KILLS BUGS FASTER

by HENRY CATCHPOLE

PHOTOGRAPHY by DEAN SMITH

So convincing is the standard 991 GT3 as a road going race car that it’s difficult to imagine where Porsche might improve the recipe. With the new GT3 RS it has done just that, however, by applying more motorsport genetics than ever before

THUD. They breed ’em big out here. Another yellow smear appears on the glass, glistening briefly before drying opaque in the same rushing slipstream that brought the insect to its early demise. The collection of entomological streaks looks almost artistic in the beautiful evening sun. 

BAP. The needle drops. The sound, that wonderful sound, deepens a little but the onrush is relentless. A full-throttle PDK upshift breaks the RS’s stride no more than the insect impact. A right-hander approaches and although earlier in the day instinct would have told me to brake back when the insect hit, I know that it’s only now that I need to stand hard on the pedal, tap twice on the left-hand paddle and turn in. 

The nose of the RS reacts instantly. Inside, I can feel the outside of my leg and shoulder pressing into the seat, squeezing muscle into Alcantara-clad carbon as the lateral G ramps up. Yet I could have carried more speed. A fast, well-sighted left follows. Don’t lift. Sweep across the road using all of the empty tarmac. A small bump, but the car is locked down, utterly stable. Just at the apex the weighting at the wheel tells you the front tyres are scrubbing a fraction. Now we’re getting somewhere. Keep accelerating, release the small amount of lock, enjoy the howl, enjoy the upshifts. THUD.

OF ALL THE CARS LAUNCHED THIS YEAR, the new Porsche 911 GT3 RS has arguably the greatest weight of expectation resting on its shoulders. Such is the illustrious history of the Rennsport badge, or sticker in this case, that despite my best efforts to think of a bad RS, or even a mildly disappointing one, I’m not sure such a thing exists (indignant corrections on a postcard please). But the 991-generation of 911 has been fraught with new and not always welcome introductions: electric power-assisted steering, the seven-speed manual, Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control and PDK-only in a GT3 – all have been openly criticised to some degree both in these pages and elsewhere. I don’t think anyone doubts that the new RS will ‘do the numbers’ and be phenomenally fast, but delivering on an empirical level and delivering on an emotional level are two different things. 

Certainly the first time I get into the new RS, the evening before we’re due to drive, the resulting emotions are something of a mixed bag. I love the look and feel of the fixed-back buckets inspired by those in the 918 Spyder. Likewise, I’m bewitched by the way that the open spokes on the smaller, 360mm steering wheel from the 918 reveal the beautiful silver spars of the paddles behind. Little familiar details are still there, like the fabric door-pulls and bigger details like the half cage behind the seats. Yet in spite of this it still feels remarkably civilised. Things that used to be no-cost options, such as air conditioning and a radio, now come as standard. They can of course be deleted, but the change in emphasis from the stripped-out standard is interesting and is perhaps a result of the number of miles that Porsche has found a lot of 991 GT3 owners are covering. In some specs, could this possibly be the first everyday RS?

Since its unveiling at the Geneva motor show in March, you have no doubt committed to memory such figures as 500PS, 460Nm, 3.3 seconds and 310kph, while noting that those first two are an exact match for the increasingly iconic 997 RS 4.0. But at the launch the engineers tend to let slip a few more juicy details about a car, adding to and then going beyond the bare figures. Take the weight saving, for example. We know that at 1420kg the RS weighs 10kg less than a standard GT3, despite employing the wider and therefore heavier Turbo body. But I love some of the extremes that the engineers go to in order to save the weight. Some things are relatively easy wins, such as the polycarbonate windows (3.5kg saved) and even the carbon front wings (2.2kg saved). But then there are more marginal gains that take rather more effort. The roof, for example, is made of magnesium just 1mm thick, saving 1.1kg (or 30 per cent) compared to an aluminium roof and 800g compared to a carbon one. The tricky thing is that there’s only one place in the world capable of cutting the magnesium and there is only one (different) place in the world capable of shaping it, so the roof starts life in South Korea, travels to Canada, then goes to the USA before finally arriving in Stuttgart. The rear skirt is also a first, being made of a newly Porsche-patented type of polyurethane with a filling material that is particularly light. 

Wandering around the static RS there is a brooding feeling of intimidation. It looks extremely serious. A standard GT3 parked up nearby suddenly seems rather under-wheeled, which is not something I’ve ever thought before. The fairly extreme aero is perhaps the main reason for the sense that this might all be a bit much. Those beautiful vents over the front wheels are the key. Increasing rear downforce has never been a problem for Porsche, but increasing downforce over the front axle has. Attempts were made with things like the dive planes on the front of the 997 4.0, but they have nothing like the effect of the arch vents. The problem was getting them past stringent TÜV regulations. If you look directly from above one of the vents then you cannot see the wheel and there is a fine mesh (which you could remove…) below the black gills. Nonetheless, such was the difficulty of getting them approved that Andreas Preuninger (head of GT cars at Porsche) thinks that this may be the only road car we ever see them on. 

So why go to all the trouble? Well, they allow an increase in downforce on the front axle of 30 per cent, which in turn means the adjustable rear wing can be raised twice the height into the breeze. The overall figure is 345kg of downforce (with a coefficient of drag of 0.34) split in the ideal proportions of 1:2 front to rear. That means the new RS has 80 per cent of the downforce of a GT3 Cup race car. Admittedly you really need a racetrack with a corner like 130R at Suzuka to truly appreciate it, but it should have some effect from 100mph onwards, increasing lateral grip where the GT3 would start to lose it. Preuninger also recounts his journey on the Autobahn up to the launch, eulogising in his typically enthusiastic and honest way about the RS’s stability through a set of 270kph sweepers.

Unsurprisingly, photographer Dean Smith and I are up early the following morning. The RS’s engine takes a moment longer to catch than a regular GT3’s, but then settles to a familiar lumpy idle, a touch more noise filtering into the cabin than before. Pull the lever back to select D, squeeze the throttle, the electronic handbrake releases automatically and we’re away. With cold fluids running around the car it’s only right to take the first few miles gently, but although you might think it would be frustrating driving an RS slowly, the surprise – perhaps the biggest of the whole day – is how engaging and enjoyable it is. 

Whilst not as raw as previous RSs, there are plenty of noises and sensations to enjoy. The rose joints in the front suspension clank a little over bumps (it rides surprisingly well in the softer of the two PASM settings) and there is immediacy to the way the whole car reacts to cambers and imperfections so that it feels alive underneath you and in your hands. The electric power-assisted steering is undoubtedly the best I have experienced too, with less filtering of information and an uncanny weighting that (in the dry at least) feels almost hydraulically assisted. I also think the smaller wheel is a real improvement and would suit the standard GT3 too, the smaller inputs better matching the phenomenal rate of response both cars have. 

The one area in which the RS could be more involving is, perhaps inevitably, the gearbox. A manual really would add to the interactivity, but somehow even the PDK could be a little more involving. The paddles, beautiful though they are, have such a short and efficient throw that it just seems a bit too clinical. Their efficacy matches the response from the ’box, but a bit more flair would be nice.

Glancing in the mirror as we trundle through a village, it occurs to me that, ironically, one performance improvement has also had a positive practical impact: with the wing hoisted higher you have a much clearer line of sight out of rear window. Our first destination for the day is Germany’s Bilster Berg Drive Resort, which features a beautiful and utterly terrifying track. Walter Röhrl was rumoured to have had an input in its design but when asked about it he apparently said, ‘I wouldn’t have made it that difficult.’ There are bumps and blind crests and one drop so steep it makes the Corkscrew at Laguna Seca look like a child’s slide. 

It’s not the sort of place you learn in a couple of laps, but the tortuously technical nature of the circuit throws the new RS’s abilities into sharp relief. Over a handful of laps a few things are made very clear, starting with the increase in grip. The wider body not only shelters wider tracks, it houses the same size wheels and tyres as the 918. Apparently when the idea was first floated, all the numbers said that they simply wouldn’t fit, but somehow Porsche has squeezed them in and the result is monstrous turn-in grip and traction.

The speed the RS is capable of takes some getting used to, but rather than being intimidating, the huge grip seems to instil confidence through stability. There is a ban on turning the ESP off on the track, but the RS still eventually moves a certain amount even with it on, and although you are travelling very fast when you reach the limit of grip, you can lean into it rather than feeling that you’re approaching a knife-edge.

As you would expect, the engine is the other stand-out feature, hauling relentlessly down the two long straights. The flat-six has the same bore as the 3.8-litre engine in the standard GT3 but now has a 4mm longer stroke, taking it out to 3996cc. The conrods are titanium and the cranks in RSs are made from the same type of remelted steel as the ones in Porsche’s 919 Hybrid Le Mans cars. Perhaps most interesting of all, however, is the new intake system. Initially the wide body was only adopted so that the tracks could be widened and the larger wheels fitted. However, when the engineers were wondering what to do with the holes in the rear arches that normally serve to cool the Turbo’s engine, they decided to completely change the way air gets into the RS’s unit. The main advantage of using these holes is that the air coming down the sides of the car is much less turbulent than the air that arrives at the base of the rear screen (where the intakes normally reside). The vents on the front arches help the airflow too, and at speed there is actually a ram-air effect that increases the maximum power over and above the quoted 500PS. Incidentally, this is the engine that will now feature in all future 911 race cars, finally relieving the Mezger unit of its duties. 

While at the track, we ask tall, affable Porsche factory driver Jörg Bergmeister to do a lap for a bit of YouTube fodder. He jumps in without a helmet and hares out of the pitlane. When someone checks the timing beacon later it transpires he has set a new production car lap record for the track. The video evidence is well worth watching – Below

Late morning we head back out of the circuit and into the rather stunning surrounding countryside. Amongst the fields of sunny rapeseed, we find a beautiful stretch of road that bears repeating for the cameras. Each time I turn around in the confines of a lay-by I can hear the huge front tyres gently caressing the inside of the wheelarches as they struggle to cope on full lock. It’s a reminder that this is a car where tolerances have been pushed to their limits. The road is quiet, but not for long as I turn out onto the initial straight. The revs climb and the gears punch home smoothly yet insistently. There is definitely more mid-range to this engorged direct-injection engine and it feels hugely muscular above 4000rpm, then hardening again as it homes in on the red line. Much has been made of the 200rpm drop in the upper limit of the revs compared to a standard GT3, but 8800rpm still feels scintillating, and although you don’t get the same rip through the final 500rpm to the red line, it’s only because the engine now feels stronger earlier.  

It has the most wonderful soundtrack too, one that pierces far and wide across the empty countryside. With a titanium silencer and the intakes on the hips, there is even more of a motorsport timbre to the loud, baleful yowl that fills the cabin and lingers in its wake. The first corner is a sweeper that can be taken without lifting, the car turning in flat and filling you with confidence. Braking is needed for the next right-hander but always less than you think, and the optional carbon-ceramic setup fitted to this car gives wonderful security and feel, so you can lean on then hit the left-hand pedal late and really hard, bringing the car to the point of triggering the ABS with complete confidence. 

A set of third-gear corners through the trees then requires you to balance the car, not really accelerating or braking, just modulating the throttle, applying tiny adjustments, leaning on the huge grip, being sensitive to the cambers in the road. Every input has an instant reaction, and while talk of huge grip can sometimes have negative connotations, in the RS it just translates to dazzling agility. It’s the sort of grip that would make you laugh out loud if it hadn’t just taken your breath away. 

You can sense where the mass is in the car, so it does still feel like a 911, but everything is so tightly controlled that you can use it more aggressively than ever before. Porsche 911s are famed for their traction, but the RS’s ability to take full throttle early in a corner and just fire you out takes quite some adjusting to. This is not a car that you are going to power oversteer on the exit of a corner unless you have wilfully set it up on the way in. 

When Dean plants himself in a field for the cornering shots I’m slightly nervous about what the RS will feel like over the limit when (if) I manage to unstick the huge rear tyres with the ESP off. After a couple of runs, I find the sweet spot. Turn in hard, lift, back on the throttle and apply the opposite lock as the rear rubber reluctantly unhitches from the tarmac and the engine swings round behind. Like so many 911s before, the beauty of it is that the car never feels like it has relinquished its hold entirely, still communicating, still gripping as it slides. 

As afternoon turns into evening and our time with the RS draws to a close I begin thinking what options I would tick if I were speccing an RS for my fantasy garage. I think I would keep the air con, ditch the radio, upgrade to carbon brakes, have Alcantara rather than leather and lose the Clubsport package (essentially the rear roll-cage and a fire extinguisher) as it adds a fair chunk of weight. I’d also like the fixed-back bucket for the driver’s seat but a folding bucket for the passenger seat so I could access the huge space vacated by the roll-cage. 

The biggest and most talked about choice with the new RS’s spec however seems to be the colour. Paint isn’t something we normally talk about at evo, but the debate has been vigorous in the office. White looks so fantastically motorsport, silver isn’t as boring as you’d think and I’m not sure about the orange. The star of the show, however, is the purple. Its official name is Ultra Violet, although Silk Cut or Dairy Milk also seem appropriate descriptions. Call it what you like, I think it will be the colour that this car is remembered for.

Whatever the hue, underneath the paint is a car that is sensationally good to drive. Yes it kills bugs fast, as the advert used to say, but it is much more than just the weapon that I thought it might be. It is very much worthy of its RS sticker. 

PORSCHE 911 GT3 RS
Engine Flat-six, 3996cc, NA

Power 500bhp @ 8250rpm
Torque 460Nm @ 6250rpm
Transmission Seven-speed dual-clutch, LDS, PTV
Front Suspension MacPherson struts, coil springs, PASM dampers, anti-roll bar

Rear Suspension Multi-link, coil springs, PASM dampers, anti-roll bar
Brakes Carbon-ceramic discs, 410mm front, 390mm rear, ABS EBD
Wheels 9.5 x 20” (F), 12.5 x 21” (R)
Tyres 265/35 ZR20 (F), 325/30 ZR21 (R)
Weight 1420kg
Power-to-weight 352bhp/ton
0-60mph 3.2sec (claimed)
Top speed 310kph (claimed)

Price  now £131,296
evo rating: 
★★★★★