Silence and calm enveloped the airfield when the CLK-GTR went home to its secret garage somewhere in Europe. I sat down and thought about what I just experienced. As I tied my shoes, a high pitched whine reached my ears. Surprised, I looked up in the air, searching for the apparent jet sound. This airfield had been a military facility before, but it’s abandoned by the air force long ago. Destined to become a residential area.
The sound grew in strength and I could not find the source. When I looked to my right, a brightly red arrow came down on full lock and smoking tires. Immediately I realized that it was no jet engine, it was two huge turbochargers fiercely pushing air into a flat six engine. The car that blew past in a cloud of torque, excessively flared wheel arches, spent rubber and jet noises was the car that competed with the CLK-GTR, it was the extraordinary Porsche GT1.
Following the cancelation of the fierce Group C racing class, Porsche withdrew from international sport scar racing. However, in 1997 FIA started a new series called FIA GT Championship. Porsche was interested to join the top-tier GT1-class and developed the Porsche GT1. Sharing the front chassis of the 993 GT2 and the engine and back chassis from the world-dominating 962C. The GT1 won in its class in the debut race at Le Mans. They also met success at Spa and other GT-races in 1996. When Mercedes released their CLK-GTR and McLaren their GTR the GT1 had problems reaching the top and kept finishing in the back in 1997. In 1998 the GT1 gave Porsche its last Le Mans victory thanks to its reliability rather than speed. They pulled out in 1999 due to Mercedes domination with the CLK-GTR. According to the GT1 rulebook they had to build 25 street-going versions as well. The result was another GT1 racer for the road, albeit a bit more civilized than the CLK-GTR.
The car destroying the tarmac in front of me were one of the later GT1:s with “996-optics” and the 3,2 litre engine, helped by its huge turbochargers swooshed down the runway. A couple of seconds later, it braked, turned around an came towards us with heat shimmering off the back of it. This car is one of the few really beautiful supercars of yesteryear. The McLaren F1 GTR and CLK-GTR are Awesome, yes. But not beautiful like this. As it pulled up in front of us, the driver stepped out, engine still running to calm down the battle-ready turbos. The photographer went to the back of the car to take some photos. He laughed and signaled everyone to come to him. Puzzled, the small group of people around me ran to the cars rear. I were a couple of meters behind them and I wondered what made them point and talk.
As I arrived, the driver pointed at the exhaust. I looked down and saw a puddle of black liquid. It was the holder of the license plate. Since it was plastic, the exhaust temperature had melted it off. We discussed and joked about it for some time, then some poor sod had to scrape it off the tarmac and throw it away. A new holder had to be fixed later.
After the incident of the license plate, I walked around the car to soak in all its curves. It’s hard to describe the look of it. You can see the 911 heritage in the forms, you could say it looks like someone took a 911 and sat on it. Lower, wider and longer than a normal 911, it has a menacing appearance. From the front it looks like the common 996 Carrera. Except the huge rear view mirrors on the front fenders and the air scoop on the roof. I opened the door. At first I was surprised at the normal door. In contrast to the hatch in the CLK earlier. I poked my head in and the sight is a bit confusing. The interior is standard 996. Leather seats, gear stick, steering wheel and dashboard gives it a civilized appearance, if you choose to ignore the full race roll-cage with the beam going across the side. This complicates the entering and exiting the car considerably, but could save you when you use the 962-engine too friskily.
When I was still marveling over the interior, the people around unclipped the hood and opened the rear. Sadly, same as the CLK, the engine were hidden below the huge air box but the naked 6-speed manual gear box and suspension made up for it! I really, really love these older cars where you actually can see all the suspension and miscellaneous parts. It’s almost pornographic.
To my disappointment, they closed the hood way too soon, and I continued the tour around the car. There was a lunch break and we sat down, chatting about the cars we have witnessed and the taste of the cheap hot dogs in our hands. I finished first and went back to the Porsche. Finally alone with this piece of art. Then I got an idea, I carefully looked around so no-one would see me and tried the passenger door. It was unlocked. Anxious, I climbed in to the passenger seat and looked around at the standard interior, Suddenly, the drivers door opened, and the guy who drove it earlier jumped in, almost giving me a heart attack. It didn’t look that he bothered with my apparent trespassing. To my surprise, he opened his mouth to speak. But not to shout at me. “So you want to have a go in this as well?” He asked. Afraid to loose my chance to ride in one of my favorite cars of all time I gave a happy “yes“. This could not be as brutal as the CLK-GTR, could it?
At first glance (as a passenger) it was a lot more civilized than the CLK. I could actually talk to the driver and could see outside the car. The only thing that troubled me were the normal 3-point harness. That would not stop me very well in a car like this. The driver gave some throttle and I could hear the turbos impatient low rev whine. We took some photos passing the photographer at quite slow speed. After some passes I noticed a smile appearing on the drivers face. Oblivious to whatever it could mean, he gave the car full throttle. Not that much happened in the beginning as the revs built up. After a second, a small whine could be heard behind us. Then the world stretched out. “RRRRR… WHOOOOOSH” and the car shot forward. Not a jerky motion like the CLK, but more like a surge of immense power. The twin turbos forced more air into the engine, releasing the full 537hp, 667nm and the 335mm rear tyres had a firm grip of the tarmac as they propelled the 1150kg GT1 along the runway. Same as the CLK, this car is as stable at 30km/h as it is at 300km/h. When we approached 300km/h the driver tried out the handling. He started some s-turns and according to my brain, we would die. A car should not be able to make turns at these speeds. I did not die. The car did not spin out of control. It simply turned. Not one inch of insecurity in the turn in. Amazed by the scalextric handling, I looked at the driver who was a bit to calm for this maneuvering and he just laughed. As we slingshot closer to the runways end, I also discovered that the brakes worked just fine. As my aching body told me.
The car turned around and we went back to the group of people. I stepped out gracefully (not) and thanked the driver for the experience. Intrigued, I started to talk to the owner. I asked how the car is to live with. It turns out that it’s actually a bit civilized. One of the cars problems is the clutch. Simply said, you would not want to sit in a traffic-jam with this car. The clutch is so heavy that in the beginning you always have a aching left leg when you step out of it. Another story that he told us with enthusiasm was one day when he parked the car outside a shopping mall to get some Shirts from the dry-cleaner. As he stepped out, some curious spectators closed in to look at the car.
When he came back, the group of people had grown to a number that would rival a concert. He could not see the car and cars driving on the road could barely pass without hitting a spectator. With some elbows, excuses and clever tactics he reached the car and drove away, paving a way in the sea of spectators, careful not to hit anyone that happened to stand in the way. Since there is only 25 of them in the world, people does not seem to know what car it is. One time when he pulled in to a gas station to refuel, he was met by a angry man that said that “it’s a scandal that you are allowed to drive around those gas-guzzling Italian shameful cars.” The owner simply looked at the strange man with a puzzled face. “Italian?” The Greenpeace-activist turned around and went on with his business, fuming with rage over these unnecessary cars.
You could always question the necessity of cars like this. But as a real car nut, you don’t have to. They are expensive, they need service every 5000km and how they are allowed on the road is beyond even me. Nobody ever claimed that racing cars are pleasant to drive. They are actually usually extraordinarily unpleasant. They are built for one purpose. To win, not to give passengers a nice ride to and from airports. Why put up with the noise, the absence of any power below 5,000rpm, the turbo lag, the awful outward vision, the awkward entry and exit, the absolutely ridicilous ground clearance, and general impractibility? It’s also sad that most of these cars rot in a museum or a locked up garage. The owner of this car really uses it. Both on road on track. A true automotive hero.
As the sun set over the airfield, everyone around started to pack their things for the trip home. I looked at the car in front of me and realized that I have just met another automotive legend. People say that you should not meet your childhood heroes. I’m happy to announce that it’s false in this case. My fascination and love for the extreme Porsche GT1 has reached almost excessive levels.
We left the airfield in a tired Audi A4 diesel. I looked out of the window as the Porsche shot past, brilliantly red-orange thanks to the sunset. It’s absolutely on the list of the Worlds Greatest supercars.
All photos by Peter Gunnars. www.petergunnars.com