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Top six modified 911 builders on the planet

Porsche’s 911 was made to be customised, and some are doing it better than others. Total 911 investigates six companies renowned for their work on different generations of the venerable Neunelfer, looking at what makes them special – and what we can expect for 2020…

#1: Theon Design

“90 per cent of that car people will never see, but the same level of attention to detail goes right the way through it,” says Adam Hawley, founder of Theon Design. I’ve not seen much of it: photographer Ali Cusick’s seconded Theon’s 911, parked it in a darkened garage and is playing with long exposures. What I did see of it when I arrived looked pretty special, though. 

Backdates, reimagined, recreations – call them what you like – there’s no shortage of companies that can build you one. Hawley’s only too aware of that; indeed, there are a good number within a half-hour drive of Theon’s Deddington base in Oxfordshire, UK. 

What makes Theon different, then? Hawley’s background, for one – he dropped a successful career in car design to set up Theon. The reasoning was as simple as it is brave: a 911 fan from childhood, he wanted to improve them, and on that which was on offer from others, using his training and experience as a car designer. Given the established competition that’s not an inconsiderable undertaking, but the first customer car here, which heads to Germany in a couple of days, looks pretty sensational

The precision and finish of the car is in sharp contrast to the surroundings. Theon rents space in a farm, the workshop crammed full of evidence of the prototyping that Hawley and his team have worked on over the past couple of years.

His team all have previous form in building 911s, Theon’s location coming in helpful in that regard, this part of the UK the automotive epicentre for the sort of craftsmen and women Hawley needs to execute his vision. 

Upstairs in Hawley’s office there’s no hiding his design background – there are CAD models on the computer screen demonstrating this 911 build uses the most up-to-date methods and technology. There’s evidence too of prototype parts, with some naked front and rear bumpers, constructed from carbon fibre and weighing just 1.3kg each, sat on top of some boxes.

Hawley’s background was centred around rapid prototyping and CAD 3D design, and Theon approaches each build in the same way he did when he was involved in creating concept cars and interiors for a variety of global car brands. 

“We approach it from a design angle,” says Hawley. By that you can read, ‘meticulous, to the point of obsession’. Much like an engineer, then, a designer will never be satisfied, but there’s absolutely nowhere to hide when it’s visual, Hawley admitting that he’s determined to make his builds perfect. That detail-driven eye has seen Theon build its own bucks to shape the wings, which are 3D scanned and checked to make sure they’re exactly symmetrical.

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Why Does The Porsche Carrera T Exist, Anyway?

It might look like a base 911, but it inherits a slew of minor performance adders to change its character completely.

Simplified, straightforward, and incredibly well-engineered, the Carrera T offers both the purist and the tech-sensitive engineer no shortage of qualities to admire. Incredible ergonomics, stellar visibility, a direct steering system, good power, and a wonderful compromise for everyday usage make this Carrera T perfect for the discreet, discerning owners out there.

The Spirit

It’s obviously sharper and more focused than the base 911, but more subdued and more affordable than the riotous GT3. With more emphasis on driving pleasure, the Carrera T’s seven-speed manual engages the driver with a slick shift, perfect pedal location, and wonderfully informative steering. Perhaps the steering doesn’t writhe in your hands quite like that of the air-cooled cars, but the feedback is enough to encourage any driver over a bumpy backroad, which is perhaps where it’s at its best.

The Powerplant

Compliant enough for the imperfections of the real world, but stiff enough to give the car a definite sense of purpose, it is one of the best for everyday usage. That’s reinforced by the retention of the standard 3.0-liter, 375-horsepower engine. Perhaps it’s wrong to say it feels normally aspirated since the torque hits its peak figure at 1,900 rpm, but it doesn’t have a violent surge which prevents the driver from leaning on the car through canyon roads. Linear and responsive, this turbocharged motor doesn’t feel turbocharged, and that makes it more engaging than some of the punchier powerplants higher up the lineup. Plus, with shorter gear ratios, it’s far from sluggish; with the sports exhaust as standard, it’s not hushed or muted like you might expect a turbocharged motor in a lesser model might be.

Its simplistic appearance belies its focused, friendly, and very satisfying character.

The Verdict

It may lack the outrageous performance and cachet of the GT lineup, but think of the practicality, the added engagement, and the amount of performance which most people can realistically appreciate. With less power and lower limits, it isn’t quite as intimidating as some of the faster members of the 911 family, and that is part of why it’s a wonderful machine. Is it a GT3 Lite? Not quite, but it does reflect some of that less-is-more mentality which made the old air-cooled cars so involving. As that sense of simplicity is something which seems less important every year, the Carrera T is a reminder of what really matters in a usable sports car.

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Walter Röhrl Picks His Top Five Porsche Rally Cars

Beware, dear reader, as this is a video that requires some reading. When discussing something as dear to his heart as rally cars, Herr Röhrl tends to stick with his native German. Though the video is in German, the visual language of Porsche racing cars transcends the spoken word, and Herr Röhrl has brought some icons for the latest Top 5 video.

What is striking about this set of cars is its diversity. Among them are a Paris-Dakar competitor, a Transsyberia rally competitor, two German rally championship cars, and a top-level WRC car optimized for a single event. It’s a curious bunch, and really highlights the breadth of Porsche’s competition talents.

Several of the choices are icons in their own rights. The 953 debuted the 959’s all-wheel drive system and won the 1984 Paris-Dakar, the featured 924 Carrera GT was Walter’s personal car in the 1981 German rally championship, and the 911SC Safari set the stage for countless 911 Safari tributes.

The other two warrant consideration on their own. The Cayenne Transsyberia is the only factory-supported Cayenne racer, and won the 7,000-kilometer Transsyberia rally two years on the trot- in its second outing Cayennes claimed the top six positions. As a sort of halfway-house between the Cayenne S and GTS equipped for long-distance rallying, it’s a pretty special machine.

The car which clinched Walter’s top position is one which he apparently had not driven prior to filming the video. Though at first glance it appears to be a 997 GT3, it is in fact a 996 GT3 fitted with a 997 front clip, and which competes in the German rally championship driven by a husband and wife team. It’s a compelling entry on the list, as it shows that rallying a Porsche is not just for those with factory support, and the car sounds glorious.

Of course Herr Rohrl’s Top 5 is not a comprehensive list. What are your favorite Porsche rally cars? For me it’s a close pick between the Monte Carlo-winning 911Ts of 1968, and Reneé Binkerhoff’s perennially-competitive 356A.

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This Rally-Spec 996 GT3 is a Handful and a Half

With interesting headlight covers in place, the front of this 996 could be mistaken for its successor.

Ruben Zeltner may have more modern rally cars in his stable, but his white 996 GT3, kindly nicknamed « Zebra, » still makes regular appearances at German hillclimbs and rally events. At this year’s ADAC Rallye Köln-Ahrweiler, an 87-mile-long rally outside of Cologne, the two-time Germany rally champion brought his trusty 996 to cover the fourteen stages. With Hellmar Hellenberg calling course notes, the pair won the event with a time of 1:16.50.4; besting four-wheel drive Audi Quattros and Mitsubishi Lancer Evolutions in the process. With all the talent on display, it’s not hard to see how.

He grabs the car by the scruff of its neck and uses the pendulum effect to help it rotate through quick switchbacks. Then, with a tug of the hydraulic handbrake, he pitches the car into hairpins (1:34) and fires out of them with minimal oversteer. Zeltner « bends » this frantic and agile 996 around treacherous spots of country road in the measured sort of way which would impress Walter Rohrl.

Zeltner deftly manages the weight hanging over the GT3’s rear axle to pivot it through technical switchbacks without much steering effort.

In the faster sections, Zeltner needs to manage a lot of oversteer, but the stellar traction always keeps it moving forward. Note how it dances nicely over the dirtier stretch of road (1:59) with a little shimmy after the gearchange. Even though the GT3’s rear is not completely planted, that rear grip is a very reassuring thing to have when traveling at these speeds with no runoff anywhere in sight.

Combine that impressive traction with a punchy Mezger’s 400 horsepower, sent through closely stacked gears of a sequential gearbox, and the GT3 accelerates like turbocharged four wheel-drives—albeit with a lot more style and slip angle.

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Porsche Nets A Double Podium In An Uncharacteristically Docile Macau Grand Prix Weekend

The Macau Grand Prix weekend is always on my list of must-watch racing action every year when it rolls around. The tight street circuit usually produces some extremely close and tight action, particularly among the GT3 class. This race draws teams and manufacturer support from all over the world, with some of the greatest drivers duking it out in a pair of short sprint races over the course of two days. Porsche sent a trio of factory drivers to run the race.

Kevin Estre suffered a poor weekend with a bad finish in the qualifying race, and a huge shunt in Sunday’s main which saw his GT3R’s left rear wheel separated from the chassis.

Up at the front, however, it was Porsche’s Earl Bamber and Laurens Vanthoor all over the bumper of the leading Mercedes. In both Saturday’s qualifying race and Sunday’s main it was like this, the two ROWE racing Porsches with two of Porsche’s best racers running in lock step right behind the lead. The tight circuit, combined with a couple of poorly timed full course yellow flags meant that neither could mount a serious effort to make a pass stick.

Saturday’s short 9-lap qualifying race ran like this for the entirety of the event, with Marciello’s Mercedes leading over Vanthoor and Bamber. Never more than a few feet separating the three cars.

Sunday’s 18-lap race had slightly more drama, but not enough to really write home about. Following the safety car period, the BMW M6 of Augusto Farfus got an excellent restart and made an excellent pass on Bamber for 3rd, pulling out of a slipstream to make a drag along the main straight to stick a nose under. It didn’t last long, however, as a tight corner caught out the leading Mercedes, which caused both Vanthoor and Farfus to check up. With exquisite foresight Bamber was able to get third back from Farfus with a great down-the-inside move.

 

It was not shown during the broadcast, but a handful of laps later Bamber passed Vanthoor up into second. I don’t know for certain, but it looked very much to me like the team asked Vanthoor to cede the position to allow a slightly quicker Bamber to fight at the front with the Mercedes. Bamber was pushing his car very hard, as you can see by this very light brush with the wall which cost him the driver’s side mirror on the car. Somehow he managed to escape without clipping his rear wing off.

On the final lap Bamber got very close to the leader, close enough in fact to give him a big shove with his front bumper at the hairpin corner. It was a close fight, but Bamber knew that he could not get the win. In a completely gentlemanly move, he then slowed on the final straight to give Vanthoor his earned second-position finish back to him.

Porsche put up a good fight, but ultimately didn’t have quite enough to make any proper efforts to pass. It was a slightly staid procession this year, but still worth watching for some great racers making some great moves. If you want to see the whole GT3 class weekend play out, you can watch it all on Motorsport.TV. Here’s the qualifying race, and here’s Sunday’s final. Check it out!

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