'That level of attention to detail is clearly what it takes when you’re developing and constructing perhaps the most focused and carefully engineered driver’s cars in the world'
Andreas Preuninger first came to the Isle of Man several years ago, “and ever since I’ve been wanting to come back, to do some real driving here.” This is the place for it. And, God knows, we have the cars for it. I keep having to pinch myself as I look across the car park of the famous Creg-Ny-Baa pub. It’s a litter of Porsche’s most hardcore driving weapons. And Preuninger is the man responsible for each and every one of them.
Okay, not quite. The 1973 Carrera RS was a tad before his time, but earns its position here as the granddaddy of the car we are celebrating: the GT3 RS. Preuninger is the head of Porsche’s GT cars division. This has to rank as one of the juiciest jobs in the whole car industry. Porsche makes great sports cars. His job is to make them greater.
The lengths he and his team go to to achieve this are second to none. Across the car park sits the car that’s just been superseded, the first-generation 991 GT3 RS. At this point, I’d like to point out that there will probably be a lot of unavoidable model designation geekery in this piece. It comes with the territory, unfortunately. Preuninger’s job is to work the details, to hone each car until it’s as sharp as his own cheekbones. Necessarily, that means the words have to follow suit. Anyway, back to the 991.1 (as opposed to 991.2, which is the new car, or 997.1 and 997.2, which came before the 991.1; and the 996.2, which was the first GT3 RS, but I digress). It had a magnesium roof. Not carbon, because that would have weighed more. Yet to save less than a solitary kilo, Porsche went to extraordinary lengths: The magnesium was sourced in Malaysia and shaped in Canada before being shipped to Germany for fitting to the car.
That level of attention to detail is clearly what it takes when you’re developing and constructing perhaps the most focused and carefully engineered driver’s cars in the world. Now, you might expect this would mean that each of them comes out feeling just like the one before: a born racer. Some of them even have the sponsor’s logos pre-attached. Well, it’s true that the link to the racers is close. The 996 GT3 RS was Preuninger’s first full responsibility after he joined Porsche 17 years ago (previously he’d worked in the supplier industry, previous to that a stint as a road tester on a German car magazine). “We needed to build 200 cars to homologate for the Group N regulations, so we went to the board with our proposal, with a color scheme [white, with red or blue graphics] that looked back to the original Carrera RS, and it was signed off.”
Did you think the RS would have a life beyond that first car? “No, back then I couldn’t imagine that 18 years later I would still be doing the same job! But I was always a firm believer in technology and progress, so why should we say this is the end of all days? It’s not, I’m sure. Despite everything that’s going on we always find ways around it”.
The proof of the cars is in the driving, of course. And this is where things get interesting. If I’m honest, even I wasn’t convinced the differences between the cars would be that pronounced. But if there’s ever a way to discover a new car, it’s at the end of the trail that led to it. I head out on to Snaefell mountain. The weather is foul, but wet roads serve to exaggerate handling characteristics. The 996 GT3 RS feels like what it is: a homologation special developed in a relatively short amount of time. The engine was special—rated at the same 381hp output as the regular GT3, but underneath a host of new parts meant every car developed at least 400hp. So it’s quick, but you can tell the handling characteristics would later come in for further attention. It understeers. The balance of grip is clearly in favor of the weightier rear, so you find yourself driving around this by braking on the way in to corners to keep weight on the nose. Despite this, it remains a massively engaging car to drive, the 3.6-liter Mezger engine is something truly special, and Porsche clearly knew a good thing when it saw one: the RS was recommissioned for the 997 generation.
Extra grip arrived courtesy of the wider bodywork of the 4WD model, initiating the more swollen hips that have been pumped to almost comical proportions for the latest car (now using the even broader Turbo bodyshell). Let’s skip 997.1, and instead drive the 997.2. We’re now six years into GT3 RS development, and Porsche knows what buyers want: race experience, but roadworthiness. This car is pure magnificence. The flat-six was now 3.8 liters and 444hp, and continued development had eradicated the 996’s more basic handling traits without over-engineering. If you like your thrills raw, raucous and manually gearboxed, this is driving nirvana. The engine chunters and rattles at idle, the gearshift makes a grinding noise (it was cleaner in the earlier 996), the car resonates with mechanical vibrations and the sensation is that you’re strapped to a living thing. And this is before you’ve even moved in it.
When you do...you’ll never want to stop. This is driving at its dirtiest, its grittiest. The engine snaps into focus once you feed it some revs, and from there on you find every cell of your fibrous being melding to the car, attuned to its movements. If you do manage a couple of seconds of rational thought, you’ll realise how sensational the damping is, how rampant the engine, how tangible the road surface through the steering. Communication is everything. And then you’ll be sucked back into the experience, and sometime later, probably when the tank runs dry, spat back out, a newly converted lifelong addict. I haven’t found a cure yet. But then again, I’m not looking for one.
The 991 is different. Partly because of the PDK twin-clutch ’box, which fundamentally changes the car’s focus and your connection to it, and partly because of its focus on pure speed instead of purity. Actually that’s being unfair—it’s still a very pure car, it’s just the balance tipped toward speed. The rough edges were polished and sharpened. Aero properly got in on the act—just look at the ducts over the front wheels, the size of that rear wing. And then there’s the green car. Looks pretty much like the orange, really, but when you do what you have to do with a GT3 RS, get up close and really study it, things start to shift...
Where to start? The engine. Only 20hp more potent, but that’s been gained not by a tweaked ECU, but with a different oil sump, bigger crankshaft, different heads, revised valvetrain. “It’s basically a gen two of the 4.0-liter,” reckons Preuninger. And the suspension set-up has been completely rethought: “The spring rates have gone up, more than double at the front, and 50% at the back, and the sway bars [anti-roll bars] come down to compensate. We’ve turned the philosophy around, so it’s now much more like a Cup car, a racecar. If this,” Preuninger says, pointing at the 991.1, “is already a razor-sharp, precision instrument, then the new one is the scalpel.”
You notice immediately. Within 100 meters, he’d told me, and he wasn’t wrong. The 991.2 rides with ridiculous determination. There’s barely a trace of movement in the front suspension, noticeably less than before, but it’s the precision of it, the lack of distraction, the utter purity of input being matched by action. I thought the previous car had banished the idiosyncracy of older GT3 RS’s, but after the new one, the 991.1’s nose felt a bit bobbly. Too much jiggle. Aero work has increased downforce by a scarcely believable 40% (“We’re closing in on 500kg on that thing”), which has brought the center of gravity and pressure forward so much that it almost seems mid-engined. No need to brake on the way into corners now. With this much grip, all you need do is steer.
It is a phenomenal machine, one of the few road cars that focuses on driving at the expense of everything else, and I get the feeling the man behind it is quietly confident and proud. Me? I love the clarity and focus of it, so clear that you can see straight through the car and into the mind of the man that developed it.