Car Reviews

Driven: Porsche 911 GT2 RS

It’s homework, honest. The YouTube clip starts familiarly enough (I’ve got it on VHS, too, somewhere). See Stefan Bell of standing there in the ‘temporary’ pits that the Nordschleife used in 1983. Visor-less GPD helmet already on his head, he contorts himself down into the expectant Rothmans 956 as the clipped commentary of Neville Hay describes the scene. In‑Car Porsche 956 doesn’t allow us to ride on that 6min 11sec lap; no one but the late Stefan Bellof really knew what it was like to lap the Nordschleife in just over six minutes, in the process achieving a certain immortality that would be sealed upon his tragic death at Spa two years later. Instead the film cuts to inside a sister 956B, and the affable commentary of Derek Bell as he talks the viewer around a lap of his own.

The point is, Bell’s camera-laden time was some way off Bellof’s ultimate tour. That footage is probably a 6min 40sec lap, or thereabouts. It took a while to work it out, but it’s obvious really: when I watch Porsche test driver Lars Kern lap the new 911 GT2 RS in 6min 47sec, it doesn’t actually look any slower, because it isn’t really. Sure, the circuit is smoother, and altered slightly, but still: one is an 800kg, 650bhp, monocoque-chassis, full ‘ground effect’ racing car on slicks, albeit more than 30 years older, and the other is, well, simply a 911. A road car for heaven’s sake. How can this be, and what sort of weird and wondrous car is this new GT2 RS?

It’s a question that has been distracting us for months in the evo office, and the general consensus might not be what you expect. Over-powered, under-available, yet another Ring-lap braggart: you name it, the narrative for this story was in danger of writing itself. Perhaps we’ve simply overindulged on GT-department Porsches. Don’t get me wrong, we love every one dearly – who wouldn’t?

But the relentless output of hardcore 911s, each one ever-so-slightly faster, minutely lighter and more appealing to the speculator market than the last, has soured what was once a passionate love affair. Richard Porter brilliantly lampooned the situation in his evo column recently: ‘The next turn-off is the media coverage it’ll garner. The helmswright writers, who will imply it can heal the sick, feed the poor, and allow frustrated racing drivers to achieve some sort of climax.’ Hmm. Awkward.

Now here we are, in southern Portugal, standing next to a small line-up of GT2 RSs in all the available hues. Andreas Preuninger is here, as is Walter Röhrl and Mark Webber. But the schedule is a disaster, so photographer Aston Parrott and I do the only thing we can: grab the keys to a Weissach Package-equipped white GT2 RS and head independently for the hills and a truly spectacular road; one that writhes, rises and falls over the mountains near Faro. Too heavy? Unusably fast for the road? Time to answer our concernS. When Kern began his development driving programme with the RS, it was with a GT3 RS hack that had a Turbo S engine squeezed into the tail. He described it over dinner as a real handful, and coming from a man of his iron-clad constitution, that’s saying something. So what’s changed in the intervening time?

The new-gen engine may still displace 3.8 litres, but it’s fed air via a completely new ‘expansion’ induction system, with twin inlets at the base of the rear window, and a pair of larger turbochargers (9mm larger compressor wheels and 7mm larger turbine wheels) compared with those in the Turbo S. Larger intercoolers with a 27 per cent greater throughput capacity nestle lower in the rear haunches, located by exquisitely designed carbonfibre brackets and cooled via the gaping intakes in the rear arches (these aren’t for induction, like on the GT3 RS). A further reduction in temperature is achieved by a water-spray system that’s fed via a 5-litre carbon tank in the front luggage area. Quenching the intercoolers in this manner lowers their temperatures by around 20 degrees Celsius, critical in combating the heat build-up from a high-boost turbo engine (1.55bar maximum) and ensuring, for example, that there’s no drop-off in power over a long, arduous lap such as the Nürburgring Nordschleife.

The lump itself has a reduced compression ratio via special pistons, yet can rev to 7200rpm. It churns out a maximum 750Nm of torque from just 2500rpm, and once it falls away at 4500rpm it’s the power curve that really takes off, climbing like Bonington on Benzedrine, peaking just shy of the red line with 690bhp at 7000rpm. Those very hot spent gases – they glow red hot, in fact – are disposed of via a titanium exhaust system 7kg lighter than the one fitted to the Turbo S, with the shortest route to the atmosphere possible. It’s valved, so when the button is pressed, or the throttle generously opened, it bypasses the silencer and effectively goes straight through. Hold on to that thought.

The engine is hooked up to a PDK transmission, the only choice and understandably so unless driving one-handed appeals. It’s effectively the ’box used in the 918 Spyder, and a ‘PDK Sport’ button on the centre console quickens its shifts in auto mode. From there, the GT2 RS really does enjoy the very best of the GT department’s toy cupboard.
The rear diff is an electronically controlled, torque-vectoring item and there’s rear-wheel steering and dynamic engine mounts. The actual chassis is close to that of a Cup car; in fact, for the first time every joint in the suspension is of the steel uniball type. There are adaptive PASM dampers with helper springs on both the MacPherson-strut front and multi-link rear axles, with twice the spring rate of a GT3 RS at the front and rates similar to that of a Cup car running on the Ring at the rear. Conversely, the anti-roll bar rates are lower than a GT3 RS’s. The forged wheels are more than a little generous in the tyres they will accommodate: at the front are 265/35 ZR20s and at the rear 325/30 ZR21s. Behind those wheels lies a set of Porsche’s finest carbon-ceramic brakes.

You won’t have missed the GT2 RS’s extreme aero package, which can produce 340kg at the maximum (limited!) velocity of 340kmph, or 450kg if the rear wing’s angle of attack is increased. There’s a magnesium roof, carbonfibre bonnet and more carbon parts just about everywhere, including the front wings. The rear window and rear side glazing is lighter than normal, while every European-spec RS is a ‘Clubsport’, with a half-cage, driver’s six-point belts and the usual racing prep.

Even so, the final kerb weight of 1470kg is hardly what you’d call a true lightweight. You can knock nearly a further 30kg off that figure by specifying the Weissach Package for, gulp, Rs 18 lakh, which brings magnesium wheels (saving 11.5kg), and carbonfibre for the anti-roll bars (a first, apparently), roof, steering-wheel trim and shift paddles. The roll-cage is then made from titanium, although doesn’t have FIA certification.

Clamber down into the carbon bucket seat and the RS’s interior will look very familiar – and possibly slightly underwhelming – to anyone who’s driven a 991, especially as this particular car does without a cage (it’s US-spec) and has a leather dash with the PCM infotainment system in the middle of it. I twist the standard Porsche key and there’s a cough and a boorish boom of immense depth, which quickly vanishes for a quieter, busy idle. Press the little button with the exhaust symbol and the boom returns. It’s somehow ugly but wonderfully appealing: layered, rich and thick enough in the air that it feels like you could slice it like a homemade Victoria sponge. It’s the kind of noise that burrows deep into your head, makes objects rattle around and fizz; it’s the sound of raw, malevolent turbo power through an unsilenced exhaust, and momentarily, it’s quite shocking. We haven’t even moved off yet and already the GT2 RS has me mentally on the ropes. I grip the wheel a little harder, and brace myself for the challenge ahead.

The over-the-shoulder boombox is too much at low revs. Ambling along in Faro traffic both Aston and I wince simultaneously then gasp when the engine revs fall below 2500rpm and the resonance makes our heads start to vibrate. In other respects the GT2 RS is easy enough. The ride quality, while firm, is eerily good at dealing with the worst the suburban roads can place in our path.

Finally, after what seems an interminable wait, we find the road we’re looking for and suddenly there’s not a soul to be seen. And so the rhythm builds, and the GT2 RS starts to reveal itself, and the full magnitude of what we’re dealing with here comes crisply, and astonishingly rapidly, into focus. That first lingering foot on the throttle is the exact moment the addiction begins, and what a moment it is. You’ll know when a GT2 RS is coming within range. That boom is nothing more than a blunt warning, for when roused the RS snaps forward with hilarious force, really punching you in the small of the back. It’s manageable in the hot seat only because there’s the wheel to hold on to, but by the grunts, sighs and giggles coming from the passenger seat as the engine goes truly mental between 5000 and 7000rpm, I can tell that the GT2’s utterly furious performance is nerve-wrackingly compelling.

Today’s light has gone, so we hotfoot it back to the hotel and reflect on a job still largely left to do. As my eyes close, the final thought of the day is whether the expected thunderstorms will have arrived by the morning. No thank you. Please…

Our request to get ‘our’ car back early granted, it’s before dawn when I catch my reflection in the lobby doing a bizarre hybrid of an excitable sprint and a tip-toe creep in the direction of the hotel’s car park. There, deep underground, sit six RSs dozing in a million-pound collective as a lone security guard looks forlornly into the middle distance. I wave the keys enthusiastically in his direction while sporting a grin like the proverbial Cheshire cat and then nearly blow my eardrums to shreds as the RS’s cold start soundbomb echoes back off the nearby concrete walls. By the time I’ve coaxed the big Porsche up the exit ramp, Aston is waiting outside the front doors with his pile of photographic equipment, and in mere seconds we’re loaded up and gone, heading rapidly back in the direction of that amazing road as the first shafts of Mediterranean sunlight start to peer over the rocky horizon.

I’m beginning to get used to the power; not taking it for granted, but learning to meter it out exactly where and when I want to deploy it. Two things are now readily apparent beyond its obvious ferocity (this is a rear-wheel drive car that manages 0-100kmph in just 2.8sec…). Firstly, that despite its considerable nod to the great turbocharged flat-sixes of the past, it is remarkably free from turbo lag. Secondly, that the throttle calibration is extraordinarily good. You can keep the car in a perfect state of balance with exactly the right amount of throttle, but at the same time, when you squeeze the pedal more, there always seems to be another layer of acceleration available, and then another one after that.

Yet there’s so much more to the RS than its raw firepower. If it feels within itself during normal driving, then its poise at higher workloads is breathtaking. I never question the steering from the first mile. Its accuracy is absolute, and if it doesn’t drip with feedback like an early 911, it tells you everything that’s important. In the GT2 RS you can brake incredibly late into a corner, feeling the ABS cutting in over undulations in the braking zone, then bleed off the pressure as you trail it into the corner. From that point on, not once do the 265-section fronts ever suggest they might begin to push wide, instead the front end feels nailed to the asphalt, the car already having rotated around part of the turn but without even the suggestion of rear-end nervousness. Now a brush of throttle energises the car, settles it, the first 2mm of travel just the perfect amount for the task. Every time you summon it thus, something aft cracks and bangs naturally, repeating itself if you lift off, so that it almost sounds like an anti-lag system. Open the wheel a bit. Once you can see the exit you can get back on the throttle, and because of the RS’s immense traction this can be earlier than in almost any other car. Much earlier than you’d expect. Get a little greedy and there’s the delicious sensation of torque beginning to ever-so-slightly overwhelm the grip the rears have on the tarmac, teasing those giant rubber bands away from the surface. Learning that sensation is important, for once you know what it feels like, you may feel inclined to push your luck a little further…

Switching off PSM in the GT2 RS feels like removing the muzzle on a military-spec Alsatian. But from talking to Kern, it’s obvious that the extraordinary lap time wasn’t down to the GT2 RS being a wild animal: it was because he felt confident in the car, dialled in to it, able to adjust it at slower speeds but reassured by a window of understeer in high-speed curves. After all, the final two-second improvement at the Ring came from taking the left kink after the public entrance flat out at 309kmph. That’s not a car on the edge; that’s a car breeding confidence in the most extreme scenario.

And you get to feel just a little bit of that on a road such as this. When the rear does break traction, as it will do easily in a number of forward gears, it is more manageable than you might imagine. Sure, it demands precise inputs at all times, but it’s a long way from being frightening. After a while it’s this unflappability that comes to define the GT2 RS. When it takes off, it flies straight and level and lands four-square. Not once does that deep front splitter kiss the tarmac, regardless of this road’s uneven surface or the car’s velocity. It seems impervious to everything, but not lifeless – there’s still a faint nose bob over undulating surfaces, reminding you of the fundamental weight distribution. It’s still a 911.

Our time with the car expires and, heading for the airport, the RS retreats back inside its shell as though I’ve just pulled the plug out. This is the height of engineering cleverness, I do get that. But perhaps the GT2’s only failing is that it’s no more taxing and dramatic than a regular Carrera in the sort of driving it’ll inevitably spend the majority of the time doing. You could give the GT2 RS to anyone in your family and they’d drive it to the shops with ease. If my new 911 has the performance and soundtrack of a Kremer 935 K3, I want it to blow my mind the moment I open the driver’s door, not get me to the office in comfort.

Moreover, I yearn for Clubsport to really mean Clubsport, like back in the days of the original GT2, the 993-based car. It shouldn’t still have suit hooks in it: it should have bare metal floors, a simplified dash, carbon doorcards. It should be like a 991 Cup car inside. That would make it so much more of an event even just popping out for some milk – like a Ferrari F40.

I also worry that the RS is too fast for congested British roads, and with that exhaust, it won’t be appearing on any trackdays, either. And I worry that you won’t be able to buy one unless you’ve bought more Porsches than most of us have bought takeaways in our lifetime, and that those who do will leave them in their delivery plastic and simply sit back and watch their monetary value climb. Finally, I wonder if it had 300bhp less but weighed 200kg less, would it be a better road car?

And yet it’s simply magic. It feels like nothing less than the rebirth of the real Porsche Turbo. The angry Turbo, a match for anything, like the early days. It might not have the homologation cred of the 993 GT2, but it feels like the direct descendant of that car, and the extraordinary Ring time isn’t a bad motorsport substitute. At last, the GT2 has emerged from the shadow cast by its GT3 RS brother. It’s a beautiful monster.

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