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996.2 v 997.1 GT3

Passers-by seem impressed, if a little nonplussed as to why we’re photographing two seemingly identical 911 GT3s. But to Porsche aficionados the 996 and 997 generations actually represent two very different flavours of GT3, and spark lively debate. Today we’re comparing the last of the 996 GT3s with the first of the 997, putting the GT3’s first generational shift under the microscope and declaring a winner.

It’s now 20 years since Porsche released its first 911 GT3, a road car that was produced to homologate the racers. The arrival of Andreas Preuninger soon after saw ‘Mr GT3’ put his stamp on the 996 generation with the revised 996.2 GT3 of 2003. He had to wait for the subsequent 997 GT3 of 2006 to take ownership of a GT3 generation from the start. That car is now identified as a 997.1, differentiating it from the later 997.2 GT3.

Both 996.2 and 997.1 Porsche GT3s remain highly coveted sports cars today, and overlap in pricing – the bulk of 996.2 GT3s span £60,000 to £80,000, with 997.1 GT3s grabbing the baton at £70,000 and accelerating off to £90,000.

We’ve come to Porsche specialists Paragon in East Sussex to explore two excellent examples currently residing in stock. Paragon’s 996 has covered 37,000 miles and is up at £74,995. The 997, meanwhile, is yours for £84,995. Both have undergone significant prep work to lift them to Paragon’s standards.

Both are as road-spec as they come in Comfort trim – no roll cage, fire extinguisher or buckets – featuring stock six-piston brakes with no carbon-ceramics, and factory suspension specs including camber settings. You’re unlikely to find two fitter, more representative, more comparable examples.

I jump into the 996 for the 20-mile trip to our Beachy Head photo location for two reasons: I’ve had good seat time in 997 GT3s, but have only once driven a 996 GT3, and pretty briefly on track – this is the car I really need to get my head around. I’m also curious to see how different it is from my own 996 3.4 Carrera.

The GT3’s headline changes versus the Carrera included lower, stiffer suspension; deletion of the rear seats; slightly wider 18-inch alloys; uprated six-piston front brakes (four rear) and, most importantly, the completely different Mezger 3.6-litre flat six, here rated at 380bhp and 385Nm.

I’d expected a significantly more aggressive temperament than my own car, but that’s just not true. Yes, it bobbles a bit when driven slowly over imperfect urban tarmac, and you notice the more responsive front end, a little extra weight to the steering on initial turn-in and reduced body roll even at more moderate speeds, but it actually rides with generous compliance, and there’s no huge penalty in terms of road noise. More aggressive than a Carrera, of course, but potter about and I don’t think there’s a huge trade-off here.

Driven harder on the twists that course down to the coast from the top of Beachy Head, the 996 is sublime. The steering immediately loads up with weight to contextualise lateral forces loading through the suspension; its intimidating detail encourages you to hold the wheel gently to better let it breathe and communicate through your fingertips. 15 years on its ratio still feels perfectly quick enough, and the way the front end arcs into corners without delay remains strikingly immediate – there’s very little roll and waiting for mass to settle, no slack to work through to get the steering working.

For the full 996.2 v 997.1 GT3 head-to-head test, pick up your copy of Total 911 issue 177 in shops now or get it delivered to your door via here. You can also download a digital copy with high definition bonus galleries to any Apple or Android device.

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Porsche: the 996 story

The 996 was a revamp in the evolution of the 911 as suddenly, by 1997, Porsche’s icon was thrust headlong into the 21st century. Improvements were introduced, while much-loved quirks were expunged. Enthusiasts found it instantly familiar yet disconcertingly different. It still divides opinion today.

This guide details the evolution of the 996, from replacing the 993 in 1997 to being phased out by the 997 in 2004/2005. It includes the Cabriolet, Targa and Turbo, with the preceding feature having documented the GT cars. We’ll cover updates, specification changes and options added during the model’s lifetime, along with what to look for when buying one.

Our story starts in the mid-1990s. Porsche was in dire straits, haemorrhaging money with the threat of takeover looming (GM, Mercedes-Benz and Toyota were all interested, according to rumour). Times were tough, as 996 designer Pinky Lai told us in 2015: “The pressure and burden on my shoulders was bigger than the fate of the company: I had to deal with the fate of the 911!” A radical rethink was needed – and delivered.

Porsche flew in consultants from Japan to streamline its Zuffenhausen factory. The 911 would no longer be hand-built, but mass produced – it also merged design and development of the 996 with the new entry-level 986 Boxster, allowing both cars to share components. Cost savings of 30 per cent versus the outgoing 993 were quoted, a figure almost unheard of in the industry.

The 996 Carrera Coupe made its world debut at the 1997 Frankfurt Motor Show. Controversially, it bore more than a passing resemblance to the cheaper Boxster, being almost identical ahead of the A-pillar. Lai had spent many hours in a wind tunnel refining the car’s slippery shape and a Cd of just 0.30 was the result, down from 0.33 for the 993. An electric rear spoiler extends at 75mph, then retracts again at 37mph – Mr Lai recalls how he had to fight for the inclusion of the electrically operated rear spoiler to better manage downforce at high speeds, despite the company arguing there wasn’t enough money in the pot for this to be included. Thankfully Lai won through, and the active spoiler was included as standard in the final production specification.

More controversy lurked beneath the engine lid, though. Despite the protestations of purists, Porsche claimed the introduction of water cooling was vital to meet emissions and noise regulations. However, as 996 development chief Horst Marchart later acknowledged, cost was also a factor: “Nobody in the world had air-cooled engines except us… it took a lot of money to make special systems since we could not share technology with anyone else.”

At least the M96 motor was still a rear-mounted flat six. It displaced 3,387cc and produced 304hp at 6,800rpm, with 350Nm of torque at 4,600rpm. Four valves per cylinder featured for the first time in a mainstream 911, along with Porsche’s new Variocam adjustable camshaft timing to boost response. Headline stats were 0-62mph in 5.2 seconds and 174mph flat out. Buyers could choose a six-speed manual gearbox from Getrag or a five-speed Tiptronic auto from ZF, the latter offering clutchless manual shifts.

The 996 was 185mm longer and 30mm wider than its predecessor, with a 45 per cent stiffer chassis formed of high-strength steel. Impressively, it was 50kg lighter than a 993, too, despite the additional radiators, pumps and 20 litres of cooling water.

For the full feature on the evolution of the 996, pick up your copy of Total 911 issue 167 in shops now or get it delivered to your door. You can also download the issue to any Apple or Android device. Don’t forget you can also subscribe to ensure you never miss and issue. 

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Porsche 996: GT3 Genesis

GT3: the most evocative, desirable collection of letters and numbers as you can ask for to be tacked to the rump of a 911. Add RS into the mix and that’s even more so. The GT3, as its name and subsequent RS spin-off highlights, has its tyres firmly rooted in Porsche’s racing activities. It’s enough to elevate all the cars here above the usual rhetoric spewed about the once ‘undesirable’ 996, the GT3 badge signifying something very special indeed.

There are three GT3s in the 996 generation, the Gen1 available from 1998-2001, the Gen2 coming in 2003 until 2005, with the RS spun off that between 2004 and 2005. That Gen1 car is unique among GT3s, largely because it’s the only GT3 not to have a same-generation RS model based on it, the Gen1 being Porsche’s GT3 genesis.

It’s inconceivable that you’re reading this and don’t know at least the basics surrounding the GT3. Lighter, more engaging, its creation allowing homologation of parts to allow Porsche to race the 911 to great success around the world. Actually, with the original GT3 that lighter element is a misnomer, as put the Gen1 car on the scales and it’s carrying around 30kg more mass than its base 996 Carrera relation.

Blame that on the marginally heavier G96/90 gearbox and M96/76 engine, as well as an additional engine radiator. Porsche didn’t elect to go down the lightweight panels, thinner glass route with its first GT3 model, though it did bin the rear seats in a small – 8kg – concession to mass reduction, while Sport bucket seats removed around 20kg over the standard Carrera’s pews. As a means of recompense for the weight gain, the M96/76 engine, more commonly referred to in reverential tones as ‘the Mezger’, was fitted, its specification being pure motorsport, with lightened, stronger internals to cope with the stresses of winning competition.

And what compensation, the Le Mans-winning GT1-derived, naturally aspirated 3.6-litre flat six unit was rated at 360bhp at 7,200rpm – redlining at 7,800rpm – with peak torque of 370Nm. It’s a glorious engine with enough power to allow the GT3 to reach 62mph in 4.8 seconds, 100mph in 10.2 seconds and a quoted top speed of 187mph. But it isn’t the numbers that matter, really, rather how it delivers its performance. In Walter Röhrl’s hands the first GT3 lapped the Nürburgring in 7 minutes 56 seconds – isn’t it ridiculous to think how far things have come in under 20 years? Stopping all that are 330mm cross-drilled, inner-vented discs of 330mm in diameter, grabbed by four-piston monoblock callipers.

Getting into James Samuel’s yellow Gen1 car today demonstrates exactly what Porsche intended its customers to do with their GT3s: track them. Why else would Porsche include adjustable suspension with extended-axle geometry sitting 30mm lower than standard, an adjustable rear wing and the possibility to quickly (relatively speaking here, and if you’re a race mechanic) swap out gear ratios to suit differing tracks, as well as the synchro rings? To that Porsche added differing hubs, with 10mm larger bearings over the Carrera’s 70mm ones for the greater forces racing tyres would exert. Spherical top joints more rigidly position the front suspension, the same possible at the rear if you’re off racing, the GT department adding five alternative mountings at the back for the adjustable tubular anti-roll bars.

For the full feature, pick up your copy of Total 911 issue 167 in shops now or get it delivered to your door. You can also download a digital copy, featuring a bonus gallery, to your chosen Apple or Android device. 

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Porsche 991.2 GT3 RS: first drive verdict

Precision. That was the development goal with the new GT3 RS. You can’t have missed it, the Lizard Green launch colouring hardly retiring. Thing is, you could have written it off, Porsche’s GT department firing out new models at an unprecedented rate, the Gen I car still very fresh in the memory. The huge shadow cast by the GT2 RS is still around, too, so this GT3 RS has got some fighting to do.

Twenty-four seconds covers it, though. That’s how much quicker it goes around the Nurburgring over the old Gen I 991 GT3 RS. Works Porsche Racing Driver Kévin Estre took this new car around that stretch of challenging tarmac in a scarcely believable 6 minutes 56.4 seconds. That. Is. Bonkers.

Looking at the specification it’s difficult to see where the new car gains such an advantage, we’re used to new generations eking out 5-10 seconds, but 24 is night and day. Either Andreas Preuninger has an epic poker face, or he was surprised, too. On two separate occasions up to the launch he told us he was looking at around 7 minutes 5 seconds, with only 1 second or so improvement down to the 20hp the engine gains. There’s 520hp for the record, it basically the same unit as the GT3, only inhaling and exhaling differently via RS specific intake and exhaust systems.

Twenty hp is nothing, but the engine feels different. Faster, more immediate, more, damn it, precise. That’s true of every element of the GT3 RS’s make-up, the PDK shifting even more quickly, the electronic differential, the steering – both front and rear-axle systems, all having been finessed to create a greater unity. The suspension is key, it’s basically that of the GT2 RS, which means hugely increased spring rates, solid mountings, yet softer dampers and sway bars.

It’s the chassis that’s so revelatory, a racecar set-up that’s devastatingly effective on the road, bringing it riding with supple composure that’s remarkable, and control that’s unerring. It’s unfiltered and pure, without the interfering compromises in its predecessors that would ultimately demand that you wind back the speed. The steering is crisp, quick and perfectly weighted, the front axle so sharp, the rear faithful, too.

That the chassis is mated to such an intoxicating, screamer of an engine and rapid-fire transmission only enhances the whole, allowing its performance to be fully exploited. This is RS nirvana, and a remarkable, genuinely surprising step-change over its predecessor. Nobody ever called that a dull, uninvolving, slow car, and it isn’t, it’s just that the new one is better in every single way, demonstrably so. The precision development goal is key, moving the RS to a new level, 24 seconds to be precise. Like the specification though, it’s not about the numbers, it’s about how it feels, and this new RS feels little short of sensational.

For the full report and your most comprehensive first drive verdict anywhere in the world, pick up your copy of Total 911 issue 166, in shops May 16th.

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Porsche 991.2 GT3 RS: first look

It isn’t the most obvious place to unveil Porsche’s latest track-focussed, rear-wheel drive machine, but the Porsche Experience Centre, Finland is where Porsche has decided to give us an early look at the next 911 GT3 RS.

Indeed, we’re so early to see it, it has not yet been fully homologated, so all the figures aren’t available. What we can confirm is that all the rumours of a larger capacity, or even a turbocharged GT3 RS are exactly that – rumours. Indeed, the engine, intake, exhaust and electronic controls are lifted almost entirely from the GT3, so that’s a naturally-aspirated, 4.0-litre flat-six revving to 9,000rpm.

Those differences make for a slight increase in power, up from 500hp to 520hp, torque rising by around 10Nm, GT department boss Andreas Preuninger admitting that with the GT3 RS it’s not just about power, but tactility, feel and immediacy. That’s always the promise with an RS, and Preuninger’s team has gone to town to provide it. To achieve that they’ve concentrated on efficiencies, be it the way the GT3 RS shapes and utilises the air it forces through, the control of the suspension, electronic differential, response of the engine and the immediacy of the steering. Every element of the GT3’s make up has been analysed and enhanced in its transformation into the GT3 RS.

Borrowing heavily from its GT2 RS relation, its suspension is all but identical, so bushes are binned in preference of rose joints on every mount – barring the a single one for the rear-wheel steering. The spring and damper rates are essentially that of a 911 Cup car in Nürburgring trim, so there’s significantly enhanced spring rates over the GT3 – as much as double – yet a compliant ride due to the damper settings.

The most obvious carry-over from the GT2 RS is the GT3 RS’s NACA ducts on the bonnet. These, as per its turbocharged relation, not only force cooling air to the brakes, but tidy the airflow up and over the GT3 RS to its rear wing. That in turn is positioned a touch higher, allowing, in conjunction with revisions to the underbody management of the air, the GT3 RS to offer levels of downforce at least as much as if not slightly more than its predecessor, but without generating so much drag.

The top speed remains the same 193mph quoted for the Gen1 car, but that’s likely to be conservative, as is the 3.2 second 0-62mph time. As with the earlier GT3 RS, this Gen2 car will be PDK only, the gearbox, like every other element worked on with some specific RS additions. There are bigger bearings inside, as well as a revised shift strategy, which in conjunction with revisions to software controlling the differential, traction, stability and rear-wheel steering systems allow more speed to be created from the GT3 RS around a track.

How much it’ll manage around that track remains conjecture, as it’s yet to run against the clocks, but Preuninger is confident of a time of around 7 minutes 5 seconds or so. He’s quick to admit that from that sizeable gain only around one second is attributable to the increased performance from the engine, the rest down to the chassis, tyres and aerodynamic changes.

Of course, this wouldn’t be an RS without some mass reduction. It’ll cause some consternation among the detail statos out there, as it’s likely Porsche will quote a kerbweight that matches the outgoing car. That’s 1,420kg in case you need reminding. That, like Porsche’s typically conservative performance figures, isn’t entirely representative, as there’s been a change in the way it can legally homologate the weight, it no longer possible to do so with all the weight saving options on it – think options like PCCB carbon ceramic brakes, plus no air conditioning or radio.

The weight figure, then, is more representative of reality, though Porsche has shifted significant mass, not least 5kg from the interior alone. The biggest potential saving comes courtesy of the possibility of GT3 RS customers optioning the Weissach Pack, which apes that of the GT2 RS, including elements like carbon fibre roof and bonnet body panels as well as magnesium wheels and a titanium roll cage. Choose it and the mass drops by 29kg, though thanks to production delays with the magnesium wheels – which account for around 12.5kg of those weight savings – Porsche will offer the Weissach as a two-stage package, with early customer orders not able to have it with the magnesium wheels.

If you’re in the lucky enough position to have an order in for one you’ll be dropping £141,346 before you add any options – the Weissach Package adding around £21,000 to the GT2 RS, so it’s not likely to be any cheaper here. Like the previous RS, limitations in build capacity, rather than any cap on build numbers will likely mean that individual options like Paint to Sample aren’t offered to UK buyers, in a bid to secure a greater portion of the production availability, though we’re rather taken by the Lizard Green launch colour Preuninger picked for the latest car to wear the RS badge. It’s also good to see the over GT3 RS script making a return, just in case you needed reminding this is something rather special indeed.

 

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