Better than stock? Modified Porsche 996 GT3s do battle
As much as any other model, the 996 GT3 epitomises Porsche’s design and manufacturing philosophy. A perfect blend of road-going sportscar with track-orientated elaborations, it’s a direct manifestation of the philosophy that goes back way beyond the much vaunted ’73 2.7 RS to evolutions of the 356, such as the 356 Carrera of 1955.
The company has always sought to implant lessons learned on track in its road-going models, so it was only a matter of time after the firm made the quantum leap from air-cooled 911s to liquid-cooled engines in 1998 before a new standard bearer was launched.
Come the Geneva Auto Salon in April 1999, the 996 GT3 was announced. It unites a higher performance normally-aspirated engine with a track-tuned chassis and augments the lineage of Porsche thoroughbreds in the RS idiom.
It certainly looks the part with its deep front spoiler and airdam, aerodynamically configured sills and fixed double-decker ‘swan neck’ wing on the engine lid (in Gen1 guise) instead of the previous retractable wing of the standard 996.
With a nod to the FIA’s GT3 endurance racing class, it was immediately seized on as the vehicle of choice for the Carrera Cup and Porsche Supercup series and, from 2000, the N-GT class of the FIA GT Championship, as well as international races like the Nürburgring 24 Hours.
It was an immediate sensation. Manthey Racing’s GT3 won the GT class at the 1999 Le Mans 24 Hours with drivers Uwe Alzen/Patrick Huisman/Luca Riccitelli at the wheel. Shortly afterwards, Porsche’s test driver Walter Röhrl took a GT3 around the 14-mile Nürburgring Nordschleife in 7 minutes 56 seconds – the first ever time under 8 minutes for a production car – much to the glee of the Porsche motorsport PR department.
The 996 GT3 is the hallowed offspring of Andreas Preuninger, head of Porsche’s GT series production department and manager of Porsche High Performance Cars.
A renowned purist, he designed a specification that would encourage maximum driver involvement and for that reason Tiptronic and PDK transmissions were off the menu. The 996 GT3 uses the then-new Carrera 4’s narrow (as opposed to wider C4S) bodyshell, adapted to house the GT3’s dry-sump oil tank, different engine mounts and larger fuel tank.