Issue 27 | Best of the Breed

Matt tries out the two ultimate 997.1 911s back to back to find if it’s the pure driving tool or the ballistic powerhouse which reigns supreme.

Written by: Matt Parker

There are days which are better than others, and then there are days which will stick with you for a long time to come – today was very much the latter. Our friends at John Holland just happened to have the two ultimate variants off the 997 Gen I Porsche 911 in stock – GT2 and GT3 RS – and said that we could take them both for the day for a back to back feature. Sounds like the stuff of dreams for a self-confessed Porsche nut like myself!

I already had an idea in my head of how the two would compare. I thought the GT2 would be brutally quick but ultimately that the GT3 RS would be the better handling, more exciting machine with its screaming naturally aspirated engine.

Enough theorising though, it’s time to get behind the wheel of the two ultimate iterations of the 997.1 generation 911. After much deliberating and a bit of eeny, meeny, miny, moe, I decide to start with the GT2 – the one they call ‘The Widowmaker’.

Both cars have big presence but the GT2 is more one of those ‘if you know, you know’ cars in subtle silver, whereas the GT3 RS shouts about its racing roots with orange stickers and a big carbon fibre wing. As you’d expect, both cars have bucket seats and roll cages but the GT3 RS is once again the more full-on machine, sporting six-point harnesses as well as the standard red seat belts.

Anyone who has driven a regular 911 will feel at home behind the wheel of the GT2, it’s all very familiar apart from the upright carbon-backed bucket seats and the Alcantara steering wheel and gear lever. Things start to change, though, as soon as you press the clutch to start the car. It’s so much heavier than that of a Carrera and that theme continues as you grab first gear and turn the wheel, every control having a considerable and pleasing heft to it.

Once you get used to the weight of the controls, though, the GT2 is as docile as any other 911 at cruising speeds. In the PASM adaptive dampers’ soft setting, the ride is firmer than a Carrera but nothing like you’d imagine from a track-focussed Porsche, even over the crumbling roads of South Yorkshire. Firm mode is best saved for a billiard table track.

At any speed, the gearbox is the best I’ve ever used and is perfectly befitting of the rifle bolt cliche. Getting onto the M1 for a short stretch, I glanced in my mirror and, slightly obscured by the GT2’s big wing, Adam was on my tail in the GT3 RS – “This is going to be a good day!”, I thought.

As if the standard GT2’s reputation isn’t fearsome enough, this particular one has been remapped too. I’m not sure of the exact power output, but John Holland suggests it’s in excess of 600bhp, up from the standard car’s 530. Torque is well in excess of 500lb ft all the way from 2,200 to 4,500rpm, so it makes sense that it gives you quite the thump in the back.

Since we were on a four-lane motorway, it seemed the right time to dip my toe into the GT2’s infamous power, so I dropped down to third, tentatively wound my way onto full throttle and “Oh. My. God.” The force with which the car thrusted forward and pinned me in my seat really took me back, and it would continue to do so every time I got anywhere near the boost for the rest of the day.

As we escape the motorway onto some more Porsche-appropriate roads, I decide to try my hand at second gear for the first time. Starting from around 2,500rpm, there is some hesitation as those turbos awaken but then all hell breaks loose. The rear hunkers down, pushing the sticky Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2s into the tarmac. They scramble about for grip and the front end wants to move across the road as it lifts under the massive torque. It’s evident you’d need a lot of room to really exploit a GT2, but on the road, you just hold on for dear life and laugh out loud until your lungs hurt.

The GT2 exceeded all expectations and I’ve never driven anything quite as unhinged, so I wondered if it might be a bit of a let down when the time came to swap to the surgeon’s scalpel after Thor’s hammer.

There isn’t a lot of noise beyond the endless whoosh of the turbos, but you’re so busy focussing on taming the beast that it doesn’t seem to matter. In fact, I actually like how it just sounds of pure power, even if it’s a little quiet.

Once you’ve scrubbed off your mostly likely serious speed with the massively effective carbon ceramic brakes, turn in is sharp and the car is beautifully composed through corners as you gather your thoughts together and wonder if you’re feeling ready to deploy the mad power again on exit.

A wonderfully old-school character shines through in the GT2. It’s heavily turbocharged motor and mechanical manual box give it a modern F40 kind of feel in that you wait for the turbos, ride a wave of brutal boost, grab the next gear and the process starts all over again. It’s addictive, hilarious and frankly pretty scary in equal measure!

The GT2 exceeded all expectations and I’ve never driven anything quite as unhinged, so I wondered if it might be a bit of a let down when the time came to swap to the surgeon’s scalpel after Thor’s hammer. There’s only one way to find out!

After hoisting myself out of the GT2’s carbon buckets, I drop into those of the GT3 RS and it’s much of the same inside, which is no bad thing. The bucket seats are slightly different and the roll cage is even more serious looking being bright orange in the rear-view mirror! I take the lazy approach, opting for the regular seatbelts rather than faffing with the harnesses as Adam did to make himself feel like a proper racing driver as we carved our way around the Pennines.

Before we go, I have the words of the guys at John Holland ringing in my ear that this GT3 RS has a flawless rev range report and has never been over-revved by a missed shift or grabbing the wrong gear even once in its ten-year life – best be careful then!

The naturally aspirated 3.6-litre Mezger flat six is noticeably louder than the twin-turbocharged unit in the GT2. Many people wax lyrical about the Mezger motor which has now been replaced by a new direct injection engine in the more recent 991 GT3 and it’s easy to see why. It’s the most mechanical sounding engine I’ve ever encountered; in fact, the single mass flywheel means that there’s an almost alarming amount of chatter at idle with the clutch released but it’s all part of the charm.

Once moving, reach around 3,000rpm and give it enough throttle and the valves open, releasing the most pure motorsport soundtrack I’ve heard in a road car, howling through the car and screaming up to its 8,400rpm redline. 

There’s noticeably less shove than the GT2, especially low down; the GT3 makes you work for its power but the rewards are more than worth it. 409bhp might not sound like a lot when you’ve just experienced 600 plus, but it’s so usable that you find yourself making just as much progress as you would in the more powerful car, flowing beautifully along a winding road where you’d be clinging on in The Widowmaker.

The car feels even more tied down than the GT2 and much more exploitable for mere mortals with its linear power band and incredible traction. Even as the rain started to fall and Adam was on the radio telling me that the GT2 was trying to kill him, the GT3 RS could put its full power down, even on the same Michelin semi-slicks as the GT2.

Maybe that unshakeable competence of the GT3 RS means there’s less of a learning curve than in the challenging and intimidating GT2 – I feel like mastering the GT2 would be quite a bit of work but a massively rewarding achievement!

They’re such different cars that you’d hardly believe they come from the same base model, only really feeling similar in their solid controls and refreshingly back to basics feeling when compared to the latest supercars. That’s where the similarities between the two cars’ driving experiences end, though. 

The GT3 RS is a car you flow with down a country road, carrying speed before getting on the power early and winding it out all the way to redline to get the most from the motor and surround yourself with that glorious motorsport soundtrack. The GT2 needs to be shown much more respect; you can still carry plenty of speed through the twisties, but you need some patience with the throttle. Once you’re sure the road is straight you can wind onto the throttle and feel the boost build, and keep building. The whoosh of the turbos is the only noise that accompanies you but it’s such an intense experience, unlike any car I’ve ever driven.

When you look at the market, both cars have not far off doubled in value in the last five years and both are asking at least 25% more than when they left the factory ten years and almost thirty thousand miles ago. There isn’t a huge gap in their prices today either at £129,00 for the GT3 RS and £149,000 for the GT2. The skyrocketing of Porsche sports cars seems to have inevitably come to an end, but both cars will surely represent a solid place to keep your money while you enjoy driving them. The GT3 RS looks particularly stunning value to me when you try to find comparable cars for similar money.

The fact is, they don’t make them like this anymore. Sure Porsche will now sell you a brand new GT3 with a manual transmission but there’s a compactness and an almost old-school back to basics feeling both of these cars give you that seems to have escaped from almost all modern sports and supercars. There’s no fake exhaust or intake noise and no computer programmed pops and crackles, just pure, mechanical noises that will never get old.

Which would I have? If you really pushed me to make a choice, the GT3 RS would be the one for its more exploitable performance and glorious noise. Really though, these two 911s complement each other so perfectly that, if you have the means, you really do need both. If they were mine, I’d drive the GT3 RS most of the time, but for the odd morning when I’d taken a full pack of brave pills, nothing could quite compare to the GT2.

For a Porsche fanatic like myself, days don’t get much better than this and we owe a massive thank you to John Holland for letting us loose with two of the ultimate Porsche 911s.