Friday, 5 October 2007

Test Drive - Porsche 911 GT3

Fear. It’s an unpredictable and unnerving state of mind. It can crop up in the most unlikely situations and lead you into all sorts of embarrassing behaviour; sweating, trembling, the classic tomato-face… but amid all this predictability one would assume certain conventions. Walking to the shops, you’d hope, would not be a particularly frightening activity (unless you live where I live – a hotbed of knuckledragging lowbrows intent on my gory demise, I’m sure – but I digress), whereas being chased through the American Gardens building by Patrick Bateman and his meaty chainsaw would probably get you a wee bit spooked. That’s just logic.

Strange, then, that driving somebody else’s Porsche 911 GT3 around Silverstone in some truly biblical rain provokes absolutely no fear whatsoever. This may well be attributable to the total sensory shock that the mind is already passing through; piloting a machine significantly more powerful and technologically advanced than your own, clad in alien overalls and a helmet that all but removes your peripheral vision, driving to extremes that you’d never contemplate on the road, hugged tightly by a six-point harness – the experience as a whole is so outlandish, so visceral and thrilling that fear can’t even enter your mind. All you have is purity of focus and a pulsing tidal wave of adrenaline.

And of course, this is no ordinary GT3. W44 GTR began life as a road-going 996 GT3 with the standard 360bhp before being, well, brutalised by Rupert Lewin Racing. Bored-out to 3.8 litres, the nat-asp engine kicks out a staggering 410bhp which, trust me, is several stages beyond plenty when it’s really rather damp outside and, oh yes, it’s not your car.

Phenomenal in more ways than it’s possible to count, this Porsche is verging on ridiculous. Everything about it is quasi-related to the driving experience of your average road car, but exaggerated to a ragged extreme. The accelerator is as ultrasensitive as a .357 Magnum trigger, the clutch contrasts by being sufficiently heavy to feel as if you’re stomping golden syrup through a funnel with a moonboot. The brakes are epic and immediate, the steering tight yet progressive, the suspension firm almost to the point of being solid… this is simply pure motoring.

The most impressive element of the setup is the sheer ocean of torque available. It’s so tractable that you could, if you so wished, lap the entire circuit in fourth gear – you simply mash the loud pedal into the bulkhead at any speed, at any revs and physics takes a wrecking ball to your chest. By the time your feeble human brain has registered where your braking point is, you’ve already passed through it at some unimaginable multiple of the speed you should be travelling at, leaving your mind trying to cope firstly with the problem of scrubbing all the speed off in minus-time, then pointing the car in the right direction, then figuring out how to prevent this dramatic sideways drift from turning into a full-on 360˚ spin. And then it all happens again at the next corner. Marvellous fun.

It’s not just the corners that distort your perception of reality either – the straights are just plain weird. Have you ever powered down the Hangar Straight at over 150mph? I think I have, but to be honest I’ve got absolutely no idea; a borrowed nanosecond’s glance is insufficient to differentiate between those little numbers on the speedo… it would be unsafe to study the dial in any detail because a) the scenery’s going all blurry and b) there’s probably an Enzo behind you. All of which mental wrangling leads you to a peculiar moment of muddled recollection as you enter the pits and cruise back to the garage. How long was I out there? How fast was I going down the pit straight? Did I really just overtake a Ferrari 355 at Silverstone…and did anyone see me do it?! (This is the point at which your ego goes into meltdown. It will take several days to wipe that grin off your face.)

The best way to describe driving the GT3 is that it’s the polar opposite of being drunk. Every reflex, every nerve, every synapse is manically alert, your clarity of vision is, by necessity alone, better than you could ever imagine it to be. Which is just as well really… the 911 is so rewarding when you do things right; the correct throttle balance through a sweeping curve or a perfectly-timed full-bore upshift is like a psychic link between you and the car. You’re playing together in harmony, complementing one another’s abilities. Get it wrong, however, and it will chew you up and spit you out. A breathtaking, wonderful, glorious machine – just make sure you stay on its good side…

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