I stopped counting at 11, any significance to the number a happy coincidence. I always record my conversations with Randy Pobst, held in the doorway of whatever car he’s just lapped. It’s best to get him while everything’s fresh, before anyone says anything that might color his impressions. Today, his impressions were things of beauty.
“There’s very little to complain about,” he said. “It behaves so beautifully. The balance is so beautiful. You still have to be a little bit careful not going to power too soon. You still have to remember you’re in a 911 in situations like that.”
Beauty, being subjective, is of course in the eye of the beholder, and it was all Randy could get a hold of.
“It was a beautiful experience, like there was a light from heaving shining down on the car going around the track,” he said. “It was that kind of … otherworldly kind of perfection. Incredibly enjoyable. Not much to complain about.”
Perfection, too, is in the eye of the beholder and not an absolute. Perfect though he might find the 2018 Porsche 911 GT3, Randy did indeed find something to complain about.
“If you drive really aggressively on your turn-in, you can definitely over-rotate it and get it sideways,” he said. “It would be very easy for the average guy to go to power too early and create understeer. The driver has to be consciously aware of being in a 911, leaving that weight forward. Release the brake, but don’t go to power. Trailing throttle, high entry speed, off throttle or still braking. Put some weight up there, and it likes it.”
Treat it right, and that GT3 will treat you to a 1:24.66 lap around Willow Springs International Raceway’s “Big” track. At least, if you’re Randy Pobst. “It was so easy, I didn’t have to think through it a whole lot,” he said.
Of course, that’s if you’re driving one with the functionally telepathic PDK gearbox. With a stick shift, even Randy the Rocket loses a few tenths to the tune of a 1:24.96 lap. Either way, you’ve still crossed the line ahead of a 750-hp Aventador SV, 650-hp Corvette Z06, a 650-hp 650S, a 610-hp Huracán, a 600-hp GT-R NISMO, and a 577-hp AMG GT R. All with just 500 hp and 339 lb-ft of naturally aspirated torque.
It’ll shock a few of those cars on a straight track, too. Under the watchful eye of our VBox, the PDK-equipped car hit 60 mph in just 3.1 seconds with the six-speed manual just behind at 3.5 seconds. Keeping your foot in it, the seven-speed dual-clutch will post an 11.2-second quarter mile at 126.6 mph with the stick shift nipping at its bumper with an 11.5-second elapsed time at 125.2 mph. Let’s reiterate: that’s a naturally aspirated, 500-hp car with well under 350 lb-ft of torque running a standing quarter just shy of the venerated 10-second mark.
As mentioned earlier, these cars can turn, too. Put them on a skidpad, and the 23-pound lighter dual-clutch automatic car will pull 1.07 g while the nominally heavier manual strains the eyeballs with 1.11 g. A run around our figure-eight course demands a mere 22.7 seconds from the former and just 22.5 from the latter, each at 0.93 average g.
How is the slower-shifting manual car faster? It’s all in the gears. Taller ones, to be specific. With a 9,000-rpm redline, the manual car can ride out the short straights of the figure eight just kissing the limiter while the PDK goes for an upshift just before the brake zone, followed immediately by a downshift. Not having to shift always saves time, even in a box as good as the PDK. Speaking of braking, stopping these cars from 60 mph requires just 99 feet for that PKD and 98 for the slightly lighter manual.
Advantageous as it might be in the tight quarters of the figure eight, Randy found it an unfortunately liability in the ultimate quest for lap time.
“That is a lot more work,” he said, fresh off laps in the manual car. “Way more difficult to do a perfect lap with the manual transmission. I seem to end up halfway between gears a lot, and it was easier to destabilize the car in the brake zone. It’s tricky to do the brake and entry perfectly when there’s a downshift in there. It’s much more tricky to throw a downshift at it than not to. It’s reminiscent of what we have to deal with, with manual transmissions, having to decide what gear you need, and it takes more practice to do it perfectly in one lap. I didn’t get into the magic zone like I did with the PDK, maybe because of the extra work.”
Good work, though, if you can get it.
“The shifter is great,” he said. “It is very accurate; light. It has that slick, Teflon, mechanical feel. Never worried about getting the wrong gear. The only trouble was trying to be as perfect when I have to change gears.”
As we well know by now, if your lap time puts food on the table, you need a dual-clutch transmission. Freed of manual transmission planning and procedures, Randy could focus more on the rest of the car.
“Holy crap, the tire grip,” he nearly shouted after a few PDK laps. “Oh my God. I was so impressed with the tire grip, my God! I think I might’ve set my Turn 8 speed record. They are just so flippin’, sticky. It just felt so, good. I think it has some real live aero, because of the way it sticks and it’s stable at high speed, in Turn 8, especially.
The stream of consciousness was running deep and strong now.
“It’s a little free on entry, and it’s absolutely beautiful in the way it would come into the corner,” he continued. “It definitely has more front grip off-throttle than on. It just entered the corners really, really beautifully then it puts down power extremely well. There’s no wheelspin, anywhere. I never got yaw. It never got beyond a very pleasant, mild rotation. I mean, it was just beautiful. It was a beautiful thing, sublime.
“The braking is so strong. Not moving around at all. I was just braking really late, and the grip was just staying with me. The braking grip was just amazing.”
The professional racer is impressed, then, but what of the listener and chronicler, who hasn’t won the 24 Hours of Daytona? For myself, I find the GT3s an intoxicating challenge. That initial looseness on turn-in, that free feeling Randy describes, gives you butterflies at first. You know full well it’s a 911 and the engine would just soon enter the corner first, so you approach it gingerly. You quickly find, though, it’s just a little rotation like the man said. You can carry more speed. You don’t need to brake as much next time, or as early. The car has so much more to give, and you find a little bit more each time by.
It’s aggravating to realize how much time you’ve left on the table, and the need to find it is all consuming, and so the GT3 goads you on. With every lap, you push your brake point a little later, carry a little more speed into the corner, and get back on the power a little sooner, feeling out the point when a little rotation becomes a big rotation and a bigger repair bill. You want to spend all day improving your lap time by tenths of a second, consciously aware there could be full seconds on the table but also of the nearly $150,000 starting price. The GT3 wants you to be faster, but it’s going to make you work for it. It’s rewarding work.
What’s that? You’re one of those weirdos who doesn’t exclusively track your GT3? You drive it on the street? OK. Well, just ignore the words “lap” and “time” in the last two paragraphs and you’ll be fine.
|2018 Porsche 911 GT3||6-speed manual||7-speed PDK|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$147,890||$160,900|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Rear-engine, RWD, 2-pass, 2-door coupe||Rear-engine, RWD, 2-pass, 2-door coupe|
|ENGINE||4.0L/500-hp/339-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve flat-6||4.0L/500-hp/339-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve flat-6|
|TRANSMISSION||6-speed manual||7-speed twin-clutch auto|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||3,270 lb (40/60%)||3,247 lb (39/61%)|
|WHEELBASE||96.7 in||96.7 in|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||179.6 x 72.9 x 50.0 in||179.6 x 72.9 x 50.0 in|
|0-60 MPH||3.5 sec||3.1 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||11.5 sec @ 125.2 mph||11.2 sec @ 126.6 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||98 ft||99 ft|
|0-100-0||10.9 sec||11.4 sec|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||1.11 g (avg)||1.07 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||22.5 sec @ 0.93 g (avg)||22.7 sec @ 0.93 g (avg)|
|2.4-MI ROAD COURSE LAP||1:24.95 sec||1:24.66 sec|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||13/21/16 mpg||15/20/17 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||259/160 kW-hrs/100 miles||225/169 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||1.24 lb/mile||1.15 lb/mile|