2019 GT3RS (991.2) REVIEW
Is there a more consistent, more progressively evolutionary range of sports cars? GT comes, GT goes, probably a 3, maybe a 2, sometimes an RS, another GT arrives: all towards the latter end of a particular 911’s model cycle. All with minor but significant upgrades over the last. And, usually, redefining just how lovely you thought a driver’s Porsche could be.
The latest evolution comes the form of the ultimate naturally-aspirated ‘991.2’ generation 911, if you like these codes (and they seem to be the only way to keep up, sometimes), which will remain on sale until this generation of 911 goes out of production next year.
So, of 991 types of 911, there was 991 1st generation GT3 and GT3 RS, then 991 2nd generation GT3, then turbocharged GT2 RS, and now GT3 RS, the 911 with “the closest link to motorsport we have ever had”, says GT boss Andreus Preuninger.
That’s saying something, given the first ever GT3 RS, the 996 (do keep up), was created solely because Porsche needed to homologate two suspension uprights for its race cars. The engineers thought they might sell 700 and ended up shifting a couple of thousand. So these days marketing people as much as engineers drive the GT models forward.
This generation GT3 RS is not limited in volume, per se, but even at £141,346 there won’t be enough for everyone.
They can only make so many alongside the regular 911s people also buy, and impending emissions regulations will also limit the numbers that can be registered in the EU – 1000 by this September, more next year, while Porsche works out supply deals and then seems generally surprised how many people want these specials.
Take the magnesium wheels, for example: until 2019 you won’t be able to specify a ‘Weissach Package’ GT3 RS, which sheds 28kg on top of an already lightweight build, because the magnesium wheels – of exactly the size and design apart from the inscription on them – are all needed for GT2 RS models, on which everybody is specifying the Weissach option, again to Porsche’s surprise.
But I’m getting slightly ahead of myself. Easily done with a car like this: you start talking about one thing, and get lost into the web of details that takes you to.
For example: the NACA ducts on the bonnet. Just two small inlets. They suck air inwards and force it down to the brakes, but from there we can talk brakes or drag or downforce. Brake-wise: you can get standard steel discs or upgrade to carbon-ceramics, which are lighter but considerably more expensive; so if you’re spending loads of time on track it’s worth keeping the steels, perhaps counter-intuitively.
Drag? Those NACA ducts shove cool air into the wheelarch, but high pressure air in the wheelarch is a bunch of air you don’t want, so the wheel spokes are designed like rotors to fan air outwards, sucking it out of the arches. That reduces not just drag but also lift, as does the fact that, thanks to those bonnet ducts, vents in the front bumper that would have been used for brake cooling can instead direct fast moving air to the underbody, and fast moving air is good because it creates a low pressure area which aids the creation of downforce. The wider sills create a larger underfloor area for the same purpose, as does a rear diffuser.
And so it goes on: every detail leads to a hundred other things, all of which offer tiny percentage improvements of performance and handling, and added together they represent a step-change over the models they compliment or replace. It’s hard to know where to begin and end.
In short, though? The GT3 RS is a 4.0-litre, naturally-aspirated 911 whose 513bhp engine is a lot like the 911 Cup race car’s. There is rose-jointed suspension like a GT2 RS (and Cup car), spring rates close to the 911 Cup’s and almost as much downforce as a Cup car.
You’ve had to do a bit more than remove the registration number and fit a race number, but to convert from road car to race car is closer here than in anything this side of a Caterham. (Bar a Citroen C1, perhaps.)
Experiencing the GT3 RS on a Track
My first mobile experience of the GT3 RS, though, comes as a passenger to Walter Rohrl - the world’s fastest septuagenarian and a man who has been helping develop GT 911s for years - around the Nurburgring GP circuit. He’s such a dab hand that he looks like he could be driving to the shops, were it not for the fact that the engine is wailing to the 9000rpm limiter, the angles are sometimes unusual and I feel queasy.
There’s this sharp left-right bend, after which, on a long straight, Rohrl says “the turn-in is just so…ah” and removes his hands from the wheel rubs his fingers together in what I take to be a visualisation of words that should be banned by our style guide for being too cringeworthy: grainy, nuggety, deftly pointed.
GT Porsches are unique among cars with roofs in the way they let you feel the integrity of their engineering, which manifests itself in a bloke who won the Monte Carlo Rally in a Lancia 037 going slightly gooey at the knees.
To the knees of those of us who haven’t won the world rally championship (twice) and their class at Le Mans, I suspect the GT3 RS will do the same. The driving position and environment is pure fast Porsche: lots of Alcantara if you want it (GT Porsches are unaffected by the factory’s apparent shortage, being higher up the priority list than some hatchbacks), superbly supportive fixed-back seats, a steering wheel that reaches far and is, praise be, round. There are only two pedals, well-spaced, what with a twin-clutch PDK gearbox being standard, and, my goodness – what’s this? - a key to start it with. You turn it, it begins. Who’d have thought?
The engine is zingy, revvy, and responsive as only a naturally-aspirated unit can be. It does things at low revs like make the car accelerate modestly, I’m sure, but my initial drive is only a few laps and they’d like me to keep up with a GT2 RS driven by somebody who knows what they’re doing more than I do, so I have to use the lot. And don’t turn the stability control off, they say. Which is fine, because halfway through it starts raining.
In the dry, though, the GT3 RS is extraordinary. The universally-jointed suspension feeds road feel back to the steering wheel remorselessly, yet – as in the GT2 RS – without evident kickback or corruption over kerbs and whatever poor surfaces you can find on a grand prix circuit.
It’s absurdly agile, too. This is a 1430kg car (a bit more if you specify a Clubsport pack, bringing a half-cage, which becomes titanium, around 40kg lighter than a GT2 RS as standard - albeit a bit more if it too gets a Clubsport pack, which adds a half cage, though if you then specify the Weissach Package that becomes titanium, so this weight issue becomes slightly tricky to keep up with.
But I suspect it’s where Porsche has reduced weight as much as how that gives the GT3 RS its basics: there are carbonfibre elements in the suspension, the roof is magnesium as standard (carbonfibre with the Weissach pack), the front wings are carbonfibre and the bumpers front and rear are both light. Porsche has reduced mass at the top of the car and at its extremes.
The rest of it the brilliance is down to the tuning: there are 275-width front tyres on 20in rims, and active rear-steer, so that this rear-engined car “feels almost mid-engined,” says Rohrl. The most notable difference between a GT3 and a GT3 RS is typically the more extreme car’s willingness to turn and its resistance to initial understeer. That trait is ever-present here.
Mid-corner, then, the balance is terrific, albeit sharp. You can unsettle the rear end as you turn, and you can unsettle it under power, too – and so quick is the engine response (and aggressive the Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres) that in the damp you can do that before you’ve even thought about it, although you’ll find a fair degree of understeer first.
This is not a car that tends to let go all of apiece, evenly balanced at either axle, with all of its weight in the middle, like a Ferrari, or with a lump of weight over both ends, like an Aston or the BMW M4 GTS – a car of whose easily manipulated handling I’m particularly fond. If something is happening in a GT3 RS, it’s usually to one pair of wheels or the other, rather than both together, and it can happen to either end at any given point in a corner.
All the more surprising, then, that when the fast laps finish and they let me go out to drive some cornering passes for our videographer, when I can turn everything off, the GT3 RS is easily controlled at its limit, thanks to, well, a highly tuned combination of everything: impossibly well-controlled body movements (you can firm up the dampers if you want), active engine mounts that lock while cornering, a rear-steer system that knows to stay well out of things when it detects slip, steering that tells you absolutely everything, a good degree of steering lock, a gearshift that changes in an instant and a throttle that’s so minutely, linearly responsive that I swear, if there was an engine output meter on the dashboard, you could flex your toes to deliver a single extra horsepower.
Melded together, all of this is intoxicatingly brilliant.
How does the GT3 RS compare to its biggest rivals?
If you want to know, then, which modern driver’s cars deliver more interaction, more mechanical feel and greater responsiveness than a GT3 RS, we’ll end up talking about Caterhams, Radicals and other lightweight specials. No coupe from another manufacturer runs a GT3 RS remotely close.
How good is it compared to its closest competitors: Porsche’s own GT cars? It has been a long while since I drove a previous-generation GT3 RS so I’m only faintly remembering that the new car is not just more responsive, but more importantly, more rewarding and more talkative than that. But for me not even a GT2 RS can match the new 3 RS: and that is, put bluntly, this car but with even more power thanks to a heavily turbocharged engine.
While I don’t think the 3 communicates any better than a 2, the messages it does transmit are superior: you can feel that it’s lighter, more willing to turn, easier and more satisfying to ease onto the throttle and keep it pinned. It’s why this car is only a few seconds slower than a 2RS around the Nurburgring Nordschleife despite being almost 200bhp down.
Yes, power is wonderful. But lightness is better. And in the form of the GT3 RS it goes into creating – little by little, detail by detail – what might just be the best driver’s car currently on sale.
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