White Lightning : Porsche 911 GT3 (997 mk1) [review]

Car Specifications
3600cc, Normal Aspiration (full specs below)
Cylinder Layout: 
Flat 6 boxer, 24 valves VarioCam Plus,
Top Speed: 
310 km/h
6-Speed manual
4.3 seconds
415 bhp at 7600 rpm
405 Nm at 5500 rpm
  • Race Grade Suspension
  • Race Grade Handling

This might be an odd way to begin a review, but it adds a hidden dimension to the 911 GT3. Legendary world rally champ, Walter Röhrl is Porsche's development driver and he is instrumental in getting the GT3 around the Nurburgring circuit in the fastest time possible. More importantly he is the complete development driver, because he knows exactly what needs tweaking to get the fast lap times.

He recalls the first time in August 2005 when the first prototype 997 GT3 was ready for his drive around Nurburgring. He lapped the circuit in a blazing 7 minutes and 47 seconds but came back shaking his head saying something is wrong with the suspension and the car was bouncing around the bumpy high speed corners.

Porsche was then trying out a new PASM spring-damper unit using H&R springs with height and spring seat adjustable, electronically controlled dampers from Bilstein. It turned out the supplied bump stops were too long and were nearly in contact with the damper body at the chosen spring ride height. A few months later an official timed session by Walter saw the times tumble to 7 minutes 42 seconds.

Michelin has worked on the GT3 project from the very beginning and has produced an excellent set of road-going Pilot Sport Cup tyres. Yes, you heard right: "Cup tyres for the road".

Putting the GT3 through 20 hard laps revealed that fears of the wayward tail of the 911 were unfounded. This GT3 is simply magical. The previous two versions of the GT3s were something special but the 997 GT3 (mkI) moves the game on significantly.

Here is the basis for the magic, 10 per cent uprated springs, 50 per cent uprated dampers, rose jointed top mounts, all rubber suspension bushings replaced by bronze items and last but most significant, triple tread compound Michelin Sport Cup tyres in 305/30 ZR 19 in the rear and 235/35 ZR 19 in the front.

We may know the raw formula but the precise alchemy is a black art that is privy only to the motorsport department and Walter Röhrl who worked on this project from the beginning.

On the track, one needs to set the suspension and engine management to in keeping with the purist approach rather than the one button sets all. The electronic suspension control dials up a damping map with extreme settings one that cannot be used anywhere but the track because it is just too jarring for street use.

However, do not think the “Normal” setting is too soft. Just remember, this is the setting that Walter Röhrl prefers for his fast laps around Nurburging. The suspension needs to be able to absorb the bumps, not try to pound them back into the ground and that is the key to fast laps around Nurburgring.

However on proper race tracks where the surface is smooth, the Sport setting holds body roll to infinitesimal levels, heightening steering feel and response.

The chassis is so brilliantly readable because there is no deflection from the bronze bushings in the suspension links. This is truly a race-car set up complete with the ability to set up ride height and camber for tyres and circuits.

What is even more amazing is there seems little in terms of a penalty for the use of these hardcore items. The GT3 steers with utter precision around the circuit so long as the tyres don’t fade.

It is impossible to say how the steel brakes stand up in comparison to the optional PCCB ones because Porsche had so cunningly equipped on each of the six test cars available on this very exclusive launch with PCCBs.

So the simple answer is the PCCB simply do not fade and even with Walter Röhrl the pads last about a five days of constant taxi rides, three hours each day.

Technically speaking these PCCB items do not stop any quicker than steel ones but they do have huge reserves of thermal stamina and the brakes on my test GT3 felt as fresh after 20 laps as they did on the first.

Things got a bit more interesting when the tyres seemed to go off a bit as the GT3 began to run wide under power, requiring more steering and throttle adjustments. The chassis simply shines through, every deflection or squirm felt clearly through the seat of one’s pants and the steering.

Corrections from throttle and steering can be positively applied as there are no mixed signals. With Sport mode engaged the Traction control is backed right off to the point where the GT3 can go into a spin if steering correction is not applied properly, so malleable is the handling even with TC engaged.

The 997 Carrera S seemed to have reached the pinnacle but the GT3 trounces that. Porsche’s motorsport department under the dedicated supervision of Andreas Preuninger has significantly raised the level of what's possible.

Andreas reveals that the engine is still the 964-derived motorsport engine that has been the basis of the GT1 and GT3 Cup cars having nothing to do with the new one in the 997 Carrera. He simply puts it down to the reliability and robustness required of such a high power, high revving unit.

It also is developed for use with dry sump lubrication, which is a must in these types of high-g cars keeping the oil flowing even in 1.3g corners that last five to seven seconds. So what owners of the GT3 get is a special race-fettled engine that comes with its own unique 6-speed gearbox.

It's only a manual, so Tiptronic fans can stop reading from here on. This engine is replete with titanium conrods, forged pistons, hollow camshafts, 8 crank bearings, balanced and lightened components including conrods (less 150gm each), Crankshaft (less 600gm), pistons (less 30 gm each).

The engine may be smaller than the Carrera S’ 3.8, but with 415 bhp at 7600 rpm and the ability to rev safely up another 200 rpm to 8400 rpm puts this engine among the most powerful normal aspirated road-going engines to date with a specific power output at an astonishing 115.3 bhp per litre.

Torque is equally impressive reaching 405 Nm at 5500. It now zips to 100km/h in 4.3 seconds and matches the 911 Turbo for top speed at 310km/h thanks to a Cd 0f 0.29 and downforce of 25-kg at that speed.

Tuning this engine is yet another black art but I’ll try to point out the basics. Ability to rev higher already mentioned, a compression ratio of 12.0:1, 2-stage variable resonance intake tuning, ideal thermal efficiency from a bore and stroke of 100 x 76.4mm, VarioCam timing, free flow exhaust, machine smoothened intake and exhaust ports, multi angled valve seats and valve backs with sodium filled ones on the exhaust side.

Put together by Porsche’s own motorsport department no less, it rarely gets better than this.

Preuninger revealed early on in the GT3 development cycle they made an even quicker steering rack than the current variable ratio one and it did not improve things as the current variable one was nigh on perfect.

Gone is the nervous quick steering rack of the 996 GT3 and the current one is only heightened in its response thanks to the rose-jointed, bronze bushed suspension and Cup tyres. The surgically accurate feel is truly a joy to behold, shading even the F430.

Every nuance on the track is faithfully relayed to the driver specially ensconced in the special 5-kg lightweight carbon fibre bucket seats. Those of you who can fit will want these as well as the suede steering wheel - it's just so 'OMG' good!

The GT3 is not just a track day special either: it has to be an everyday road warrior and here is where it reveals the depth of the work done. Sure, any specialist tuner can transform any 911 into a nutter race car but as daily transportation?

Despite the uprated suspension, the new GT3 provides more comfort than the previous GT3, even on the huge 19-inch wheels. A lot of work has gone into getting the primary ride compliance right but usually at the expense of secondary compliance especially one with stiff springs, solid rose jointed top mounts, bronze bushings and ultra low profile tyres.

Part of the magic lies in today’s tyre technology, where with careful tuning of the rubber compounds, manages to absorb the energy spectrum associated with secondary ride harshness. Careful tuning of the materials used in the suspension joints lower transmitted noise yet keep geometry absolutely faithful.

Damper bump compliance for want of a better word is much better yet maintaining a steely grip on body movements. It's no magic carpet, but still a lot better than one would expect from a race going suspension. It’s a notch down from the Carrera’s noise and harshness but still very acceptable for everyday driving.

The unerring way the car locks onto the chosen line is awesome: hills are carved up with total confidence and the car feels so at one with you. The exhaust sound is about the best that Porsche has in its repertoire.

There are various stages of loudness reflecting the resonance intake tuning points and exhaust flow protocol to pass strict EU noise regulations. Sport mode also regulates the power at mid revs to make for a less fatiguing high speed drive as the additional 15 Nm and 14 bhp liberated at mid revs when Sport is engaged comes with a louder exhaust drone.

It's fine of you are revving through the gears, but at high cruising speeds between 150-190km/h the constant midrange drone over long stretches is tiring.

Also tiring is the constant flow of surface information, so welcome during cut and thrust driving on the track or in the hills becomes a mild annoyance at high speed when all you want is accurate tracking at 250 km/h.

The constant high speed chatter from the steering and chassis will allow the forthcoming 911 Turbo to be the better trans continental GT. However the GT3 is the most honest and revealing driving tool that I know of bar none.

The engineers have been so thorough that even the gear lever has a short shift action, reducing shift throws by 10 per cent, but also increasing effort/satisfaction by the same amount. Not immediately apparent is the subtle revision of the gear ratios, stacking them some 15 per cent shorter than previously giving the GT3 added alacrity at any speed.

The hardcore fans out there can even customize the gear ratios for different race tracks, at additional cost of course.

Here is the sad news, the production capacity at the Zuffenhausen plant is at full capacity and only 800 to 900 GT3s will be made each year, but it will not be limited and will be produced till the end of the 997’s reign.

Most of the production will be LHD and RHD will be precious few. The GT3 reflects the true nature of Porsche, having dug so deep into its bag of tricks that this GT3 will force Ferrari to hasten the introduction of their F430 CS version as the F430 has met its match.

This marks the GT3’s return to form, its not just a cobbled up marketing effort but truly carries the mechanical equivalent of DNA from Porsche’s motorsport arm and that of Walter Röhrl. If you have the aptitude and the wherewithal we are deeply jealous, now to get that second mortgage.

FAST FACTS : Porsche 911 (997) GT3 Ver.1
CAPACITY : 3600cc
CYLINDER LAYOUT : Horizontaly opposed flat six
VALVES : 24-valves, 4-valve heads
BORE X STROKE : 100 x 76.4mm
MAXIMUM POWER : 415 bhp at 7600 rpm
MAXIMUM TORQUE : 405 Nm at 5500 rpm

TYPE : 6-speed manual

TOP SPEED : 310 km/h
0-100KM/H : 4.3 seconds

FRONT : Height/camber adjustable twin sleeve PASM damper
REAR : Height/camber adjustable multi-link single sleeve PASM damper

FRONT : 350mm steel (PCCB optional)
REAR : 350mm steel (PCCB optional)

TYPE : Michelin Pilot Sport Cup
SIZE : f: 235/35 ZR 19, r: 305/30 ZR 19

ABS : Yes with ABD

LENGTH : 4427mm
WIDTH : 1808mm
HEIGHT : 1280mm
WHEELBASE : 2355mm
KERB WEIGHT : 1395-kg

If there is one model that shows a consistent focus, generation after generation, it is the GT3. While it is not the hardcore RS version it is hardcore enough for most. The 997 GT3 (mkI) is at the pinnacle of perfection (until the mkII that is). It taclkes track duties as if it was born there but it also acquits itself on the open roads as well. Surprisingly it is not that harsh riding allowing this GT3 to be used on a dialy basis. Its brilliance covers all aspects of the car from engine, chassis, ride, handling, performance and overall quality. Few are the cars that have such a wide repetoire of abilities. The GT3 approaches the Holy Grail of the automobile kingdom. -AL, photos by Dirk Weyhenmeyer
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