Driving the Porsche 991 GT3 RS at Le Mans
Hard on the brakes, nose the car into the first apex and flick the left-hand PDK lever through its shortened throw. Open out the steering briefly before turning right again and making a beeline for the second apex point. Smoothly feed the throttle in and up to third.
I’ve just ticked off another lap of Le Mans’ Bugatti circuit ticked off, two months, 25 days and approximately 17 hours since Nick Tandy, Earl Bamber and Nico Hülkenberg crossed the line on the longer Circuit des 24 Heures to take Weissach’s 17th 24 Hours of Le Mans victory.
Like the Anglo-Kiwi-German trio, I am also driving a white Porsche adorned with the number ‘19’. However, whereas Total 911 columnist, Tandy and team were piloting the LMP1 class 919 Hybrid, I’m at the wheel of the latest 911 GT3 RS.
It’s my first taste of Porsche’s latest Rennsport icon and what a place this is to do it. I’ve dreamed of driving at Le Mans since my schooldays and, even though the fully permanent Bugatti layout is just under a third of the distance of the full-fat 24 Hour circuit, it is no less special.
Along the famous pit straight, the 991 GT3 RS pulls effortlessly, with a great slug of torque out the final hairpin to help me on my way to the 8,800rpm redline (200rpm lower than the standard GT3’s rev limit).
The stripped out Clubsport interior helps the flat six soundtrack resonate around the cockpit however, without the flourish of a 9,000rpm redline, the RS isn’t quite the same as the shrieking banshee that is the GT3.
Instead, the music from Rennsport’s engine bay carries a bassier tone, more akin to the esteemed Mezger powerplant, giving the latest GT3 RS an aural similarity to the current Cup and RSR race cars.
The likeness doesn’t end here though. Find a corner or two and the 991 GT3 RS behaves like thoroughbred racer. This really is the first Porsche worthy of the clichéd ‘race car for the road’ moniker.
I can’t feel the aero working but, through the sweeping Virage du Dunlop, I’m barely having to break and the RS feels so settled as I tip it into the gentle right-hander at somewhere north of 160kph.
Those imposing exit vents above the front arches must be working though as, hammering on the anchors sees the 991 RS pulling 1.5G under braking for the Dunlop Chicane. On the standard steel (rather than ceramic) discs. Using standard road tyres. Unbelievable.
I’m glad I’m strapped in with the full five-point harness as all the latest Rennsport wants to do is treat your internal organs as if they were in a laboratory’s centrifuge. There’s so much grip in every type of corner that I’m having to massively delay my turn-in points.
Porsche’s latest Rennsport is so precise, with an uncanny ability to change direction. The 991 generation in general is a huge step up dynamically over the 997 but the GT3 RS really highlights this. Through the fast Chemin aux Boeufs chicane, you’d swear that Andreas Preuninger’s team somehow made it mid-engined.
Yet, despite the chassis’ composure – there’s barely any roll – there’s an incredible compliance over kerbs. If this was let loose on the road elements of the Circuit des 24 Heures I have no doubts it would cope admirably.
All too soon my time at the Rennsport’s wheel is over but, it’s clear that this is a Porsche 911 that moves the goalposts exponentially. In comparison, it’s clear that the standard GT3 really is just a softcore road car, something I didn’t think I’d ever write.
It’s a car that wills you to push to your maximum from the word “go” though, so I’m glad for the cool down lap to soak in the atmosphere along the start straight and under the Dunlop Bridge. This truly is the GT3 RS’s natural habitat.
To read our behind-the-scenes look at the new Porsche Experience Centre at Le Mans, make sure you look out for Total 911 issue 132 next Wednesday.