The Sepang circuit has become a familiar stomping ground. We have lost count of how many times we have been there to cover track and ground events from launches to “Car X Driving Experiences”. Substitute “Car X” with any number of brands from Honda, Toyota, Audi, Mercedes-Benz, Lamborghini, Ferrari or BMW.
And just like that, a whole day passes by.
At times like these, it’s an occasion to drive the guts out of each car, yet remain mindful to stay within the limits of one’s own capability.
Earlier this month, Porsche’s regional headquarters in Singapore organised a drive for the media and its customers at Sepang to show off the Porsche 911 GT3 and the more powerful Turbo S as a foil.
This was a re-enactment of the event in February where our writer, Rizal Johan, was supposed to try both cars but instead went with the Turbo S and Carrera 4S after the GT3 drive was axed following a global recall over an engine fire risk.
A total of 785 of the 2014 GT3s around the world were reportedly affected. Porsche has since identified the cause, replaced all engines and declared the problem solved. We were reassured no one would be toast that day.
Porsche says 80% of GT3 owners take their cars to the track. As a track-oriented road car, the GT3 is strictly a two-seater unlike the Turbo S a 2+2 coupe, that is relatively more “practical”, more powerful and exhibit a wider dynamic range as a high performance car.
The GT3 cabin is dominated by Alcantara, leather and parts in Galvano Silver as well as brushed aluminium.
Alcantara is easy to grip and maintain, hence it’s mainly found on touchpoints like the steering wheel rim and gear lever.
A 4.6-inch colour display forms part of the five-dial instrument cluster with rev meter in dominant spot, providing the driver with data from the on-board computer, including average speed and fuel consumption, fuel range and outside temperature, and allows him to view data from the stopwatch of the optional Sport Chrono package.
A 7-inch infotainment screen is centrally located on the dash.
The Sport Chrono Package comprises an analogue and digital stopwatch on the dashboard. In conjunction with Porsche Communication Management (PCM), Sport Chrono Package functionality is enhanced with a performance display and the ability to display, store and evaluate recorded lap times.
Build quality is, as expected, stellar.
You sit low and deep in the bucket seats that are snug and comfortable, partly to offset the hard ride.
Rearward view, however, is marred by the huge spoiler.
Among the 911s, long considered the quintessential sports car, the GT3 is ranked a few pegs below the top dog – the Turbo S. One is RM1.23mil; the other is RM1.75mil. At such stratospheric prices, the owners of such cars demand nothing but the best in handling and performance.
While both are adept at the essentials as sports cars go, they differ in some ways.
The GT3 sits lower, is slightly bigger and comes with a GT3-specific 7-speed gearbox designed for rapid-fire shifting in tune with the rigours of track use.
The dual-clutch transmission’s depth of skill might even surprise those who have been rueing the absence of a 6-speed manual.
There’s also a raft of aerodynamic mods to keep the car light, agile and fast – front spoiler, underbody panel, huge active rear spoiler and 20-inch forged aluminium wheels form part of the go-fast implements. At 1,430kg, the GT3 is also 175kg lighter than the Turbo S.
It has for the first time active rear-wheel steering that turns rear wheels slightly in or out; this improves manoeuvrability at low speeds and stability (together with massive rear spoiler) at high speeds. The 3.8-litre flat-six enginein the rump is a piece of engineering marvel.
Based on the current 911 Carrera’s powerplant, much of it is altered to effectively make it a new engine.
It’s high revving – up to 9,000 rpm - and Porsche has managed to squeeze 475hp and 440Nm out of the naturally aspirated direct fuel injected engine.
Power peaks at 8,250rpm, while maximum torque is dialled in at 6,250 rpm.
All these tech wizardry ultimately come together to decide how well the car handles and drives.
Get the GT3 quickly up to speed and you will discover it’s nimble, powerful, aurally intoxicating and is what a sports car should be.
Porsche says the GT3 can go from 0-100kph in 3.5s; there no reason to doubt as it’s helluva quick on take-off.
We managed to hit 240kph in the long straight before having to stomp hard on the brakes – splendid stoppers, we might add - as the next corner loomed rapidly into view.
The 7-speed Porsche Doppelkupplung dual-clutch transmission (PDK) offers lightning quick shifts that are seamless and gear changes up or down are smooth and imperceptible.
The new PDK, revised specially for the GT3, is so good that we didn’t give the paddle shifters a second thought.
Stable and assured, the GT3 took corners like a champ.
Only once did the tail give way but that was quickly corrected with counter steering.
The thing is the GT3 tunes you in to when tyres are at the limit and gives you fair warning to recover and stabilise the car before it’s too late.
Improving cornering are Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres that are tenacious grippers.
Handling and steering are remarkable, with the steering feel well-weighted and delivering communicative feedback on what the rubbers are doing.
The power is accessible across a wide band, starting low down and ramping up the heavier the right foot presses down.
At full pelt, the engine sings a song drivers crave – from a low rumble-cum-sputter to a race-worthy wail.
No piped-in synthetic stuff here; this is the real deal.
It’s a heady concoction of power, speed, sound and handling that delivers a stirring performance deserving of a standing ovation.
In contrast, the Turbo S comes across as less raw, more refined but with even more power, the better to haul a heavier body around.
The bi-turbo 3.8-litre Turbo S is a little quicker than the GT3 in the 0-100kph sprint while the difference in top speed is marginal – Turbo S at 318kph and GT3 at 315kph.
Make no mistake. The 560hp/700Nm Turbo S can run rings around most car sand still tickle the brain’s pleasure centre, showing definitively it’s a 911 at heart.
All the elements that makes a fine sports car are there – speed, cornering prowess, agility, traction and keen feedback accompanied by that seductive exhaust note.
The GT3 fills a niche, while the Turbo S caters to a wider playing field, answering the need for high performance and a car for everyday use.
While Porsche will say the GT3 can be used on a day to day basis, it’s not as comfortable on account of the hard ride and the lower ground clearance.
Word is an even more extreme version, the GT3 RS, is round the corner.
We reckoned the GT3 is going to be stashed away on most days of the year, seeing track duty every now and then when its owner is in the mood.
On regular days, he would be seen using a luxury sedan/SUV to work or as the vehicle of choice for a family weekend holiday out of town.
Now tell us if this isn’t a more plausible scenario.