996.1 GT3 v 991.2 GT3 RS: the power of 3
“When we introduced the first GT3 in 1999, it had 360bhp, barely. If someone would’ve told us in ten years there’d be a 4.0 with 500bhp, I would have said, ‘Yeah, come on…’, but technology goes on and on.” That was Porsche GT boss Andreas Preuninger, when we interviewed him at the Geneva Motor Show, 2015, at the 991.1 GT3 RS’s unveiling.
Today we’re experiencing that leap first hand with a drive in the first 996.1 GT3 and a comparison with its most recent and extreme descendant, the 991.2 GT3 RS, at Sonoma racetrack near San Francisco.
The two cars share much in concept and philosophy but as Preuninger reflected, technology goes on and on. Engine output might have barely risen in the last ten years, since the 997 4.0 GT3 RS to which he was referring at Geneva, but the GT3 RS is wider, faster and stickier, and it’s lavished with cutting-edge technology that makes it more competent in every measurable regard. This, however, doesn’t make the 996.1 GT3 an anachronism in comparison; of its time, perhaps, but only in the most positive sense.
The GT3 story begins with the development of the GT3 Cup for the Pirelli Supercup championship, which supported the F1 calendar from 1998. Only 30 race cars were made, but Porsche also had an eye on the new N-GT racing class, which came into force on 1 March 2000. Alexander Klein, boss of the Porsche Museum, who’s flown to meet the Porsche Museum car we’re driving, says around 1,200 road-going examples were required to meet the rules.
Development of those road cars was entrusted to motorsport stalwart Roland Kussmaul – the 996.1 being the only GT3 not conceived under Preuninger, though Kussmaul’s successor was already working in a different department at Porsche. The cars were produced in two waves: 1,350 examples of the ‘A’ cars for homologation purposes, with a ‘ZYS’ chassis code, and then 536 units of the ‘B’ cars, coded ‘Z01’.
We’re driving a very late ‘B’ car, complete with the electric mirrors, upgraded interior trim and thicker carpets that help differentiate these cars. Parked in the Sonoma pits, our Arctic silver test car looks barely any different from my own stock 996.1 Carrera, inside or out – option a Carrera with the GT3’s standard Aerokit, same-style wheels, three-spoke steering wheel and rare carbon fibre-backed leather Sports seats and only spotters would tell the two apart.
Under the skin is where the GT3 really makes it count. Then as now, the GT3 used the beefiest 911 bodyshell, but because all 996.1-generation 911 bodyshells are equally wide, it’s hard to decode that the GT3 uses the reinforced four-wheel-drive Carrera 4 bodyshell.
The suspension is lowered 30mm with revised geometry, there’s a limited-slip differential and four-piston Brembo brakes. Inside, the rear seats are gone to save 8kg, lightweight bucket seats shed a further 20kg, sound deadening is removed, and though this car gets the stereo and air-con, both were no-cost options.
The biggest difference between Carrera and GT3 variants is the powertrain: the water-cooled M96/79 3.6-litre engine isn’t an evolution of the Carrera’s, but of the Mezger engine derived from the GT1 Le Mans racer. It features titanium con-rods and an uprated crank to withstand the higher engine speed of 7,800rpm. It churns out 360bhp and 370Nm, up 60bhp and 20Nm on the Carrera, and a more durable motor it is too.
Today, the 996 GT3 remains a fabulous drive. It might be closer in character to the Carrera 2 on which it’s based than later models, but it’s the perfect riposte to anyone who thinks Porsche sold out with water-cooling, and dismisses the 996 as the worst of the bunch. It feels old-school analogue, mechanical and intimate, but also with the easy comfort and strikingly compact dimensions to instantly quell jangling nerves.
The full, back-to-back test of the first and latest GT3s is presented alongside 116 pages of high-end Porsche content all delivered to your door as part of our lavish magazine dedicated only to the Porsche 911. You can also download a digital copy with high definition bonus galleries to any Apple or Android device.