“A sports car fills your senses. That’s its purpose. That’s why we drive them.”
My first day with the Porsche GT3 (991) included a downpour and Los Angeles rush hour. I’d picked the car up and drove it home on one of the rainiest days in recent memory. The owner told me that I was the first person to drive it in the rain; not even he had done that. It felt good to be trusted but the prospect of the Cup 2 tires splashing around in cold water on the freeway had me wondering what I was in store for. “Not much”, as it turned out, because traffic never moved quickly enough for hydroplaning to be an issue. More importantly, in “normal” mode, the GT3’s quite docile. The throttle is relaxed rather than the sort of taut and twitchy thing one might expect after years of overly-sensitive “sport mode” throttles in other cars. The two inescapable giveaways of the GT3’s true nature are the firmness of the suspension and the cacophony of mechanical sounds that fill the cabin. If you’re willing to accept its nature then there’s nothing that stops the GT3 from serving as a daily driver.
Buttons Set to Stun
There are buttons to set for the front axle lift, suspension firmness (sport mode is too stiff for the street), traction/stability control, and PDK Sport Mode. This last button is the one that actually makes the most profound change to the GT3’s personality. The transmission holds gears longer in automatic mode. Running at a higher RPM also tightens up the throttle response and makes the exhaust more vocal. In manual mode the differences aren’t obvious, though the shifts might be a bit crisper. A front axle lift adjustment is a must, though. I would have scraped the front lip numerous times without it. Other than that, I would say that everything is fair game. Ceramic brakes and carbon bucket seats? Nice to have, but the comfort seats and cast iron brakes are excellent, too. Everything about the 991 GT3 that truly matters is standard equipment.
My Favorite Drive
After three more days of rain, the weather cleared and it was finally time to have some fun with the Porsche. It impressed me again when the front boot “trunk” managed to fit two camera backpacks and a hard case, with room to spare. I loaded up the car and made my way East to La Cañada Flintridge, where California State Route 2 transforms into Angeles Crest Highway (ACH) to wind its way into the San Gabriel Mountains.
It was still overcast at the bottom of the ACH, but the road was dry and clear of traffic. I nudged the PDK shifter into manual mode and double clicked the left paddle, dropping the transmission from fifth to third gear. Everything changed. The sound of the engine filled the cabin and the higher RPMs tightened the throttle. I came around a tight left hand curve and was greeted by a brief stretch of straight and open road. I smoothly leaned into the throttle and realized two things: the GT3 is deceptively quick and I should have changed to second gear, rather than third. Even in the wrong gear the GT3 surged ahead and effortlessly closed the gap to the next bend. I had to use more brake than necessary, which creates that sickening feeling of understeer, when the car’s forward momentum overwhelms the traction of the front wheels. You can turn the wheel all you like, but the car keeps going straight. It’s not nearly so severe in the GT3, especially at my relatively restrained pace, but it does well as a figurative tug on the ear, as if it were reminding you that driving in such a way on a circuit would end badly.
A car like the GT3 throws a lot at you. It dissolves the road. As the car comes up to speed, it quickly starts to feed your senses with information, all helping getting from point A to point B as quickly as possible. That doesn’t necessarily sync with obeying traffic laws. The GT3 isn’t explosively fast, like a grippy, turbocharged car. The power band is fairly linear until around 7,000 RPM, when it becomes increasingly frantic until the 9,000 RPM redline. I know this is old news but allow me to repeat: “9,000 shrieking RPM from a 3.8 liter flat six. Street car. On pump gas. Nearly 500 horsepower, engine in the back, real aero.”
It’s an easy thing to say but it’s something else entirely to experience. I repeatedly had to fight my instincts to shift at 7,000 RPM. Even in second gear the Porsche was hustling so quickly that stretching it to the redline felt unnecessary. Sometimes I did it just for fun, but inevitably I’d find myself having to over-brake because I was carrying too much speed into a corner. Angeles Crest Highway is longer and straighter compared to the canyon roads above Malibu; yet, the GT3 felt constrained. The faster I drove, the further ahead I had to focus. There’s where I found the limits: Numerous blind corners meant that I couldn’t see far enough ahead to accommodate the GT3’s speed. Even if I could, the GT3 would still eventually outrun either my perception or its somewhat aged tires. There were moments when it felt like I was driving a spreadsheet. Like the ‘falling numbers’ effect from The Matrix movie, the GT3 requires you to start discarding information deemed to be irrelevant.
A Million Miles Away
There were also sheets of water on the road in several places, especially above the snow line. It was warm enough so there wasn’t a risk of ice on the roads, but cold water from the melting snow was constantly draining the heat from the Cup 2 tires and splashing the brakes. It was an invitation to slow down and taper off that flood of feedback to the point where I could enjoy being surrounded by the snowy mountainsides and peaks. It felt like a dream, like Los Angeles was a million miles away.
After a few more miles of open road I caught up with some slow traffic and decided to turn off the highway and head up to the top of Mount Wilson, which has an amazing view of the greater Los Angeles area on one side and a panoramic view of the mountain peaks on the other. The road’s well surfaced but it’s full of tight, blind turns. It’s not a place to make a car run, but it’s great for sampling a car’s agility at low speed. As I exited a hairpin turn in first gear I could feel the rear end wanting to swing in the opposite direction, like a pendulum. Just a little bit of edge, again, as a reminder. Even a modern 911 can’t always overcome the physics of having the engine in the rear, though Porsche gets better at it with every iteration.
After descending from Mount Wilson, I found that not only had the traffic disappeared but that the cloud cover was disappearing too. I was ascending again, and the road was getting wetter. The GT3’s underbody and rear wing created a cloud of vapor in its wake when I found opportunities to open it up. The wet surface warranted some extra caution, but it still flew through the curves. It goes where the driver looks – relentlessly. It may not be the fastest kid on the block in the age of six hundred horsepower turbo cars but it cuts the road to pieces and makes full use of the power it does have, which is plenty for the job. The drive eventually became a rhythm, alternating between occasionally wiggly acceleration, medium braking, and somewhat gingerly turning to keep the rear in line.
From the landscape photographs, there must have been beautiful views during my drive, yet I don’t remember them at all. I remember only the road in front of me, the steering wheel, and the pedals.
“The right car, in the right place, at the right time.”
After some more cruising and a lunch stop, I found I’d reached the uppermost sections of the highway that were open, and I was surrounded by snow. The road was clear, though very wet and there were SUVs parked along the shoulders of the road: families with skis and sleds having fun in the snow. This wasn’t a place for speed, but it was definitely the place to see and be seen. The snow covered peaks and mountain sides were nothing short of spectacular, and the Carrera White Porsche GT3 looked like it was at home among them.
Angeles Crest Highway was officially closed at Islip Saddle, just beyond the infamous double tunnels, where countless YouTube exhaust videos are made and for good reason: It’s a dramatic, isolated location and the tunnels are long enough to get great footage. There was some standing water inside of them when I passed through, but I still found enough space to wind up the 3.8 Liters, and it sounded absolutely furious.
The sound of the exhaust echoing off of the hillsides and tunnel walls was to die for. I threw on my hat and gloves and drove in the cold with the windows down. The cruise through the snow will be remembered as one of my favorite drives: “The right car, in the right place, at the right time.”
Post Script: Coasting Home
One of the features of PDK that I wish every manufacturer would adopt is if you simultaneously pull and hold both paddles the transmission goes into neutral and resumes in the same gear once the paddles are released. It’s a simple thing that’s intuitive and convenient. It especially comes in handy when you’re low on gas and coasting down the mountains toward the nearest gas station. The computer said I had 60 miles of range left with 24 miles to the nearest gas station and I wasn’t interested in testing its accuracy. A casual descent felt good after such a demanding ascent. By the time I reached the bottom the estimated range had increased to nearly 80 miles.
Good to know.