I drove Porsche's 911 race car and nearly crashed it
Porsche lets us scrub the the tyres of the racing Boxster, Cayman GT4 Clubsport and 911 GT3 Cup. And scrub we do
Kyle Fortune is a freelance motoring journalist who has written for a host of newspapers, magazines and websites including Motor1.com, Car Magazine and the Daily Telegraph.
I’ll build up to the 911 GT3 Cup. That seems like it’ll be the apex of this day at the Silverstone Circuit, where Porsche is letting me have a go in some of its race cars. But before the headliner, there are some support acts. If you want to race Porsches, you don’t just jump into the big dog.
Porsche has, perhaps rather sensibly, brought along some other racers to drive beforehand, to build up to the main event. First up is one of its 986 Boxster S racers which takes part in the Classic Restoracing competition. Whatever you think about Boxsters, these pared back, focussed racers are cool.
“There’s some oil on the circuit,” I’m warned as I slip into the bucket seat and wrestle with the many buckles on the racing harness. It’s a bit damp on track, so I’m thankful that the Boxster’s on treaded tyres, and only pushing out its standard 252hp from a 3.2-litre flat six.
Porsche 986 Boxster S
There follows 12 hilarious laps. The Boxster is so much fun, because it demands all your attention to drive it. You’re changing gear with heel and toe shifts – no easy paddles here – and there’s a need to maintain as much speed as possible though the corners. Even here, at Silverstone, it’s a fantastic reminder that power isn’t everything.
If you’ve done well in that Restoracing series, or club racing, then the Cayman 718 GT4 Clubsport is a natural next step.
Inside it's naked, gizzards all on display, functionality taking precedence over form. There’s a carbon fibre steering wheel with paddle-shifters, Cosworth digital instruments, two pedals, a seat and a smattering of buttons. Thankfully, some of those buttons relate to ESC and Traction Control, both of which will be staying on.
Porsche Cayman 718 GT4 Clubsport
Like all GT4 cars, it’s designed to be easy to drive, allowing novice drivers to get up to speed. And so it proves. It’s very like the Boxster, which, given its bloodline is unsurprising. There’s more of everything: more grip from the slick tyres, more braking force, more speed everywhere, and the intensity is dialled up significantly in the process. It’s brilliant, and leaves me wondering why anyone would ever trackday their supercar when they could buy and race one of these for much the same outlay.
“There’s quite a step between the GT4 and the 911 GT3 Cup,” says Porsche’s PR man Rob Durrant. He’s not wrong. I’ve heard many drivers say the 911 GT3 Cup is a tricky car to master. Why? Because it bins all the electronic stability and traction control systems, and the ABS. The 911 GT3 Cup about as pure a racer as you could ask for.
There’s a paddle-shifted transmission that shoots through its gears with an audible spit from the pneumatic actuator, each ratio allowing you to further explore the glorious 4.0-litre flat-six’s 485hp. It’s on slicks, weighs around 1,200kg, and, yes, it is terrifying.
All smiles in the Porsche 911 GT3 Cup. For now.
“There’s not much in the way of downforce”, I’m told by Tom Woollen, the technical team manager for Porsche Motorsport. So, unlike the AMG GT3 car I drove recently, it’s all about mechanical grip, not aero. Woollen warns me about braking too, having looked at my ‘stamp on it’ telemetry trace from the GT4. This reminds me of the lack of ABS here.
It’s familiar otherwise, insomuch as I’ve sat in plenty of 911s. The noise is similar, but unencumbered by sound deadening except for the padding in my helmet. I’m strapped tightly in, surrounded by a cage and the sound of that flat-six behind me.
I’m slow for the first lap. The second sees the speed building, but it’s not the speed, or the ferocity of the engine’s response that’s so appealing, but the clarity and precision of the steering. It’s just so rich in sensation. The 911 GT3 Cup is a car you can feel everything in, and it’s hugely addictive. Lap three and I’m faster again, lap four… immediately, it all goes quiet.
I’m sat, facing the track, with two black lines criss-crossed in the windscreen. Woollen was right. I’ve spun, my enthusiasm getting the better of me, the 911 GT3 Cup revealing the 911’s famous engine position by swapping ends on me quicker than I’ve the ability to stop it.
Instinctively, I’ve floored the brake and avoided the scenery or the ignominy of the gravel trap. A tail-between-legs stop at the pits to check in and it’s clear the tyres are rooted, flat-spotted to ruination, a circa £1,800 mistake. I’m expecting to be chucked out, but Woollen sticks his head in through the door, asks if I’m okay and warns me the cold new tyres will be tricky until they’re warm.
Incredulously, the air jacks drop and I head out for eight more laps, five of which I’m tip-toeing to work those tyres up to temperature, the final three I’m pushing harder, only too aware of the 911 GT3 Cup’s capacity to punish if I’m not careful with it.
I return to the pits, elated with the experience, but flattened by the fact that it’s been revealed to me that, no, I’m not talented enough to race one, even if I’ve always quietly thought I might be. A GT4, though? Now, that’d be perfect…
Buy your own Porsche racer
Want a taste of the Porsche motorsport life? Well, hope you've got lots of money, 'cos it ain't cheap. But for much, much less, what about this frankly awesome Lego Technic model of the 911 GT3 Cup? Do it. DO IT.