The 997 GT3’s traction control system is absolutely brilliant – possibly the best I have experienced. Feeding in the right foot heavily and disrespectfully on the way out of a turn the new car’s tail will fidget under the pressure of its 409bhp of thrust and even shift a little laterally as the traction control system steps in to prevent the rear tyres from breaking away completely. It is almost as if Walter Rohrl were at the wheel himself.
Switching from PASM Normal to Sport mode seems to add a bit more predictability in how the chassis works. More time in the car may produce a finer level of critic on just how well the two modes perform over different road surfaces and under different conditions.
The shift throws between the gears are short and wonderfully direct. The closer ratios in the lower gears work well. The manual height and reach adjustment of the steering wheel will afford all but the most unusually shaped of us the perfect wheel position. The variable-ratio steering rack found in all 997s is also fitted to the RS. It is simply brilliant on the road. It is well weighted and precise and communicates what is happening between the front tyres and the tarmac well.
It is hard to draw a firm conclusion on how easy the RS would be to live with as a daily drive. The rigid back seats will inevitably become uncomfortable on a long trip or tiresome commute simply for their lack of angle or lumbar adjustment. The RS also sits low at 30mm closer to terra firma than the 997 Carrera and it shows. This very low ride height, low front spoiler and long front overhang makes obstacles of any steep driveway entrance or speed bump. Extreme incidence angles and fancy manoeuvring are required to negotiate these and despite best intentions the black spoiler lip takes a beating. Fortunately this is inexpensive and easy to replace. These inconveniences aside the GT3 RS should be almost as easy to live with as a stick shift Carrera day to day.
Now, RS stands for Rennsport, which translates as motorsport, and tells the world that this car descends from the finest lineage in GT racing. So let’s face it, all this on-road stuff is all well and good, but where any Porsche wearing the RS badge must prove its metal is out on the track. A 911 RS that doesn’t first challenge its driver and then reward them with lap times that make other GT drivers scurry back home from the trackday with their heads hung in shame doesn’t deserve the badge. Fortunately, our time in the Hatta mountains coincides with the inaugural public track evening at the local Dubai Autodrome. A quick stop for gas and the RS rolls straight into its place in line.
Car owner Karim Al-Azhari and I have four 20-minute sessions at our disposal to explore the car. I jump behind the wheel first. I’ve spent plenty of time out here and know the circuit well. We exit the pit lane in front of a relatively large group of sports and GT cars – three 996 GT3s and one 997 GT3 amongst them. First lap down, with some heat now in the tyres and PASM Sport engaged we start to get on with it.
The new RS is certainly fast. It builds speed without fuss, sheds speed prodigiously under brakes and feels predictable and reassuring through the corners. The wide track and phenomenal grip from the Pilot Sport Cups lets you carry very high corner speeds by road car standards. Initial turn-in is good, helping you guide the nose towards the apex with accuracy.
Pushing harder the rear of our test car remains planted while the front end starts to misbehave; washing off the apexes into understeer as we approach the limit. A little trail braking doesn’t seem to rectify the problem. We are passing everything else out there with ease, but frustrated by this handling imbalance, I head for pit lane and a tyre pressure gauge.
Fettling with tyre pressures and rear wing angle to try to balance things up a little better fails to rectify the problem in the following sessions. This behaviour is doubtless a by-product of a road-use friendly geometry settings from the factory and Karim is pushing quite hard. We remain fully confident that with some more front camber and minor adjustments to toe and sway-bar settings the new GT3 RS will deliver on track. Unfortunately, time and absence of the required tools prohibit further exploration.
We use the remaining track time to play around with the PASM and traction control. With heavy application of right foot the rear end will step out and the traction control system will intervene. As was observed on the road it allows some lateral movement while leaving the driver feeling in control. With traction control off and a heavy right foot the back end will break away. Grip is high, but lift off oversteer can quite easily be transferred into power-on oversteer with a dose of right foot and handful of opposite lock.
Our preference on a smooth race track like the Autodrome is PASM Sport mode. The chassis feels stiff and the RS is well planted and exhibits minimal body roll. Through the undulating second gear double-s-link section it, however, feels a little less sure-footed. We switch to Normal mode and find the car feels better through here. Interestingly, body roll, dive and pitch aren’t appreciably worse in PASM Normal on the smoother, faster corners and it seems a safe bet to conclude that on rough or varied surfaces the RS may be easier and more enjoyable to drive in PASM Normal mode.
Listening to the collection of GT3s on hand to accelerate out of pit lane and blast by the start-finish line, the difference in exhaust signature is pronounced. The once intoxicating exhaust note of a 996 GT3 on full throttle sounds almost anti-climactic after the 997 GT3 RS has screamed by. The car’s homologation relationship with its big brother the GT3 RSR racecar is clear in the message sent from its twin exhaust pipes. A melodic sledge hammer that lifts Weissach’s flat-six up above the ranks of other less performance focused and environmentally conscious GTs.
To complete a direct comparison with the 996 GT3 RS or other 911 RS models we would require both cars on hand for a back-to-back evaluation. Without this, we are restricted to impressions and observations drawn from memory banks. That said, this new car is a clear step forward over its predecessor. Visually Porsche are back on track with the 997 and the GT3 is the best looking of the new 911s by a long shot. The balance between elegance and naked aggression has returned and with the extreme colour options available, the RS clearly differentiates itself as something extra special. A detail born out by the fact I keep looking back over my shoulder every time I walk away.
Full technical specifications available on page 4