Over the course of decades, the Porsche 911 has evolved variants to suit all manner of drivers and driving styles. From high-speed grand touring to flat-out track weapons, Porsche’s signature model offers something for everyone.
It takes just a glance at the new 2023 911 GT3 RS, however, to tell you where the car is meant to be: the race track. But can the laser-focused 911 adapt to a passionate guy who has neither a racing license nor a wall full of trophies?
That’s what I set out to discover when I headed out to Thermal, California, with Porsche. You’ve already read our First Drive of the new GT3 RS – if you haven’t, check it out, it’s a great read – but I thought it pretty important that we get a second take down on video.
|Quick Stats||2023 Porsche 911 GT3 RS|
|Output||518 Horsepower / 343 Pound-Feet|
|0-60 MPH||3.0 Seconds|
|Top Speed||184 MPH|
|Base Price||$223,800 + $1,450 Destination|
Before I headed out on the track I sat in the cabin to familiarize myself with the many drive mode, suspension, and damper settings that can be adjusted on the fly. Just like in a race car, most of these can be manipulated using controls right on the steering wheel and mirrored for multifaceted operation on the digital dashboard.
There are three basic drive modes that can be adjusted with these controls: Normal, Sport, and Track. Once you’ve selected Track mode, however, your options get a lot deeper, as all the system-specific settings can be individually adjusted.
One can tailor the damper settings for each axle independently, for instance, and through various stages of hardness and softness on compression and rebound. A second rotary knob allows you to adjust the differential lock rate, for more or less slip. With the twist of a knob I can also tune both traction and stability control for more or less intervention, which is handy even for a relative novice like me as I become more familiar with the track layout and car.
Somewhere under all that wild bodywork there are actually greasy bits, too. Porsche’s now-familiar 4.0-liter flat-six engine has been tuned to make 518 horsepower and 343 pound-feet of torque in the GT3 RS, helping it sprint to 60 in just 3.0 seconds and hit a top speed of 184 miles per hour. To keep that powerplant cool and hit all of the impressive aerodynamic targets, one massive, centrally mounted radiator takes the place of the three-rad setup used in the GT3.
But like most race cars, it’s the aero package that makes it truly interesting.
Aerodynamic aids are just about everywhere you look on this car, from the aggressive radiator outlets on the nose, to the vented front fenders, and spectacularly capped off by the towering carbon-fiber wing at the rear. The wing is a masterpiece. It’s taller than the roof of the car, strong enough to stand up to the nearly 1,900 pounds of total downforce the GT3 RS can generate, and lovely enough to sit on your mantle if you have extra high ceilings. Hell, I would build a mantle for this thing.
Just Follow Jörg And Patrick
Before I even turn the ignition for the first run of the day, I’m reminded of how great 911s are for tall folks like me. Even at 6-foot-5, and wearing a helmet, I fit neatly into the rigid but comfortable bucket seats, with a clear forward view and no scraping of my dome on the headliner… perfect.
Porsche only has two cars to split between six journalists, so I’ll get three 15-minute lapping runs around a roughly three-mile configuration of Thermal’s club track. That’s not a lot of time to dive into these very deep tuning options, but luckily I’ve got GT3 RS development driver Jörg Bergmeister and longtime Porsche factory driver Patrick Long to help me get up to speed, quickly.
For the first stint, I need to do my best to simply understand the layout of the track, but also set a baseline for what the car is like in its default track settings. I leave everything set to zero, with traction control on, and Porsche’s excellent seven-speed PDK transmission in full auto mode.
After just one warm-up lap, Long ups the pace in front of me and I’m compelled to do my best to follow. Of course, the exhaust note from the 4.0-liter is glorious, but it soon fades into the distance as my brain scrambles to keep up with the pace at which corners are flying at me.
In this setup, the car feels incredibly stable, stiff, and essentially “safe” no matter how I muck up a corner entry or exit. The optional carbon fiber brakes are immensely powerful with a super initial bite, and even at this feeling out speed I get a sense of the tremendous grip levels offered by the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires, pressed into the tarmac by all that downforce.
Meanwhile, even when I get overeager on the throttle while coming out of a tight left hand corner, the car gives me just the smallest wiggle before traction control subtly cuts power and the car straightens out.
Stint one is over before I know it, and I’m perfectly primed for my second run in what I’ll call “Jörg Mode”
Spoiler Alert: I Love Jörg Mode
For my second run of the day, I move into the GT3 RS with the standard steel brakes following Herr Bergmeister. Before we head out, I ask Jörg to show me the setup he likes the most for this particular configuration of the track.
The big change here is the damper settings, so the front is softer on compression and both front and rear are stiffer on the rebound. While I expect a change in the driving experience, I did not expect the 911 to be almost completely transformed on the first lap. Boy, was I wrong.
The car feels less restricted, much easier to rotate around the apex of a turn, and far more fluid in transitioning between corners in a complex. Setup like this, it’s easier for me to move the car around by way of the laser-precise steering.
With the newfound handling profile and my confidence in the car and the track, I’m also able to really push hard in long corners to feel the effects of that big rear wing. I know there’s more nuance to it, but essentially the harder I push, the faster I go, and the more the car seems perfectly stuck to the face of the Earth. I know this is actually science at play, but it feels like real magic.
Porsche smartly picked a track layout that offered a long, lefthand sweeping turn, that really allows me to move rapidly with a consistant steering input and feel the car just sucked to the ground.
A quick note on those steel brakes: don’t get them. The steel discs have tons of stopping power of course, but they’re harder to modulate than the ceramic discs, with a softer bite and obviously less resistance to fade. Yes, the carbon ceramics cost about 9 grand more, but that’s effectively rounding error in a car that starts at $223,800.
Doing It Myself
I end the day back in the car I started in, with Jörge Mode activated, and this time traction control off and shifting for myself.
After the first lap, I give up on the paddles completely. The response from the PDK transmission is incredibly quick, and the paddles themselves are easy to grab and lovely to use, but the automatic shifts are just far faster and better judged than my own. I can’t do better than the computer.
Deactivating traction control makes the car way, way looser on exits, and in many cases, I can feel that I’m meaningfully faster, too. That is when I get the corner right. A few times I still get greedy trying to catch the racing driver in front of me, and have to back off so I don’t spin. The GT3 is a wonderfully balanced driving machine, but the fewer electronic aids you have switched on, the more dangerous it becomes if you’re not absolutely locked in on the task at hand.
The answer to the question I set out with – can something as focused as a 911 GT3 RS actually compliment a mortal driver like myself – is an emphatic yes. This impeccable machine is there to trim your lap times and extend your confidence. The elegant marriage of hardware and software allow the car to go from reassuringly locked down, to utterly in the hands of the driver, exactly as you want it to be and at the turn of a dial.