VROOM WITH A VIEW
The new Porsche 911 GT3 is a simply sensational sports car
The Porsche 911 GT3 (in 992.1 guise for the anoraks among us) is the best sports car I can ever remember driving.
A misty, Irish rain starts to fall as we approach the foot of Franschhoek Pass. It’s been a beltingly hot and dry Cape summer, so the wet road surface is oily, and the GT3 is shod with superb Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 rubber designed more for obliterating the Nürburgring than a slick surface on a South African mountain pass.
The chatter between driver and passenger stops. A lot could go wrong here, and unadulterated immersion is required.
I’m in a new Porsche 911 GT3 with a manual gearbox. That’s important, because anyone who opts for the manual ’box on any 911 does so knowing that, in terms of outright pace, this is an inefficient decision. Porsche’s automatic double-clutch gearboxes can change gear faster than even the absolutely best drivers.
In the manual, to save the blushes of the ordinarily talented among us, there’s a blip function that “blips” the throttle as you change down gears. This sets the revs correctly for when you disengage the clutch, avoiding embarrassing jerkiness at best or, at worst, upsetting the balance of the car with possibly hairy consequences. But I switch that off too.
This is also inefficient because, as you’d expect, the auto-blip function often does it better than me. But with gears, clutch and throttle “blipping” all up to me, it is Alex Parker who will drive this 911 GT3 up Franschhoek Pass on a wet morning, for better or for worse. The mistakes will all belong to me, and me alone, and the stability control will wink at me, asking me to do better.
An irksome habit of some motoring writers is to talk up their talents behind the wheel. There are, probably, about 10 or so motoring reporters in this country who could put down genuinely useful times around Kyalami or Zwartkops raceway. They karted as kids and have never stopped chasing track time. Good on them, because they keep the manufacturers honest.
I’m not one of them, though. I’ve driven plenty of exceptionally fast cars everywhere from Mexico to Tokyo and Lapland and, after almost 20 years of this nonsense, I have got to where I am. I’m probably more fairly described as “experienced” than “a helmsman of rare talent”. I stick to some basic rules. On the public road you keep it at 80%. Driving very fast in a straight line is not only illegal, but it also teaches you very little about the car; kilowatts plus rubber equals speed. Anyone can do it.
When you’re behind the wheel of the latest incarnation of Porsche’s legendary 911 GT3, the sharpest and most driver-focused of the most storied sports car of all time, with 375kW going to the rear wheels via a free-breathing four-litre flat six, and the pass is greasy, the drop-offs perilous and the sandstone buttresses immovable, you start slowly and find the limits with care.
As we climb, I test the car more in every corner. Its steering is utterly sublime, communicating all the time. The carbon ceramic brakes can take a beating far worse than this and you know they’ll always be there for you. But still – it’s wet – so on the brakes, turn in, feel that incredible front grip, and set the throttle just so for the corner.
No forced induction interferes with the power delivery, which is more directly linked to the movement of your right foot than in any other car. Unlike in a turbo-charged car, you know there will be no boost, no swelling of power for which you cannot plan. You’re going to get what you ask for, no more and no less. This means you carry – and then gently build – pace through and out of a corner with absolute confidence and clarity.
It also means anything you get wrong is all about you. Sloppy on your line and a moment of understeer? Your fault, sir. Too much gas on the exit, and the rear shimmies about, requiring a quick steering correction? It’s all on you. And it’s not as though you weren’t told. There’s a crispness to the way this car tells you what’s going on. The wheel tells you what’s happening up front, and your hips feel a kind of raspiness to the tyre
resonance as the rear end reaches the limit of its grip. You just need to listen.
At higher speeds, the gnarly aero package starts to work, with extra downforce adding huge grip to a car already stuck to the road like a limpet. At 200km/h, that rear wing adds almost 400kg of mass to the rear tyres. You can imagine the astonishing impact this has in sweeping corners.
And all along, there’s the soundtrack. The GT3 is available with a stereo, but I really wouldn’t bother. It’s loud in there, but it’s a driver’s noise in a driver’s car, so no complaints from me.
Time passes and a hundred corners later, something starts happening, a classic meeting of man and machine. The machine is so precise in its outputs that it asks detailed questions of the man, and, to start with, I didn’t have all the answers. How fast to go? Where to brake? How much can I hoof it on the exit? But now it’s starting to happen, and as much as you have no choice but to accept as your own failings the missed apexes and the imperfect lines, the odd crappy gear change and the incorrectly set throttle, you also get to own the times when it’s absolutely perfect; that’s all yours too.
This may sound like petrolhead nonsense, but in that moment, when you hit the brakes just perfectly, blip the throttle just so and drop the car into the right gear, turn in at just the right speed and at just the right place, set the throttle and balance the car perfectly for the corner, and build the power ahead of the apex for a screaming slingshot exit with steering feeding out, I can’t think of a single thing I’ve done in a car that was as much fun and as satisfying. Look mum, that was all me.
The Porsche 911 GT3 (in 992.1 guise for the anoraks among us) is the best sports car I can ever remember driving. It is, without qualification, the most exciting and involving car I can remember. It’s loud, fast (0-100km/h in 3.4 seconds) and outrageously good-looking. There are 911s that will go faster, and there are many more powerful cars. But only this car can do a lap of the Nürburgring in under seven minutes, lopping off not far from a full minute since the first GT3 in 1999. That is a simply mind-boggling indication of engineering prowess. Yours for R3.1-million (more like R3.4-million if you want the bucket seats and the carbon ceramic brakes, which you do), this car will make many V12 exotics that cost three times the price look slow and fat. And the fact is that, while the ride is firm, it’s not impossible to live with day-to-day.
A final thought on the motor. A naturally aspirated four-litre flat six built on the same line as Porsche Motorsport versions of the engine, it bears little resemblance to any other engines in the 911 range. It has six individual throttle butterfly valves, which mean it responds to throttle input with a unique instantaneousness.
It’s perfectly linear up to its banshee-wailing 9,000rpm redline. It is probably the best engine I’ve ever used, and, as the electric era rolls towards us as it must, I don’t know if anything will ever beat this. It’s genuinely possible that this GT3 motor is peak internal combustion. It’s quite a thought.
I’d have one in Shark Blue with a manual gearbox. I’d take the slightly slower road, where I get to live with the consequences of my errors, and the thrill of getting it right. What an absolutely sensational machine. DM168
Alexander Parker is a journalist, author and consultant.
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.