Let it be known that I wasn’t that fussed when the PDK automatic-only ‘991’ 911 GT3 first made itself known to the world. There was much weeping and gnashing of teeth in camp Porsche purist, but to me it made sense. This, after all, was a car most at home on the track - a borderline race car with number plates.
As much as I love changing gears myself with one of those increasingly rare sticks poking out from between the front seats, a snappy dual-clutch automatic seemed the right transmission in a car with trick aero and rear-axle steering to get your track day lap times shaved down.
But, there’s now an updated, ‘991.2’ version, and guess what: it’s available with a God damn six-speed manual gearbox. A modified version of the transmission from the 911 R no less, with the single-mass flywheel swapped to a dual mass version.
Naturally, I’ve been keen to find out exactly what this beast is like, which is why I currently find myself sat behind the wheel of a pre-production Racing Yellow 991.2 GT3 in the pit lane of Circuito Gaudix, complete with the six-speeder. Oh, and there’s an GT Silver GT3 just in front, with a certain chap called Walter Rohrl in the driver’s seat. Time for a game of follow the leader.
I don’t have masses of track experience, but I’ve done enough of these sort of things to know the score: the car ahead will build up the pace slowly, with the pro driver giving pointers over the radio from time to time. But Mr Rohrl ain’t got time for that.
His GT3 belts onto the track like a hyper greyhound launching out of the starting trap, and I’ve no chance to ponder how far from being an ‘average Thursday’ this is. It’s time to put my foot down and try my damnedest to keep up with a World Rally Championship legend who doesn’t want to hang around and wait for some noob to catch up. The radio remains silent.
I’ve a vague idea of how the small but tricky track goes thanks to some - unintentionally very sideways - laps when the circuit was damp this morning, but now it’s all dry, I finally have a chance to see what the GT3 can do. The chicane’s the first challenging part of the track to tackle, and the GT3 turns in with such speed and enthusiasm that I’m taken aback. It has an amazing front end, this thing (better than ever thanks to a stiffer front suspension setup), and the rear axle steering makes it feel a damn sight smaller than it actually is when being chucked around.
On the way out of the chicane, I’m treated to flawless traction shooting me toward the next corner with vigour. The Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2s weren’t quite so happy to oblige earlier during the more lubricated conditions, I can tell you.
A fast right-hander shows off the car’s vast reserves of lateral grip, and incredible balance. How can no one else make a sports car anywhere near this sodding good?
Walter’s a corner ahead, but close enough for me to spot his lines and braking points. He’s gracious enough to lift on the main straight to give me a fighting chance, and which point I row through a few gears on the six-speed manual, while exploiting what the ‘box is attached to: a 4.0-litre, naturally-aspirated flat-six.
That’s right: gone is the old 3.8-litre, replaced with a bigger, more powerful engine. Don’t let the displacement fool you: although the bore and stroke matches the wondrous 4.0-litre unit in the GT3 RS, it’s not the same engine. Instead, Porsche has dumped in something which is “virtually a carbon copy” of the flat-six in the 911 GT3 Cup car. Yep, an actual flipping racing car engine, and with 497bhp on tap, it’s the most powerful N/A six-banger Porsche has ever bunged into one of its road-going products.
As well as being more powerful than the RS engine, it revs 200rpm higher. It’s been a while since I last drove an RS, but it certainly feels more eager too.
Putting your foot down at anything over 5000rpm throws you back in your expensive optional carbonfibre seat, beckoning a wave of linear-delivered fury and noise. God, it sounds good - I’d be happy enough shifting up at the 8250rpm peak power mark, but the delicious din gets even better during the shriek of final 750rpm. It’s a joyous thing to inflict on your ears.
With the redline hit, it’s time to slide into third. Except this isn’t a gearbox which lets you slide from one cog to the next: it’s all butch and heavy, with the short and accurate throw requiring a surprising amount of effort to slot in. I like that - it even further reinforces the idea that you’re actually involved in the process of driving, which is already massively increased due to the presence of this gearbox.
Over the next few laps, I go from feeling like I’m barely holding on to the smoothly driven silver car up ahead, to feeling like I’ve some idea what I’m doing. It’s all about trusting in the grip and the balance of this stupidly good piece of kit, revelling in the gearbox/engine combo, and understanding that a rear-wheel drive car with 493bhp doesn’t suffer fools - even in the dry. Of course, Rohrl could destroy me any time he wants, but let’s gloss over that.
Track work usually does a fine job of exposing a road car’s flaws, but no obvious chinks in the GT3’s armour are becoming apparent. From the grip and the balance to the linear, natural feedback-laden steering, it’s almost annoyingly brilliant.
Another trip down the straight sees us charge up to fourth gear, lifting off way before the braking zone. The radio pipes up for the first time. “We’ll do a cool down lap,” it says. I’m not even entirely sure how many laps we’ve done, but that sounds fine by me.
As I pull to a stop in the pits and extricate myself from the deep bucket seat, Mr Rohrl saunters over. “What do you think?” he says. “Great,” I reply, adding, “but I feel like I’m barely scratching the surface of what it can do”. Rohrl thinks for a moment, then mutters something along the lines of, “You didn’t do so bad”. I suspect he’s being nice.
As the adrenalin in my system dies down, I can finally gather my thoughts. And what I’m thinking about is other manual sports cars with this much power. Aside from a handful of options available Stateside, I’m struggling to think of anything. Well, the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio almost fits the bill, but it’s not really a sports car, and the lifeless manual shift in the Italian super saloon is pretty poor.
"You’ll lose a few tenths off your lap times with the manual, but I guarantee if you drive one of these you simply won’t give a damn"
The more you think about it, the more you realise manual 991.2 GT3 really is a rarity in the car world. It makes you feel like you’re actually part of the equation. It makes high demands of you as a driver. And if you meet them, it rewards you with a driving experience you’ll struggle to find in a stock road car.
I maintain the PDK ‘box makes more sense in this thing, but that’s why Porsche’s decision to slot in a manual needs celebrating - it proves the company isn’t just about hardcore engineering and black and white numbers. The ladies and gents of Stuttgart get that some people place driver enjoyment and involvement above raw speed.
I’m also sure it occurs to at least an engineer or two that the new flat-six is all the more enjoyable when seemless dual-clutch shifts are taken out of the equation - the off-throttle pauses merely highlight its violence each time you get back on the gas after engaging a cog.
Yes, you’ll lose a few tenths off your lap times with the manual and - thanks mostly to the lack of launch control - have to make do with a 3.9sec 0-62mph time as opposed to 3.4 in the PDK, but I guarantee if you drive one of these you simply won’t give a damn about stats.
With relatively long gearing you won’t be playing with that stick on the road (where the GT3 is a lot more supple than you’d think, by the way) quite as much as you’d like, but that’s about the only bad thing I can find to say about this car. Oh, other than the fact the new carbonfibre rear wing - 20mm higher than the old one to increase downforce - is in the worst possible position when it comes to rear visibility. Because race car, and all that.
If you have the means to buy the £111,802 GT3, I’d love to tell you to go out and buy one, but of course getting hold of a GT Porsche isn’t always as simple as that - the UK allocation for this year is already sold out, after all. But if you are one of the lucky few - PDK or manual - I envy you. When it arrives, please drive the hell out of it.