Track oriented cars attract a great feeling of admiration and respect from car enthusiasts. More powerful engines, rigid chassis, light, adjustable suspensions, aggressive behaviour and, until recently, manual gearboxes and heavy clutches.
These cars are for different buyers. Much of the glamour in crusing around is lost onboard the track attackers because of their nature and impracticality for normal use.
Among the good examples of these cars, we have Porsche’s GT lineage for the 911. In brief terms, the GT3 is the naturally aspirated car, whereas the GT2 is turbocharged. Both are rear wheel drive. These cars have plently of characteristics of a proper driver’s car.
In terms of dynamic driving, perhaps the 997 generation of the Porsche 911 GT3 is the last extreme shout of purity behind the wheel. It fills in all necessary requisites for the ultimate driver’s car: (i) naturally aspirated engine; (ii) 6-speed manual; (iii) rear wheel drive; (iv) telepathic responsiveness; (v) sharp and alive steering wheel; (vi) magnificent chassi working in simbiotic manner with the suspension; and (vii) tricky to drive near the limit.
Talking with some friends who owned or own the car, they always told me how difficult the GT3 was to drive on a daily basis and I was always curious to try one out. I was surprised when I finished driving the 997 GT3 Mark I. I was hoping for a noisy, hard and uncomfortable car, but I got one of the most easy to drive track machines I have ever tested.
INSIDE THE 911 GT3
As soon as you get into the cabin, for those who know a standard Carrera, things will seem rather similar. Exception made to alcantara applications and the absent back seats, as well as the roll cage, everything is very similar to an ordinary Porsche 911. The details are what catch the eyes of the true Porsche enthusiast. Redline is a little above the 8000 rpm mark, whereas a Carrera S would sit around 7000 rpm.
Once you ignite the GT3 the differences become clear. A different exhaust note. Just a little louder, but significantly more aggressive. Praise de Mezger engine.
DRIVING THE 911 GT3
Engine running, time to put it into first and getting moving. My friends told me about the heavy weight clutch, but it did not bother me. It is fair to the car’s proposal without compromising a lot every day usability. I confess this is a bit subjective. You have to get used to it. It is heavier than what you have in a 911 Carrera or Turbo.
The gear changes are short and precise, but require a bit of strength. Gear ratios are significantly longer than in a 911 Carrera. That coupled with a redline above 8000 rpms make the GT3’s gears feel never ending. It makes perfect sense in a track oriented machine. Excessive gear shifting in track days are time consuming and take their toll on lap times.
The 3.6 flat six of the GT3 MK I produces 415 Hp at 7600 rpm and 41,2 Kgfm at 5500 rpm. What does those numbers mean? The GT3 demands the driver to keep it in high revs. Although the gears have long ratios, revs go up really fast and explosively, all of which accompanied by a loud motoracing exhaust note.
Knowing other 911s, the GT3 is a surreal animal. First, it needs a lot of open space to go through each gear. Second, if you are used to Porsches redlining at 7000 rpm, you will find amazing exploring higher rpms’ band. Power delivery in this car is a perfect example I use to describe how naturally aspirated engines should behave in motoracing – very linear. HP per liter is way above the 100 Hp/L.
The first surge of power comes at around 3800 rpm. The second strike, which really shows the GT3’s character, happens at 5500 rpms. At this second point, peak torque is also delivered. Let us make a comparison with a 911 Carrera S, the one with the 3.8 DFI flat six 997, ok?
When the Carrera S reaches its peak at around 6500 rpms, the GT3 is still waking up to stretch until 8200 rpms. Peak power in the GT3 only comes at 7600 rpms. Several times I saw myself upshifting a bit early because I was not used to having such long gears. In the Carrera S, on the other hand, peak torque (42.8 kgfm) comes at 4400 rpms, a little more than the GT3 and about 1000 rpms earlier. In general, the Carrera S feels more civilized, torquier and usable, whereas teh GT3 is more emotional, involving and aggressive.
One may think the GT3 is a slow poke pig driving calmly around the city, but strangely, the car is very versatile going through the first 3 gears. In the long stretches of road you may even push a fourth gear. Praises to the Mezger engine once again.
(iii) Steering Wheel, accelerator and brakes
It is almost impossible to find deffects with the GT3 for those looking for a focused driving experience.
The steering wheel is a bit more direct and sharper than in a 911 Carrera. You can point the GT3 in an easier manner and without much of an input. God bless hydraulic steering wheel, absent in the newer 911 models! It does not matter how good the new electric system is calibrated in the newest GT3, if it is just an improved version of the 991 Carrera’s steering, I still prefer the feel of the older 997.
GT3′ steering takes the regular Carrera’ set and simply improves it in all possible aspects. It is not as heavy as you would expect, but it is perfectly balanced. In the same manner as the gear shifts, the steering is a bit firm, but it will not frustrate you under common use.
Accelerator response is way better than in any PDK equipped car from the 997 generation. There is no almost no delay pressing the accelerator . Specially when you press the sport button in the GT3. Responses are almost telepathic.
The brakes in the 997 GT3 are actually the great difference from a regular Carrera S. The GT3 I tested was equipped with PCCB (carbon ceramic brakes). Porsches have always been above the competition when it comes to braking efficiency, even with the regular steel brakes. With old school carbon ceramic brakes, all experienced drivers know that it needs heat to work properly, making it a little impractical, not to say dangerous, under common road conditions.
With PCCB, however, I was impressed. It works during normal conditions as if it was normal steel brakes, but with much more feel and responsiveness. It is as if you could modulate the intensity of your braking power by moving your toe over the pedal; and, of course, with PCCB, braking power feels much more strong and precise.
(iv) Chassis, suspension and dynamics
GT3’s chassis feels more rigid than the Carrera. The results, as expected, is a car that transmits every possible message to the driver, but with less filters, having a very aggressive and tricky behaviour at the limit. In the Carrera, the cornering exercise begins with a good stomp on the brake, let the front end dive in a little, point the steering and turn. Once the front end is locked, you have a lot of confidence to accelerate.
In the GT3, joint combination of a more rigid chassis with “racier” suspension, shows its motoracing DNA. Attacking corners starts the same way as in the Carrera, brake, dive, point and go. The main difference is that this exercise is much more complex and involving. Reactions to driver’s inputs are tricky and less tolerant. To learn how to dominate the GT3 on the edge is to become a better driver.
The GT3 sits a bit lower to the ground than a regular 911. This is noticeable. In terms of comfort, I would say that it is about 25 to 30% firmer than in a Carrera. Some may think that such a track attacker should have really hard springs and sit really low to the ground. Well, that is not true. A real race car must be able to couple with irregularities and bumps around the track. Nurburing itself is really bumpy. This is why race cars must be able to deal with bumps and dives putting power down at the same time. The GT3 has exactly this balance. It does not feel stiff as a rock going through bad-pavemented roads. Nevertheless, if you need a customized setting for your GT3, you can do that, as the suspension is adjustable.
I would not say that the GT3 is a easy and comfortable car to drive around as a Carrera is. But it did not bother me as much as I would expect. Ground clearance is the worst issue. The front spoiler will suffer in city traffic.
The GT3, of course, is also lighter than a standard Carrera. The 997 GT3 MK I weights about 1.4 tons, which for me is the adequate number for a track foccused car such as this one. Below this number, the car would have to be smaller as whole.
In the days of double clutch gearboxes, all wheel drive and turbocharged engines, the fact that you still can find a car such as the GT3 997 MK I for sale is a huge relief for the purists. The Mezger engine is so explosive and versatile at the same time. The car is so challenging and aggressive on the edge. It is one of those cars that will defy their drivers for years until they lear how to master them. At the same time, it can be driven every day (with a bit of effort and patience). No wonder these cars’ prices are going through the roof right now.
The GT3 is one of my “super heroes”. Since it was released back in 1999, I have always wanted to try one out. Thankfully, I got the chance of driving such a car. They say you should not meet your childhood dreams to avoid being disappointed. Well, you are not reading about my complaints, are you? Yes, a 911 Turbo is much more faster, but nowhere as involving to drive.
It is such a perfectly balanced machine. I may even dare to say it is the best sports car I have driven in recent years. It is a purist trophy and a car that I dream of having one day.