Ingram's Flat Spot On: Porsche's greatest car ever?

Ingram's Flat Spot On: Porsche's greatest car ever?

Ingram's Flat Spot On Porsche's Greatest Car Ever? by Jonathan Ingram As the sun floated ever higher like a giant orange overlooking the green groves of central Florida's most famous citrus crop, the scenic route of U.S. 17 unfurled with nary...


Ingram's Flat Spot On


Porsche's Greatest Car Ever?
by Jonathan Ingram

As the sun floated ever higher like a giant orange overlooking the green groves of central Florida's most famous citrus crop, the scenic route of U.S. 17 unfurled with nary another vehicle in sight. With only the lustrous roar of a two-stage intake manifold behind me, I booted the Porsche GT3 into fifth gear but knew getting close to the car's potential wasn't going to happen even on this open road.

Porsche GT3: writer Jonathan Ingram's ride at Sebring.
Photo by Mike Jensen.

The listed top speed of the GT3 is over 190 mph, a limit better reserved for such confines as the Sebring International Raceway, where I was headed to cover the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring. After arrival at the track, I carefully put the GT3 into the media parking lot by giving the front end 1.3 inches of additional height with the car's onboard pneumatic assist for the transition from the asphalt access road into the sand. I found an open space, shut off the 3.8-liter, water-cooled flat six, regretfully climbed out and closed the door.

So there you have my disclaimer. Porsche provided me one of its supercars from the vehicles it regularly loans out to the media for evaluation. And now I'm going to sing the company's praises, because of Porsche's ongoing contributions to motor racing as well as its extraordinary road cars. The ride in the GT3 was an excellent reminder.

When Porsche AG made its landmark statement in the fall of 1998 that signaled a review of its motorsports policy, few realized at the time the announcement was the forerunner of arguably one of the greatest race cars ever built. And, the car wasn't even mentioned in the media release!

The statement made it clear Porsche would not defend its over-all victory at Le Mans by the Porsche GT1-98 -- which was based on the rules of at least one road-going car. Instead, the factory said that pursuing motor racing with cars relevant to its road machines and appealing to racing customers would be the primary criteria, not the full-blown prototypes that were soon to become the top category once again at the great French race.

(For the cynics in the crowd, I don't subscribe to the theory that Porsche retreated in order to open the door at Le Mans for Audi. In the long view of history, one might say that Porsche pursued a more lucrative path with the GT3 as part of an over-all strategy of becoming the world's most profitable car company as well as a leader in road car engineering.)

The following June of 1999, the first Porsche GT3-R appeared at Le Mans and blew away the rather meager competition in the GT class while being fielded for the factory by Manthey Racing. Although the goal might have been the defeat of the GTS class 8.0-liter Vipers by a car with less than half of the displacement, the GT3-R introduction was a success. It was also the foundation of the new GT category created by Le Mans for normally aspirated cars taken directly from road-going vehicles.

For its entry, Porsche adapted the 911's used in the Supercup to create the GT3 road car for purposes of homologation. Demand, it turned out, exceeded supply. The GT3, available in the U.S. since 2004, has been part of the 911 line-up ever since. From that start, Porsche has produced a series of normally aspirated, water-cooled GT3's for the track under the R, RS and RSR nomenclature as well as a series of 911 GT3 Cup cars, which are taken almost directly from the GT3 RS street machines.

Since its introduction, one could argue that the GT3 and all its iterations have been more successful than the Audi R8 or Porsche's own 917 or 956/962 if class victories and longevity are considered. The car may not have won as many major races over-all, but the GT3 has had its share of incredible triumphs, including over-all 24-hour wins at the Daytona 24-hour as well as at Spa and the Nurburgring. What sets the GT3 apart, ultimately, is that over 1,400 race cars have been sold to customers -- in addition to the road-going GT3 and GT3 RS, where demand by consumers generally exceeds supply.

But arguing what makes for a great race car -- a very, very profitable one that makes customers happy maybe should be at the top of the list -- is a proposition for another day.

By actively pursuing the GT category established by Le Mans for road-going vehicles, Porsche pretty much single-handedly laid the groundwork for the category that is now flourishing. BMW, Corvette, Ferrari and Jaguar have subsequently joined the class now known as GT2 (where a privateer Ford GT can be found and where a Viper and Panoz once roamed). Road racing in North America is better off as a result.

There are other approaches in addition to the American Le Mans Series that raced at Sebring. The FIA GT has its category that suits the Porsche GT3 as does the Grand-Am, where the Cup cars race against tube-frame specials. The GT3's continue as mainstays at such events as the 24-hours of Spa and Nurburgring. There are entire series for the GT3 Cup cars as well as the GT Challenge category that now runs in the ALMS. The Supercup still rolls prior to F1 events.

Just when this iconic car seemed to become part of the scenary and is taken for granted, along comes the Porsche GT3-R Hybrid. Here's a car that will change the landscape on both the road and on the track. It's likely to become the primogenitor of the idea that speed, performance, low emissions and higher fuel mileage can be part of the same package.

It remains to be seen, but I wouldn't be surprised to see one of the GT3-R Hybrids at Sebring in the 12-hour as early as next year. If a car equipped with a 40,000 RPM flywheel that rides on the floor next to the driver and is driven in part by two electric motors at the front wheels can survive the heat and uneven surface at Sebring, it can survive Le Mans and abuse on the roads by consumers. It can't be taken for granted, however, that more moving parts, more electronic management, greater heat and increased weight will be easily adapted for racing.

For current consumers, the 2010 GT3 -- the second produced from the 997 version of the 911 -- pushes the envelope in various directions. The boost derived from increasing the displacement from 3.6 liters to 3.8 is roughly 20 horsepower, pushing the total up to 435. The self-adjusting rear engine mounts, meanwhile, add some suppleness to the suspension in normal highway use, especially when compared to the GT3 RS, which always feels a bit shackled by highway driving. (Greater demand, on the other hand, stiffens the GT3's motor mounts.)

When it rains cats, dogs, mackerel and trout as often happens in central Florida, the GT3's 19-inch wheels incorporated under wider bodywork and the improved aerodynamics means you can travel with perfect assurance in difficult conditions without losing time.

In addition to outstanding handling and power that can be applied to a race course or autocross by simply switching off the automatic traction control and Porsche Active Suspension Management, there's the sound of motor racing. The GT3 is very nicely appointed in leather. But sound deadening would require additional weight, which would increase an impressive ratio of seven pounds per horsepower. So the engine noise is always with you.

But that can be good when you have to close the doors and walk away.

Jonathan Ingram can be reached at jonathan@jingrambooks.com.

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