This wasn’t exactly the itinerary I’d hoped for. With the chance to drive three Porsche racing cars - a ‘Restoracing’ 986 Boxster, a 718 Cayman GT4 Clubsport and a 911 GT3 Cup - the ideal order would be going from least scary to most.
There are other journalists to share the cars with though, and it’s worked out that I’m in the GT3 Cup first. Oh.
The Cup is close to FIA GT3 spec, but there are some key differences with Porsche’s Carrera Cup racer. The aero is much less aggressive, so downforce is lower. There’s also a complete absence of traction control or ABS, both of which are allowed by FIA GT3 regulations.
The potential issue that I might come across is not with the initial application, I’m told. I can be fairly firm when first pressing the middle pedal, but after that I’ll need to reduce pressure, or I could end up locking the rear wheels.
I say ‘middle pedal’, as there is still a clutch pedal on this, used only for pulling away. You’re better off merely letting the clutch out and not touching the throttle pedal, apparently, and sure enough, the GT3 Cup sets off with a slight judder towards Silverstone’s pit exit. Deep breath.
The noise that dominates the cabin as I start to rev the Cup out more and more is not the 4.0-litre flat-six at the rear of the car, but the racing sequential gearbox with its straight-cut gear teeth. God, it’s a loud thing, filling the cabin with a deafening but purposeful whine.
Of course, the nat-asp six will happily have a shouting match with the ‘dog box’ as it revs up to 8500prm, the red gearshift LEDs blinking away on the dashboard in the process. Each upshift sends a shudder through the cabin as a new gear is rammed home.
If feels plenty fast down the Hanger straight, tickling 140mph as I approach Stowe on my first flying lap. But perhaps not ferociously quick - it doesn’t help that my sighting laps were done 10 minutes ago in a 690bhp 911 GT2 RS. At 7500rpm, the Cup makes a more modest but still plentiful 478bhp.
Building my pace slowly, I’m appreciating the kind of chassis and steering feedback only a stripped-back racer on slick tyres can give, treating the GT3 Cup more like a friend and less like a sociopath who’s plotting to stick an axe in my forehead.
On the next trip down Hanger, I’m happy to brake later and firmer for Stowe, this time reaching 150. Stowe’s a corner you can take faster than you think, but I’m still being cautious, the risk of locking the brakes playing on my mind at every bend.
I hold fifth as I navigate Abbey and Farm on the next lap, but with my brain struggling to keep up with everything, I realise I’ve left the braking for Village a little late. I get on the six-piston front, four-piston rear monobloc stoppers to scrub the necessary speed, but I’m far less cautious this time. The very thing I’ve been fearful of happens - the rears lock. My attempts at cadence braking do sweet FA to stop the rear end snapping to the left as I’m thrown off track.
I’ve spun stuff on track before, but never at these kinds of speeds. And I’m carrying momentum. A lot of momentum. I apply opposite lock and stand on the brake pedal, the car sliding sideways and the barrier getting ever closer. Oh god. Oh god. Oh god.
To my relief, the 911 is hauled to a stop with my front view dominated by the Armco I’d avoided. The car’s stalled, and it takes a few attempts to get the boxer engine to explode into life once more. There’s just about enough room to pull forward and turn back towards the track, but immediately, it’s clear I’ve completely annihilated the tyres. And I’ve done so a little over five minutes after leaving the pits.
With every rotation of the Michelin slicks there’s a pronounced ‘thump’ coming from underneath me - I’ve clearly flat-spotted them. I ease the Porsche around the circuit and back into the pits, trying not to look too sheepish as the engineer opens the door to have a word.
The news isn’t good. Not only have I flat-spotted the tyres - I’ve shredded them down to the canvas. It gives me some relief to learn I’m not the first to do this over the last couple of days, but that means there’s a shortage of boots. And that means my time in the GT3 Cup is over.
Rather than telling me I’m a plum and sending me home, Porsche’s PR people instead throw a little extra fuel in the Boxster Restoracer to give me a longer run in this entry-level competition car. Instead of dwelling on my tyre-wrecking balls-up, I have a suitable distraction in the form of a new car to master.
From the off, this seems more to my (low) ability level. The starting point is a 986 Boxster S, and since the engine is untouched, there’s only around 250bhp coming from the mid-mounted 3.2-litre flat-six. These Boxsters are fully restored (hence the name), stripped out, fitted with roll cages and given a handful of upgrades.
The cars in this series - which in 2019 was pitched primarily at Porsche dealer staff - also receive new springs and dampers, while the front arms are swapped out for new parts that give more negative camber. The most important change concerns the rubber - the Restoracer wears Pirelli Trofeo Rs.
These sticky track-focused boots give a huge amount of dry grip and traction for a car like this, so even though I’ve ditched slicks for treaded tyres, the Boxster S feels fantastically planted. After being in the rock-solid 911 Cup the small amount of body roll initial comes as a shock, but after a few laps, I’m used to it.
It’s a wonderful thing to chuck around, and on the straight bits, the engine doesn’t disappoint in the noise stakes - even after being in the GT3 Cup. With much of the interior ditched and the exhaust switched for something noisier, the howl I’m experiencing is addictive.
If anything, the 718 Cayman GT4 Clubsport I’m strapped into next sounds less exciting. It uses the same 991.1 Carrera S-sourced 3.8-litre flat-six of its predecessor, and unlike the Cup, there’s no racing gearbox here.
It uses a seven-speed PDK dual-clutch automatic, with the usual part-chrome gear selector poking out of the dash. That, plus the fact it starts with a regular Porsche road car key, makes the Clubsport feel far more familiar than the utterly alien Cup. Even with its square steering wheel and the fancy digital race display that sits behind it.
Within a couple of laps, the GT4 Clubsport becomes a clear favourite of the day. Like the Cup it gives a sense of near-endless mechanical grip, but with adjustable traction control and - crucially - ABS, meaning a mere mortal like me can quickly get up to speed without worrying about lobbing it off track.
Its smaller size also makes a difference. The more compact racer wraps around you, and the more you push on, the more it feels like an extension of you rather than - as is the case with the Cup - a scary beast you’re struggling to tame.
Six incident-free and progressively quicker laps later, the pit-in board is displayed at the end of the start/finish straight. With daylight hours limited at this time of year, the track has to shut, and as tempting as it would be to stay out, I heed the message and go for a cool-down lap.
Having made its way into my personal Top 5, I walk away from the Clubsport and catch a glimpse of the Cup. Perhaps one day I’ll have the chance to try again and do it some justice. But I’ll settle for driving any of these a second time for any length of time, as however fast you want to go, there’s a Porsche racing car that’ll do the job. And bloody brilliantly at that.