The Porsche 911 GT3 RS Makes Its Case Even Over $300,000
In the past I have frequently referred to Porsche’s GT cars, and their hardcore sub-variant RS models as “motorsport theater.” I mean this as a compliment, not an insult; the cars aren’t pretending or playing dress-up, and they are very fast. They offer the sensations of what you might get from a race car, but without giving up any of the real conveniences of a street car. To paraphrase the great Katt Williams, they look like a race car, until a race car pull up.
Well, the new GT3 RS has arrived, we can pretty much throw “theater” out the window, because eventually, one arrives at full on motorsport, or at least as close to it as makes no difference. It is the angel atop Porsche’s now 29-variant Christmas tree of 992 offerings - unquestionably the wildest production 911 in history, even compared to the off-road focused Dakar I drove in Morocco last month (I’ll be writing about that one for our print magazine, so make sure to subscribe, but in the meantime you can watch my video about it over at The Smoking Tire). Porsche won’t say on the record, but those in the know say that if you put slicks on a GT3 RS, it’s faster around some tracks than a Cup Car.
If Porsche cares how the GT3 RS drives on the road, which they might, you wouldn’t know it by how the car is presented. Everything in the press release is about lap times and how much motorsport technology they could cram in there, and all the conveniences that get thrown out (such as the entire trunk) in service of this. Seriously, in the past the GT3 RS was one of the most perfect cars for taking a weekend road trip to the track with your spouse or your buddy, lapping the car all weekend, then driving home. Now, your luggage has to ride shotgun, rendering a frankly enormous car as a single seater. But road trip worthiness will have to wait anyway, as at this event, we’re only allowed to drive the car at The Thermal Club, a private race track country club in the desert with exceptionally smooth tarmac.
In order to make the GT3 RS do what it does, mainly run a blistering 6:49 Nurburgring time, eight seconds quicker than the 918 Spyder while down 400 horsepower and two driven wheels, there is a lot of racing-grade trickery at work.
Starting with the engine, which is subtly but significantly upgraded from the standard GT3 unit. It’s still 4-liters and naturally aspirated, but it has new cylinder heads that are milled specifically to avoid trapping oil during high-G corners. It has new camshafts with more lift at the high end, producing 16 more horsepower than the GT3 for a total of 518. There is a tradeoff, as torque is reduced by 3, and is down to 343. The oil cooler has been enlarged 20% for better performance on high-temperature track days, and of course, Porsche reprogrammed the ECU to optimize for these changes. And finally, the differential ratio is slightly shorter in the RS to get you to the top of the powerband quicker. Honestly, unless you drive the GT3 RS back to back with the GT3 under the same exact circumstances, you can’t feel the difference in straight line performance. They are both beautifully fast cars once up to pace that are solid but unimpressive at the lower half of their power bands.
But the big one, the unavoidable one you can’t ignore, is the cooling system. Why can’t you ignore it? Because it’s where the trunk used to be. Rather than three smaller heat exchangers spread out across the lower air dam, as in all other 911’s less the Dakar, the GT3 RS has one large, centrally mounted radiator, like the RSR race car. This serves several needs: 1) it cools the engine more efficiently under the stress of the track. 2) by using a pass-through design with exits on the bonnet lid, it produces front downforce with the hot air. And 3) it frees up the sides of the front air dam to perform other aerodynamic functions.
Speaking of aerodynamic functions, an artsy photo of this car could be titled “Aerodynamic Functions, 2023.”
The wing is gigantic and ridiculous, and for the first time in a Porsche road car, taller than the roof itself. It is 40% larger than the already big GT3 wing. The swan-neck uprights now feature hydraulic actuators that can adjust the angle of attack 34 degrees in either direction based either on the drive mode and drivers inputs or manually with a “DRS” button on the steering wheel. There is a matching active aerodynamic element underneath the front splitter to provide balance to the wing. The reshaped front and rear quarter panels with their imposing side blades improve both the wheel arch ventilation by 75% and smooth out the flow of air around the sides of the car, virtually eliminating the high pressure zones that build up inside the wheel arches, while cooling the brakes. The low and high drag modes are mated to the drivers inputs when in track mode, with DRS triggered at full throttle, high RPM, and with less than 0.9G lateral, or by the aforementioned button, and reverting back to high downforce for cornering, with maximum angles called up during threshold braking.
The prominent intake holes on the rear quarter panels, which act as air intakes for the engine on the “Turbo” models, are repurposed as aerodynamic elements on the RS, with the engine intake moved to the top of the rear decklid. There is some interesting trickery at play here, as during development, Porsche engineers noticed the engine wasn’t making the right power, and discovered that hot air exiting the front radiator was going over the car and directly into the engine. Porsche solved this problem with a pair of novel blades mounted lengthwise to the roof which direct the hot air away from the intakes and towards the wing (it’s still useful for downforce, just not as combustion air!).
Then, of course, there’s the totally paneled flat under tray with a large Cup-style diffuser. The full under tray is, believe it or not, a first for Porsche road cars. In another first, the double-wishbone front suspension, a major talking point for the regular GT3, has been completely redesigned, the new elements are forged specifically with aerodynamics in mind. The control arms now look like mini-wings and produce up to 88 lbs of downforce on the front axle -- a remarkable achievement and the first I’ve ever heard of this technology ever being applied to a production road car.
The combination of all these elements (and probably more, there are so many I’m sure I missed one), is a staggering 1,895 lbs of downforce at 177 mph and 895 lbs at 124 mph -- DOUBLE the downforce of the previous-generation 991.2 GT3 RS. The RS is drag-limited to 183 mph compared to the Turbo S that will handily crack 200, but there are very few tracks in which one can go faster than 180 anyway, and very few tracks in which a seasoned pro will not set a better lap time in the RS than the Turbo. It seems a fair trade.
And then there’s the weight itself. Contrary to what you might think, Porsche needs to actually add weight before they can subtract it. The wider body, wider wheels, and longer suspension components weigh more. The bigger wings and the motors that make them move about weigh more. The brakes actually weigh more. Suspension bits that are reinforced in order to handle higher G-loads weigh more. The 7-speed PDK weighs 44 lbs less than the 8-speed used in lesser 911s, but that’s shared with GT3, so no additional savings there. It might actually make you chuckle to learn that the GT3 RS weighs more than the GT3, but that’s why.
Most of the bodywork, save for the rear quarter panels and bumpers, is made of carbon fiber reinforced plastic, or CFRP, including the doors -- a change that required reverting to previous-generation door pulls, which I didn’t know I missed so much. The glass is lightweight, and the interior comes with standard carbon fiber bucket seats. Though it’s not homologated in the US, lucky Europeans can even get a carbon fiber roll cage, a piece that looks unbelievably cool but absolutely guarantees the empty space behind the seats rendered totally useless.
You can cut weight even further with the optional (and super expensive) Weissach package, which includes carbon fiber suspension components as well. The front and rear sway bars in carbon, for instance, shave ten kilograms off the curb weight. Magnesium wheels are available with Weissach, as well as a bunch of exterior and interior details and exposed carbon fiber on the bonnet and wing.
But, even in its lightest configuration, the GT3 RS is still 33 lbs heavier than the standard GT3. Weight saving measures can only go so far when you’ve got this much stuff crammed into it.
Porsche only allowed us three 10-minute sessions around Thermal’s track in order to get driving impressions. That's not a ton of time, but in a car this friendly, it’s enough to get up to a respectable pace. The first question is, “How the hell do I set it?”
Porsche has decided to give the driver maximum control over how the GT3 RS drives. This, from the first time I read about it, made me nervous for two reasons: 1) as Colin Chapman said, “If you make the suspension adjustable they will adjust it wrong,” and I didn’t want to ruin the handling of my $350,000 car. And 2) It will make GT3 RS owners even more annoying than they already are. Until now, we have to listen to them talk about PTS colors and exclusive options. Going forward, it’s going to be “What is your setup?” As if any of them actually know what they are doing.
You can adjust everything on the GT3 RS from the traction and stability control (or lack their of), to how the torque vectoring sends power, to how the differential locks up and opens. You can adjust compression and rebound of the shocks independently, and how the active aero behaves. Though I still believe this is something of a recipe for disaster, Andy Preuninger swears the parameters have limitations and there’s no way to make the car behave dangerously. And apparently there is some combination of settings that make the RS ride softer than the standard GT3, something I would love to test for myself once I get a street drive.
To answer my very real question, of what to actually set these functions at, hot-shoe Jorg Bergmeister says, “Just start with everything on zero (the middle) and we can make adjustments for next session depending on your feedback.” Fair enough.
I always have this strange need to be the first driver out on a track, and I have always found a reason to regret that instinct. From ice cold, the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires don’t grip at all and take a solid two laps to get up to the appropriate temperature. Likewise the ceramic brakes, with thicker rotors and larger pistons than the regular GT3, feel dead until warm.
But once things get working, boy are they working. The engine’s sweet spot is, predictably, 5-9,000 RPM where it emits a beautiful, slick song. (Frankly, though, after driving my DeMan 4.5L Boxster Spyder, the power and sound feel rather tame.) The magnetically-connected magnesium shift paddles have the most satisfying click I’ve ever felt. And every steering input is hair-splitting sharp with just the right amount of feedback.
Thermal’s circuit, as nice as it is, only has two 100+ MPH bends where the downforce really shows itself, but even in the slower corners, the grip is exceptional, with tons of poise after a deep trail brake into a hairpin and excellent balance through 70 mph, long, double-apex sweepers. You can repeatedly stomp on the brakes confidently from 130 to… really any number you like, as the air-braking system keeps the rear-end planted as weight transfers forward. The brakes really are staggeringly good; I would avoid having a big lunch at Thermal’s excellent clubhouse restaurant before doing a stint in this car.
The second session, Bergmeister increases the damper stiffness a bit, eases up on the traction and stability control settings, and puts the aero into maximum attack mode. Though the ESC/TC changes are noticeable, they are more than offset by the fully up-to-temperature brakes and tires, which are now in the “unreal” territory. Bergmeister says that the optional Cup 2 R NO spec, not included in our test vehicles, is worth an additional 2 seconds a lap on this track. So, basically a slick. The track is so smooth that I don’t really notice the difference in suspension changes. When I ask why all these settings are available to the driver, Bergmeister tells me that it’s the kind of thing you change over a period of living with the car for months and doing lots of track days, in order to fine-tune it to your driving style or the surface of any particular track, and that there are suggested “presets” if you’re uncomfortable finding your own way.
I wish I could definitively say that I proved the GT3 RS is vastly quicker than the standard GT3, but since I was being led around the track by Mr. Bergmeister who was in a standard GT3 (albeit, overdriving it, with lots of slip angle both into and out of each corner), I will leave the record setting to the pros and their V-Boxes. The question I went into the drive asking myself was, “Now that this car is over $300,000, and now that it has no trunk, and now that it has a ride that will be so stiff you won’t even want to drive it on the road anymore, and now that everyone who owns these things has private trackday access, why not just get a LMP3 car, or a retired NASCAR Cup Series car, or a Radical SR8 for the same price, or much less, and go way faster?"
What I can say about the GT3 RS is that it delivers on its promise of being the most aggressive 911 ever built, one perfectly suited for track work, while being friendly and approachable by a driver who doesn’t want to go full-on racecar.
I have personally driven the 992 Cup Car, and that is a “friendly” race car by most standards without requiring a full support crew to drive, and still based on the production chassis. But even that car is vastly more intimidating than the GT3 RS. And again, according to Bergmeister and Patrick Long, also on hand for my drive, running slick tires on the GT3 RS will result in lap times as close as makes no difference to the real-deal, with a full interior. The RS’s active aero elements are beyond what’s allowed in Supercup racing.
The GT3 RS is comfortable even for very tall, somewhat fat drivers, familiar to anyone who’s spent time in a modern 911, and street legal should you wake up one morning and decide to hit the canyons rather than the race track. Is it the ultimate road-going Porsche? No. But Porsche makes 29 variants of this one car, and that leaves room for specialization. This one specializes in going very very fast around a race track, at the expense of almost everything else. Ain’t nothing wrong with that.
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