has so much drag and a shorter final drive. I can’t think of another car whose speed is so obviously curtailed by a rear wing. A Honda Civic Type R isn’t much slower.
Silverstone was the launch venue for this outrageous looking machine. The thinking was clear – few other circuits have as many high speed corners on which to demonstrate downforce, but the weather isn’t always helpful. As Porsche racing legend Jörg Bergmeister and project boss Andreas Preuninger, both of whom I know reasonably well, looked wearily at the sky, I offered some British cheer. “Morning chaps – why did you choose Silverstone at the end of September?! It’s always p***ing down!” They grinned, demonstrated a high degree of competence in the British vernacular and sauntered off to get coffee.
Photography: Mark Riccioni
Sopping wet in the pitlane were several new RSes. Porsche first released pictures of this thing a few months ago, so we already knew the wing was absurdly big, but some of the details you need to appreciate up close. I thought it looked a bit silly when I first saw it. The Signal Yellow number I’m due to drive makes me reconsider that. Where the suspicion lurked the car might have had a cartoonish ‘aftermarket’ look about it, the result is quite different. It’s cohesive, appears factory original and there’s enough frontal bulging to add balance to the mayhem out back.
You already know the spec of this car – it soldiers on with the 4.0 flat-six of the standard GT3, this time with power up to 518bhp courtesy of a few camshaft modifications. It’s an engine that is very closely related to the second-gen 991 GT3 motor from 2016, so it was clear that to make a statement, Porsche needed to find another area in which to improve performance. The RS has been the company’s track machine for years, so the thinking naturally turned to lap times. And for that, the only way was downforce. Well, it could have tried to reduce the weight to nothing and given us zero downforce, but that would have been silly.
And so began development of a 911 much, much more extreme than anything previously badged RS. The front cooling pack has gone from three to one central radiator so the front wing vents can manage air more effectively. That means no frunk, which immediately makes the car far less practical than its predecessor. The huge cutaways on the trailing edge of the wings are part of this air management package and the side intakes at the rear don’t feed the engine, they accelerate air through the rear arches. There are active flaps under the front of the car to ensure that a rear wing that can produce 860kg of downforce at 177mph isn’t tempted to pull the world’s fastest wheelie. That monster swan neck mounted biplane scaffold plank has a movable surface that can stall in the DRS style, but even then at 186mph the drag is more than the motor can push through.
Now, like me, you probably assumed that Porsche would leave it at the crazy aero. But no, it then went and added dampers you can adjust for bump and rebound from the steering wheel. A differential that can also be tweaked for drive and coast, and traction control that is also adjustable. This is perhaps the most comprehensive package of changes we’ve seen on a road-legal track machine. It means that the humble 911 shape now has more downforce than many of the company’s racing cars.
And on Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2s, on a wet day at Silverstone where it seems like there’s been a circuit-long diesel spill, you can feel just about none of this. We don’t have much time in the car, and I’m nibbling around trying not to slide the thing at every corner. I can at least play with the dampers, which is pretty cool. The difference between full hard and full soft is noticeable, but there isn’t the same range of adjustment you’d find on a fully adjustable race shock. But whatever I do with the dampers, the car either can’t get the power down, or it pushes from mid-corner to exit. I’ve never driven on a circuit with less grip.
It’s a frustrating exercise, but once my five lap splash is done and there’s time to reflect, it does help me define what this car is about. Because I’ve just used it in a situation where it had zero chance to demonstrate what it can do beyond other 911s, and then it just became a slightly silly looking Porsche. A Turbo S would have been miles quicker. This is a car for people who really want to head to the track – anyone who intends to do mostly road miles and a few track days should have a standard GT3, or maybe a Touring.
The rain eventually stops and the track begins to dry. The rear Michelins can begin to make that chemical reaction work, the front of the car stays on line then, as the tyre temp rises more (the gauge is now on the dash, alongside pressures), there’s a chance to attack Maggots and Becketts – that amazing high-speed sequence copied by so many modern circuit designs. It’s a brutal demonstration of what Porsche has achieved with this car. The first thing to note is the stability under braking – it’s just superb. You can smash the middle pedal from 130mph and fire the car straight over the kerbs, it really doesn’t feel much slower than the last GT3 racecar I drove here. Down one gear after the right you can hold fourth gear and feel the aero working – the dash registers about 2.4g here. That’s an awful lot from something that isn’t a dedicated racing car and isn’t on slick tyres.
The steering is good, the bucket seat shell is good, the gear changes are good (even better in this car with the Weissach magnet clickers on the paddles) and the car just wants to corner faster. To get that slingshot run down the Hangar Straight I dip down to third and there’s a nasty little lump that always tips a car into some understeer, but the RS doesn’t just feel like a racecar through there, it feels better than most. It’s all a bit mind scrambling. Even on a drying track it does a 2:14 lap, which is nuts. I think my best on low fuel and fresh slicks in a GT3 racer is just under two minutes. This thing really isn’t so far off that pace.
If this is what you want to do with your fast 911, then it’s a no-brainer over the standard GT3. I’d speculate that the RS is 4.0secs quicker over a single lap of Silverstone, using the same tyre. That’s night and day.
There is just one problem though, and I can’t quite believe I’m saying this about a machine with 518bhp and capable of 0–125mph in 10.6secs... it needs more engine. This motor is a piece of art now, a legend in its own lifetime, but it’s also 200bhp back from the competition and Porsche needs a new solution, which surely must mean turbocharging at some point in the near future. In the Touring, this is the correct engine because no one needs more than 500bhp on the road. It feels about right in the small winged car too – but with this much downforce, I wanted something closer to 991 GT2 RS clout down the Wellington Straight.
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How many will actually find their way onto a track? I don’t know. These things have become tradable commodities, but the scouts suggest that premiums will be running at an all-time high for what I think is the most compromised 911 for road use since the 964 RS. With one exception – Preuninger noted during a detailed explanation about how the radiator nostrils guide hot air down the sides of the car to keep the air used for the engine intake as cool as possible that, “with the windows down in the winter, you get some warm air coming into the cabin – it’s actually very pleasant". So there you have it. The finest track-focused 911 of all time, all sold out, but handy on cold days when you want the windows dropped. I’ll have mine in yellow please.