Porsche 911 GT3 Sepang 6

There’s a 911 for everyone. From boggo Carrera to the mighty Turbo S, there’s a type for every type – whether you’re searching for a mid-life crisis time machine or looking to blast all away with a missile on the road. RWD, AWD, tin top, targa top, no top – you choose.

It’s hard to think of another car that appeals to such a wide audience as the Porsche 911. It’s a 50-year old sports car icon that has maintained its enthusiast following while selling in numbers to people who don’t care too much about driving.

But behind all the sales records, slick marketing and SUVs, Porsche is still very much a brand with a motorsports heart, and no other model encapsulates the essence of racing better than the 911 GT3.

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First shown at the 2013 Geneva Motor Show, the 911 GT3 is the race car of the 991 range, with an illustrious line of forebears dating back to the 911 RS of 1973. This latest fifth-generation GT3 takes over the baton from the 997 series GT3, of which the RS 4.0 topped. The pedigree is unquestionable.

So the 911 GT3 isn’t something to mess around with, or mess up. But this is Porsche and its high standards we’re talking about, so there’s no chance of that happening, although some “purists” would have written off the 991 GT3 for being PDK-only. Yes, there is no manual option for this GT3, which is also the first GT/RS Porsche with an automatic gearbox.

More on that later, but here’s what the GT3 is made of. The racing 911 is powered by a tuned version of the 3.8 litre flat-six engine from the Carrera S. Here, the dry sump lubricated direct injection unit pushes out 475 hp through the use of a new GT3-specific crankshaft, valve gear, titanium connecting rods and forged pistons for a 75 hp jump over the Carrera S. It revs up to a stratospheric 9,000 rpm, 500 more than before.

Engine problems that plagued the first batch of GT3s have been solved with an optimised piston rod screw connection. Damage resulted from a loosened screw joint on the connecting rod – the loose connecting rod damaged the crankcase that in both publicised fire cases led to a leakage of oil, which then ignited. 785 units were recalled in early 2014 and given brand new engines and an extra year of warranty, plus compensation.

A seven-speed PDK gearbox customised for the GT3 does transmission duties. The revised Doppelkupplung ‘box lets you DIY with the gear stick (race car-style pull for upshift, unlike other auto 911s) and steering paddles, which have 50% less travel here.

GT3 owners also get to enjoy shorter ratios (top speed in seventh gear), faster shift times (under 100 milliseconds) and a gearchange algorithm that mirrors the sequential units in Porsche Motorsports’ race cars in PDK Sport mode.

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There’s also a “paddle neutral” function. If the driver pulls both shift paddles concurrently, the clutches of the PDK are opened and the force flow between engine and powertrain is interrupted. If both shift paddles are released again, the clutch closes with “lightning speed”.

Two advantages: if the GT3 understeers, the driver can neutralise by pulling the paddles, buliding up additional cornering force on the rear wheels. The second aspect influences the driving dynamics via the pulse-like inset of the drive power when coupling. Comparable to a traditional clutch in a manual gearbox, the rear of the car can be consciously destablised when turning. Kicking the tail out, in other words.

This 1,430 kg track special is very, very fast – 0-100 km/h is now done in 3.5 seconds, 200 km/h takes less than 12, and top speed is 315 km/h. At 7:25, it laps the Nurburgring’s North Loop faster than the outgoing turbocharged 911 GT2, two seconds faster than the 997 GT3 RS 4.0 and even coming close to matching the Carrera GT’s time.

Contributing to the impressive lap time is the use of active rear-axle steering, which turns the rear wheels into or away from the corner according to speed, resolving the inherent conflict between agility and stability. It comprises two electro-mechanical actuators at both sides of the rear axle (instead of conventional control arms) that allow the steering angle of the rear wheels to be varied by up to about 1.5 degrees.

Under 50 km/h, the front and rear wheels steer in the opposite direction, giving an impression of a shorter wheelbase and reducing the turning radius for better agility. Above 80 km/h, both front and rear wheels point in the same direction for increased stability.

Also, the side force on the rear axle triggered by the steering input of the driver is built up much faster than with a non-steered rear axle, which leads to more spontaneous direction change. Like all other 991s, the steering system is electric, and Porsche Torque Vectoring Plus is standard on the GT3.

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The GT3 really looks the part as a road-legal race car. That iconic body shape – sitting 30 mm lower than a Carrera – looks perfectly at home on track with enlarged air intakes, extra ducts, lip and skirts, central twin exhaust and that big fixed rear wing, not forgetting those gorgeous 20-inch forged alloys with central locking. All ready, just add livery, like the Martini-striped example you see here.

Not just for show, of course. The above combine for considerable downforce for added stability and a drag coefficient of 0.33 thanks to new underbody panelling with diffuser function at the rear.

We went to Sepang International Circuit for a short spin in the GT3 recently to find out if all the above tech will translate to real world performance and fun. Let’s cut to the chase. The new GT3 is fantastic, and here’s why.

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The motor rumbles into live and settles on a deep beat at idle, menacingly hinting at what’s to come. The dark clouds encircling Sepang look threatening, so we wasted no time – tight-fit optional racing seat pulled forward, bare Alcantara steering tilted, PDK Sport activated and on we go.

The thing I dislike about media track events, besides the fact that we usually get only two or three laps, is the unavoidable rushed flow due to the number of participants and precious track time – Sepang is very expensive! There’s barely any time to get settled in and comfortable before blasting away at full pelt, which is less than ideal in mega buck machines. Thankfully, the 911 interior is a relatively familiar place and the ergonomics is perfect for serious driving.

Much has been said about Porsche succumbing to electric steering, but the GT3’s helm has lovely weight and feel. Along with the pleasing steering, one lap on track is all it takes to realise that this 911 has heightened senses.

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Now, the Porsche 911 is no longer a small sports car, having grown by quite a bit over the generations, but the GT3 feels like one as you throw it around. Could be the rear-axle steering doing its thing, but this writer isn’t sure because he didn’t feel it working. All I know is that the GT3 is brilliantly alert and agile. The front end darts in and grips very hard once there, and the limits are high, but I still managed to test the safety net.

The reason is not because I’m very ballsy, far from it, but because the GT3’s motor is just irresistible. Push it you will when there’s such a crescendo to build up to. This flat-six begs for revs and truly comes to life in the second half of the rev range. The final third as it howls towards the 9,000 rpm redline is spine tingling, intoxicating stuff.

For the sake of future generations, I hope and pray that this naturally aspirated gem of an engine won’t go the way of the E92 BMW M3’s V8 and Honda’s Type R NA VTECs.

And what about that elephant in the room? Sorry to disappoint you but I think that PDK is a great partner to the brilliant engine. Smooth and sharp may be hard to compute, but that’s how it works in the GT3, with no holes in its ratios or overall armour.

We love our sticks at paultan.org, but I just couldn’t find any chink in this auto, not when it helped me access every inch of the motor so effectively. Without having to worry about executing a perfect shift, one gets to focus on other facets of this amazing car. One regret is that I didn’t get to try the paddle neutral function.

That the GT3’s powerful brakes has been reduced to a footnote is a testament of Porsche’s excellence in this department. Not that the anchors – front six-piston calipers with 380 mm discs all round on our tester, PCCB ceramics optional – aren’t impressive, it’s just that we expect no less from Zuffenhausen.

We aren’t sure if this RM1.23 million track-focused Porsche will be bearable on Malaysian roads, but it sparkles on track and is certainly more exciting than the 911 Turbo S we sampled last year, although it lacks the latter’s mega shove. Porsche says that around 80% of all 911 GT3s are also driven on racetracks. That’s a good amount, but hey 20%, what the heck is wrong with you?