It’s not totally evident from their website, but Porsche actually breaks their sports car models down into three categories: All-Rounder, Purist and Race Cars. The 911 Turbo, Carrera C2, C4S and various GTS models fall into the more relaxed of the three categories, while slightly more focused stuff like the all-new Carrera T get some lightweighting done, plus some standard performance ads to bring them into the middle category. Truly manic stuff like the GT3 or GT2 RS models round things out in the top-spec “Race Car” category.
With all that in mind, we were dispatched to Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (“Mosport” from now on) to put some of the famed German brand’s latest through their paces on an auto cross course as well as Mosport’s full-scale big track, which has hosted all manner of professional race series over the years.
It would be a lead-follow event; that is to say, an instructor car would lead the pack, and we were instructed to maintain a strict distance from said car, one that would change depending on which cars we had on the track: the faster the car, the larger the distance we were to maintain. You could say I was a little worried we wouldn’t get to fully test these in this scenario, that perhaps we’d be too limited but I found out quite quickly that a) I’m nowhere nearly as fast as a professional performance driving instructor, b) these cars require professional levels of training to get anywhere near their full abilities and c) they are so well engineered that even at 3- 4- or 5/10ths, they are a blast to drive.
But which would standout? Was the manic GT2 RS a lock for the most memorable drive of the day, or would the plucky 718 GTS models win with their ability to make nearly any driver feel like a track star? What about the 911T? Could this GT3-lite (that’s “lite”, not “light” as the GT3 we would also be testing is lighter) step up to the plate and show that for less seasoned drivers, it’s actually the better mix of sport and performance than is the GT3?
I couldn’t wait to find out. But first:
2018 Porsche 718 Cayman GTS and Boxster GTS
We were divided into two groups at the outset; one would be jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire, as it were, and setting out on the big track in the 911 models. The other would be starting at the autocross track in the 718 models. This, far as I’m concerned, is the better way to go as it allows you to cut your teeth in a slightly tamer car and environment so I was glad that’s where I’d be starting.
The first car I slid behind the wheel of was the 718 Cayman – the Boxster’s hard-top coupe variant – and I couldn’t have been happier. I’d been lucky to have sampled many versions of this car in the past, including the previous-gen GTS version. I loved it then – even though I happened to be on winter tires in late November at the time – so imagine how excited I was to sample it in a “proper” scenario like this.
The GTS conversion adds 65 horsepower to the Cayman/Boxster’s 300 for a total of 365, as well as the standard fitment of torque vectoring, mechanical rear differential and Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM), which lowers the car by 10 mm. Combined with the black 20” wheels, both the Cayman and Boxster GTS models have a wicked mean stance.
Turns out they have a wicked mean drive, too – in a good way, of course. On the autocross track, the Cayman is a willing dance partner, springing from cone to cone and really giving the driver a good indication as to what’s going on beneath the tires. The steering is properly direct and responsive, and as you toggle between the three driving modes – normal, sport and sport+ — you can really feel the difference in the car’s response.
It happens quite quickly, too; we started our day on a slalom just to get a feel for things, and right off the bat you could feel the car get a little more squirrely as you switch from sport to sport+; among other things, the latter relaxes the traction control and stability settings a little, which I felt after a squirm from the rear end as soon as I depressed the throttle. The car instantaneously feels raw, more determined to get where it’s going and has tossed the “entry-level Porsche sports car” stigma to the curb. The Boxster works equally well; it may look a little more awkward with its soft top and all, but it acquitted itself just fine to the point where I’d have a hard time choosing between the two, and I’m usually a fixed-top guy.
What about Mosport’s big track, though? They work great in small spurts on the autocross track, but what happens when the goings get faster and more wide open?
Lucky for me, the schedule of the day had me finishing just as I started: in the Cayman GTS, only this time, I was bounding out of the pits and entering the small straight just past turn one and down into the fast left chute of turn 2, doing my best to keep the instructor ahead of me within the minimum distance allowed.
Luckily, I had been practicing all day in much faster cars, and while the Cayman GTS models don’t really hold a candle to them when it comes to all out power, their accessibility means that they were the cars that I felt I could wring the most out of without binning it.
Get past a slight bit of turbo lag and the full 365 hp spirits you down the road at 6,500 rpm, the car responding to your every input and doing its best to make you feel like the racing hero that – if you’re me – you definitely are not. There’s something to be said, though, for how all this can happen without putting the driver in too much peril as the rest of the car is so well sorted and the power level just right for cutting your teeth on the racetrack. They’re a little squishier than the 911 models we sampled, to be sure, but I have a feeling you’d only really notice that if you tested them back-to-back as we did.
2018 Porsche 911 Carrera T
Porscheophiles will recognize the “T” on the latest Carrera (which, as it happens, brings the 911 model line to a total of 23 different models); it harkens back to the 911T of 1968, built to enter the line-up below the top-spec 911S and given all sorts of weight-saving measures. The goal now is the same as it was then: make a lightweight vehicle with an entry-level powertrain. Its twin-turbo flat-6 makes the same 370 hp as does the base 911, but it gets all manner of lightweight touches and enthusiast adds; lighter rear and side window glass, pull-strap door pulls, optional fixed-back carbon seats and standard short-shifter. The 911T comes with rear seats deleted, but you can add them at no cost if you so choose. I wouldn’t.
In addition to all that, PASM is standard, along with very cool yellow-on-black interior stitching and the topper (literally): a yellow sport chrono clock, sitting right there atop the dash. It’s brash, that’s for sure but this here’s a car that can walk the walk.
We only spent time with the 911T on the big track – no autocross here – but the two really are a perfect match. Along with the 911R, the Carrera T makes up the second of two vehicles found in the “Purist” line, and feels right at home on the track as a result.
The first thing I noticed was the sound; you tend to lose a little “oomph” when you add a turbocharger to the mix, but the lighter rear glass and other bits mean you get more resonance into the cabin of the 911T. Now, I’ve never had the pleasure of piloting an original 911T, but I have a feeling that the noise levels would be something like this. I’d bet that Porsche would have it no other way.
The beauty is that once you’re over all that aural wonderment, you’ve got perhaps the purest 911 ever built that didn’t have “GT” in its model name at your behest. It provides a ride that rewards confident inputs with scalpel-sharp reflexes and response times, so much so that I was constantly reminding myself that although this has no more power than a standard 911, it’s quite a different ballgame in the handling department. I may never get a chance to sample either a ’68 911T or ultra-rare 911R, but after spending time in the 911T, I’m convinced I’d have it over the GTS, which has been my favorite 911 up to this point. It’s that good, the 911T.
2018 Porsche 911 GT3
While I was sure the GT2 RS was going to be the star of the show, I was glad to see they’d brought along a brace of GT3s, as well.
For starters, you can never have too many race-bred Porsche sports cars at a trackday, right? Right.
Secondly, the GT3 has always had this weird ability to not only shine when compared to the GT2, but often outshine its more powerful sibling. I was curious to find out how.
The reasons come pretty quickly; like, as soon as you fire the engine quickly. That’s because unlike very other car here – every other car in the Porsche stable, for that matter – the GT3 is an all-engine, naturally aspirated beast of a performance instrument that makes all that known as soon as it turns over.
It does so once again as you set out; the GT2 is the faster car on paper to be sure, but for my money, in these conditions, the GT3 feels the faster car because it’s so darn immediate, and so darn willing to rev (“What!?!?!? We’re at 8,000 rpm and there’s still another 1,000 to go before redline?!!?!?”). It’s knife-edged, but manages to allow the driver to go about their business on-track without feeling like he’s on a knife’s edge; you won’t feel like the run-off on the outside of turn three is about to become this lap’s final resting place, for example. It can be sticky and grippy without making you feel like it’s babying you thanks to that wild hyena of an exhaust note and crushing 500 hp blast of naturally-aspirated goodness, both there to remind you when the time’s right about what you’re dealing with, here.
Turn in is immediate, while on straights, the Alcantara-clad wheel writhes just enough to let you know what’s going on beneath you. You sit in the high-bolstered carbon-backed sport seat and watch as the scenery blurs around you, the car compelling you to focus on the task at hand, whether it be perfectly clipping that next apex, or nailing that next upshift. It’s all about the drive in the most 4D way possible, the GT3, and it’s hard to imagine as you’re blasting down the Andretti Straight that there’s anything else in the world that is a better all-out assault on the senses. The GT2 started out as the toast of the day; I now felt, however, that it may have its work cut out for it yet.
So, in that light…
2018 Porsche 911 GT2 RS
The numbers alone are staggering: 700 hp. A 0-100 km/h time of 2.8 seconds. 325 mm rear tires. 460 kg of downforce at a 340 km/h (about 211 mph) top speed. Turbos that are 17% larger than those found on the 911 Turbo S, and a 5 litre jug of water in the frunk for the water spray engine cooling system. Less than 100 examples coming to Canada, $10,000 magnesium wheels and an as tested price of near-as-makes-no-difference $400K. It’s a rare breed, this GT2 RS.
And we were about to unleash it on a full-fledged race track. Giddy. Up.
Being a turbocharged car, things start out relatively tamely as you coast down the pit straight, titanium exhaust crackling and grunting like an animal knows it’s about to be let out the cage. Then the Instructor’s Turbo S springs forward as we reach the open track, aaaand…
BANG! Third gear, 110 km/h. BANG. Fourth gear, 120 some-odd km/h. BANG-BANG-BANG and you’re at racetrack-only speeds, barrelling along in the most powerful 911 ever to make production, Holding on for dear life – only, you’re not, really.
You’re not because below you sits one of the most sorted chassis you’ll ever see in a road car, which features neat-o stuff like carbon fibre sway bars and coupling rods, ultra-sticky Michelin rubber that walks the line between race- and road-legal, and so much downforce it seems like you could drive upside down. You can’t, but you catch my drift. The result? So much poise – especially with PASM enabled, as we were instructed to do, always – that you almost find yourself wondering what all the fuss is about. Of course, there’s only so much you can learn after two laps and given more time we probably would have discovered that no matter how much chassis tech you have, 700 hp is still 700 hp, and driving this car to – or at least close to – the summit of its abilities requires more skill than most of us possess. Which is all fine and good, but in these circumstances, it appears the GT3 has pulled the ultimate coup as it was the car I’d have chosen – easily chosen – given the option to head back out on the track.
The 718 models are fun and oh-so accessible, the Carrera T is perhaps the most well-rounded 911 we’ve ever seen and the GT2 RS is…well, it’s the ultimate 911, assuming you have the minerals to take it there. After driving the GT3, though, I can’t help but think it one of, if not the best mix of purity, performance, power and prestige that you’ll find in a showroom today. We’re only about a third of the way through 2018, but I think I’ve already found my drive of the year.
Now, off to Mac’s for a LottoMax ticket. And yes, I’ll take the Extra, please.
Track Day with the 2018 Porsche 911 GT2 RS
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