Want an eCoty winner that you can compete with on track? Porsche has the answer with this $189k GT4 race car
It should have been so different. By now, the first rounds of the Porsche Sprint Challenge should have been completed. The first pots handed out on the podium, the first mouthfuls of warm fizzy wine tasted, possibly the first exchanges of paintwork, and certainly the first lost splitter or six, all marking the start of the newest race series for those looking to make their first tentative steps from club racing to something a little more serious, but without the expense or commitment required for a championship such as Porsche’s own Carrera Cup.
This is where the new 718-based Cayman GT4 Clubsport comes in. Replacing the previous-generation (981) GT4 Clubsport that raced under GT4 regs and in series such as the Nürburgring’s VLN championship, this new car still remains eligible for the aforementioned races, but can also be entered in Porsche GB’s newly created Sprint Challenge, a 12-round series that was scheduled to join the BTCC and British GT Championship as a support race through the 2020 season. Currently both of these championships are postponed until 1 August, which means the Sprint Challenge is too, although organisers are hopeful the inaugural season will see some action in 2020.
When the racing does start, those who have handed Porsche Motorsport $157,728 (plus VAT) are in for a treat, because the GT4 Clubsport is a bit of a weapon. Its 3.8-litre flat-six is taken from the previous-generation 981 GT4 rather than being the current road car’s 4-litre engine, which is based on the Carrera’s 3-litre turbo unit. In race trim the 3.8-litre produces 419bhp and 313lb ft of torque, up 5bhp and 3lb ft on the 4-litre road car, but crucially the engine has a zero hours rebuild schedule, so you can run it for the season without costly visits to the engine shop after every couple of rounds. And it’s the same for the six-speed PDK transmission.
Championship registration fees will be $18,000 and on top of that you’ll likely want a spares package, too, of which Porsche offers a couple. Shelling out $7000 (plus VAT) gets you a spare set of wheels, two pairs of front brake discs, a set of brake pads, a spare splitter and a car cover. Spend an additional $5500 (again, plus VAT) and Porsche will add another set of wheels to the package. Porsche Motorsport will also provide technical support during each race weekend, including day-to-day technical assistance from Manthey-Racing.
Two classes make up the Challenge – Pro and Am – with prize money split across both, the Pro champion receiving $12,000 and the Amateur $10,000, and a prize pot for the other two podium finishers in both categories also on offer. These are some chunky numbers, but while the GT4 Clubsport may be midway up the Porsche Motorsport ladder, it is far from a stickered-up road car. While there is a large percentage of carry-over parts, the details are pure racer. The composite rear wing is fixed, with bespoke swan-neck mounts for greater aero efficiency, both doors are composite, too, and the front splitter and rear diffuser are bespoke and have been treated to time in the wind tunnel.
There’s an FIA-certified roll-cage that’s been welded in, and an escape hatch has been added to the roof. A 115-litre fuel cell replaces the regular tank, and along with the functional rather than aesthetic multi-function steering wheel there’s a Recaro seat that the owner of a Mk2 Golf with a VR6 engine would covet.
A brake bias adjuster is installed and the ride height can be altered, as can anti-roll bar stiffness and geometry. Although the spring rates are fixed, the dampers are three-way adjustable for compression and rebound. Tyres are Michelin slicks, with one random competitor receiving a free set at every round. Well, they will when the racing starts.
Pre-season racetracks are eerily calming, especially Silverstone when its vast Wing complex is home to only a couple of race car transporters in the paddock and a handful of cars that barely fill two garages. It’s like a scene from a Lego Speed Champions set. But the thought of having the circuit to yourself and Porsche’s latest Motorsport offering for an afternoon dispels any myths this is a game. Although it’s also hard to justify as work.
The composite driver’s door needs little more than a fingernail to be hooked under its catch to enable you to swing it open, but the side-impact protection bars require a little more effort from you to negotiate your frame through. Entering a race car will never be an elegant move, no matter how much practice you have.
It’s low in here, too, once your Nomex-clad behind has made contact with the Recaro’s flameproof cushion, and any sense that the Clubsport is merely a GT4 wearing a sticker set vanishes from your mind. The steering wheel mixes carbonfibre with a flameproof material, and while the switch and button count may be less than that of a 919, it still focuses your attention and ramps up the adrenaline, the Cosworth instrument cluster and shift lights a further reminder to pay attention to the pre-drive briefing. In your eyeline is the display for the selected gear, to the left the flat-six’s crucial temperatures along with your chosen brake bias. Beneath the gear indicator are the pressures of those sticky Michelins, beneath these your level of ABS interaction and the statuses for the traction and stability controls, both of which can be switched off. And to the right of the gear display is your lap timer.
Strapped in, ignition on, starter pressed. The flat-six is muted due to your ears being covered in a balaclava and the insulating properties of an Arai. But you can feel it, the car gently rocking to the engine’s tickover, a solid beat that picks up with each blip of the throttle.
Don’t let the PDK lever lull you into a false sense this is merely a pumped up road car, either. There’s a physicality to the GT4 Clubsport from the moment your left foot lifts off the brake pedal and you add some revs. The steering, despite being power assisted, still feels like it’s struggling to manhandle those fat Michelin slicks as you pull away with enough lock applied to enter the pitlane. You imagine them scrunching up great balls of expensive bitumen as they make their way across Silverstone’s hallowed surface.
There’s a degree of chuntering as you get going, the gearbox fighting against the tightness of the diff, with the engine waiting for both to catch up. Pull back the right-hand paddle, into second, and both you and the GT4 let out a collective breath as the revs pick up and the speed increases. Race cars don’t like going slowly, no matter their vintage and the sophistication of their electronics, and journalists entrusted with someone else’s race car are always grateful to make it to the end of the pitlane without stalling/stuffing it into the wall.
It’s cold on the day of our test, so while the fluids are warm, the tyre temperatures have dropped. We’re using Silverstone’s International Circuit, which means leaving the pitlane after Abbey, joining the circuit in Farm Curve and selecting third for the run down to Village, where it’s back into second. That downshift doesn’t hang around – think GT3 RS in Track mode for reference. Across the Link, which has more apices than you’ll need, and you rejoin the GP circuit at Becketts for your first run down Hangar Straight, pulling back on a paddle that’s more like a light switch with its precise action than anything you find on a road car. Click. Click. Click… and you’re into fifth before the bridge and taking sixth soon after, before doing it all again in reverse. Feeling your way around the GT4, applying serious pressure to the brakes for the first time, turning into Stowe with more speed than for any corner earlier on your out lap
A quick glance at the tyre pressures and they’re nearly there. A burst down to Vale. Click. Now using the upshift paddle after you’ve allowed a few more shift lights to illuminate. Brake. Click. Click. Turn in. Nick some kerb on the inside of the 90-left-right that deposits you at Club Corner. Now feed in that throttle, have more faith than you probably should this early in the run and wind the lock off before the start-finish straight is in full sight.
Now gun it. Red lights illuminate your peripheral vision. Two of your right fingers flex. The thump in the back coincides with the flicker of the gear indicator changing in the instrument display. It’s a process that repeats a couple more times as Abbey approaches. A little too soon on the brakes and down one ratio too many elicits an inner curse for being too cautious. The unsighted patch of cement dust on the exit suggests it was a good decision. But the GT4 is happy to adjust its line so long as you’re confident with your actions. Don’t faff about. Don’t hesitate. Be decisive.
Each successive lap brings more confidence. More engine revs being used – with peak torque arriving at over 6000rpm, revs are the 3.8-litre’s friend. Shorter braking distances demonstrate a beautiful balance and no surprises as you are able to balance the 380mm steel discs on the cusp of the ABS activating. It’s easy to imagine that gaining a place over a rival in the braking zone will be a common occurrence. Higher turn-in speeds corner after corner are a given, too, the GT4 pivoting around your hips with every turn of your wrists.
More laps breed more confidence. Getting to know the Clubsport’s nature takes only a few rounds, the car demonstrating it will take plenty of kerb on the way in and allow you to ride them out as you join the next straight, its damping so well judged at absorbing the impact without unsettling drive to the rear wheels nor your chosen trajectory.
And all the time it makes you think. Focus. Plot and plan. As a first rung stepping up from club racing it feels the perfect partner, only giving you a gentle slap when you take liberties and leaving you wanting to learn, rather than fight back. After a few rounds of racing I suspect those on the grid will soon be talking brake bias and set-up options, no matter their experience. Soon after that they’ll be eyeing entries to longer endurance races, dreaming of popping their Nürburgring VLN cherry in a racer that will thrill and entertain drivers of every level.
|Power||419bhp @ 7500rpm|
|Torque||313lb ft @ 6600rpm|
This article originally appeared at evo.co.uk
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