Cars with Jan Coomans. Porsche GT day: driving bliss

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Porsche 992 GT3

Finally! Months after the pandemic excluded journalists from Russia to travel to the launch of the new Porsche 992 GT3, we finally got our hands on it. Moscow Raceway was the venue of choice, and because two buses come at once after a long wait there would be 718 GT4s to drive as well. Certainly, I’ve had worse days.

Porsche 992 GT3

A new Porsche GT3 is about as big as car news gets, certainly for those of us who like to hammer around racetracks every now and then. If you go and visit the car park of the Nurburgring Nordschleife for example, you’re likely to find it at least half full of GT3s from the 996 generation all the way to today’s hot new stuff — the 992. And the reason for that is quite simple: there’s just nothing else like it. If you want a car that will fly around a racetrack all day long and then drive you home without shattering your bones on real world roads… you’re probably going to end up in a car made by Porsche’s fabled GT department.

Porsche 992 GT3

Our field trip to Moscow Raceway was billed as “Porsche GT day” but it was difficult to avoid the fact that we all really wanted to see what one specific GT car was like. The new GT3 — the first ever road-going 911 to come with double wishbone front suspension! Porsche’s fastest racecars have had it for a while now, but it was still a surprise to finally see it appear on a production model. A clear indication that Porsche has properly gone to town on the 992 generation when it comes to extracting performance. A much more visibly striking indication however would be the new rear wing. It’s massive, and top mounted also for the first time for even more aerodynamic efficiency. In terms of size increase on a generational basis, Porsche wings are giving BMW’s front grilles a run for their money.

Porsche 992 GT3

Truth be told, I found the new GT3 a bit tough to look at initially. Especially from the front, the way the front bumper meets the black plastic air scoop around the central radiator was a bit “eeh”. The wide rear end with the ducktail spoiler which sits beautifully in parallel with the big wing does work well visually. But as is the case with so many 911s, the more you look at it the better it gets over time. I still think that the front of the 911 Turbo S looks a bit prettier, but then the GT3 does look more race car with the double nostril vents passing hot air out onto the bonnet and over the roof. And it all blends together nicely If you go for a particularly dark colour so that there isn’t too much contrast. In any case, the GT3 is guaranteed to turn heads on the street.

Porsche 992 GT3

But the track is, of course, the place where it’s meant to shine. The engine is carried over from the previous 991.2 generation. To be precise, it’s straight out of the 911 Speedster which I reviewed back in 2019. The four liter naturally aspirated flat six engine still revs to a cool 9000 RPM and produces a healthy 510 horsepower at 8400 revolutions. Peak torque sits at 470 Nm, way up at 6100 RPM. If there’s one thing the GT3’s power plant loves, it’s revs. That, along with the biblical sound it produces on its way to that sky-high red line, is what makes it so damn special in an era where there are hardly any naturally aspirated engines left on the market. If this is not the greatest engine on the planet right now, it certainly isn’t very far off.

I also think it’s great that it doesn’t really have any more power than before. About 500 horsepower was always more than enough, and the extra 10 we get now aren’t really perceptible. The race to increase power by massive amounts every time isn’t sustainable, and I feel Porsche has correctly identified the optimal power level for the GT3. I mean, it’s not exactly slow. With the lightning quick PDK gearbox and launch control, 3.4 seconds is all it takes to reach 100 kilometres per hour. And that’s likely a very conservative number that may well be beaten in reality. Zero to 200 comes up in a scarcely believable 10.8 seconds. Like I said — plenty of power. The PDK gearbox, by the way, is not based on the new 8-speed that the Carrera and Turbo use. Instead it’s the old 7-speed one, primarily for weight reasons.

Porsche 992 GT3

But let’s get to driving it. It’s been too long since I drove a GT3 of the previous generation in anger to be able to accurately compare it to the new double wishbone front end, but what I can say is that this is far and away the best handling 911 I have ever driven. There appears to be almost no limit to the grip available. You keep braking later and carrying more speed into the turn and somehow the GT3 keeps hitting the apex of the corner with the reliability of a Shepard dog being tossed a tennis ball. Even when you think that you’ve finally done it and the front end of the car pushes a bit wide on corner entry, a tiny bit more steering angle is often enough to still somehow get back to the inside kerbstones without losing any significant time. This is a car that will flatter your driving ego. The machine is doing a lot of work behind the scenes, but it keeps telling you that you’re the superhero.

The rear engine layout still gives you monumental traction out of corners, but there is now very little left of the old habit to try and swap ends on you. Having so much weight does mean that the pendulum effect is theoretically trying to work against you, but Porsche’s suspension magic has pretty much countered it entirely. The magnificence of the multi-link rear suspension is what has allowed Porsche to put such a strong front end on the 992. Older 911s weak link was always the front axle, on which little weight sits, but the front track has been increased by a lot for the 992 and now with the double wishbones on the GT3 it has become incredibly strong. Now, you have to be driving pretty badly to encounter even a hint of understeer. And then on the straights, you get to listen to one of the best sounding engines in existence.

It’s no surprise then, that stepping into a GT4 after you’ve just spent some quality time in the GT3 is a bit of a letdown. I love the GT4, don’t get me wrong. In fact, I may actually own a GT4 and drive it around racetracks as quick as it’ll go as often as I get the chance to. But on this day, with the weather uncertain and regular Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires on the GT4, it felt like the front had no grip at all relative to the GT3 with its fancy front axle and sticky track-focused tires. But I know how good a well setup GT4 can feel, which is literally running the previous generation GT3’s front suspension and steering. In comparison to pretty much any other car, the grip in the GT4 would have seemed outer-worldly. Just not when comparing it to a GT3.

Porsche 992 GT4

What the GT4 is, though, is a wonderfully analog machine. It’s no-nonsense driving fun. I spec’d my own car with a 6-speed manual gearbox to make the most of that experience, but for obvious reasons the cars in the Porsche Experience Center are fitted with the optional 7-speed PDK. The four liter naturally aspirated flat six in this car revs only to a mere 8000 RPM, but it exhibits many of the same traits that make the GT3 engine so good to drive. The sound isn’t quite as thrilling, to be fair, but being second best in this case still means being rather fantastic. And with the engines and air intakes much closer to your human ears than in a 911, there’s actually considerably more and higher volume engine sound inside the cabin of the GT4.

420 horsepower is quite a lot in a Cayman as well, and the most it’s ever had by quite a margin as the previous generation GT4 only had 385. For the PDK version this means a 0-100 time of 3.9 seconds, and a top speed in excess of 300 km/h. It’s a serious sports car in its own right. The mid-engine Cayman and Boxster still use a simple strut rear suspension which means that they never threaten the much more advanced 911 for rear grip, but at the same time it has to be said that the more optimal weight distribution makes such a complex setup far less necessary. This is the entry level Porsche GT car, but the whole lineup has such stratospheric performance that you never feel particularly short changed. Especially when you consider that a GT4 is nearly half the price of the GT3. It certainly isn’t half the fun. It’s a pity that Porsche Russia decided not to import the 718 Spyder, because a roofless GT4 sounds like one of the best driving experiences one could ever have.

As the rain did eventually show up, a drifting exercise was set up through the chicane on Moscow Raceway’s back straight. Sounds easy enough to take a slow left followed by a slow right as sideways as possible on a wet track, but you still needed to have your wits about you. The GT3 was probably the more difficult car to get a graceful slide out of, because it was on tires that were only really meant to work well on dry pavement. That meant that getting it right was a rather satisfying experience. Since I have a lot more experience driving a Cayman, and the platform has less inherent rear grip than the 911, it was easier to get sideways and also easier to keep there. Though my driving instincts prefer to go a bit straighter and faster, I must admit this was quite a lot of fun.

So how to sum it all up? Well the GT3 was never going to be anything less than brilliant, and it still is. Comfortably quicker than the old car, with equally intoxicating noises coming from the flat six at the back. They have smoothed some of the rough edges off compared to the previous generation, which you could say diminishes the race-car-for-the-road feeling somewhat but there’s no arguing with its stupendous performance on a race track. And at the end of the day, it still manages to makes the hairs on your arm stand up.

Porsche 992 GT3

The GT4, by all metrics, should feel like an outdated relic in comparison. But instead, it’s a celebration of the things that make driving fun. It’s not quite as advanced, not quite as quick, but it’s one hell of a good time to drive. The main issue, I suppose, is actually buying either one of these cars. The global shortage of various components has made an already difficult situation worse, which means that even if you’re lucky enough to be allocated a new Porsche GT model it probably won’t show up very soon. But then, if a car like this isn’t worth the wait, I don’t know what is.

07 октября 2021
Jan Coomans для раздела Авто