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car review

The new Porsche 911 GT3 RS.Mark Richardson/The Globe and Mail

It’s one thing to drive fast around a racetrack, it’s quite another to impress people with your fast driving at a racetrack. Especially a storied track like Silverstone, driving one of the world’s most impressive sports cars, with jet lag.

Fortunately for me, I was following a highly skilled and well-rested instructor who led the way in a slightly less capable car, a Porsche GT3. If he could make it around the corner without braking, so could I.

I was following in a GT3 RS, which is not the most powerful of Porsche’s two dozen production 911 variants – those would be the Turbos – but it is surely the best handling. It is built expressly for making the most of a racetrack and providing the purest driving experience. Its four-litre, six-cylinder boxer engine is naturally aspirated, eschewing the turbochargers that add an artificial boost and instead revving all the way to 9,000 revolutions per minute (rpm) to make up the difference (the Turbos top out at 6,750 rpm). New camshafts help add five more horsepower that you’ll never notice.

The new Porsche 911 GT3 RS comes with plastic fins and scoops everywhere to direct airflow.Mark Richardson/The Globe and Mail

Of course, it’s not the exceptional engine nor the seven-speed PDK automatic transmission that really makes the difference on the track, but the aerodynamics. The GT3 RS has plastic fins and scoops everywhere to direct airflow: on the roof, the side fenders, around the wheel arches and on the hood. The air is separated into hot and (more efficient) cool. The underbody is fully covered, with more fins beside the wheels. After six previous editions over the last two decades, this latest generation has a huge rear spoiler that extends higher than the car’s roofline and adjusts its angles as needed.

Also for the first time, there is no small trunk in the front. There just wasn’t space after replacing the previous three-radiator layout with one large angled radiator, which created room at each side for better active airflow.

The new Porsche 911 GT3 RS no longer comes with a front trunk. There wasn't room after changing the three-radiator layout to one large angled radiator.Mark Richardson/The Globe and Mail

The improved airflow produces a downforce of up to 860 kilograms at near-top speed, which is more than double that of the previous version and more than half the weight of the car itself. Its official unladen weight in North America is 1,483 kilograms, and there’s another 22 kilograms that can be saved if you buy all the extra lightweight and carbon fibre options. It means the new car sticks to the ground like glue and can corner with enough lateral force to bring up the lunch of a jet-lagged passenger.

To top it all off, the new GT3 RS now includes fully adjustable suspension right on the steering wheel for electronic adjustments on the fly. In the previous car, you would pull over and slide under the vehicle and use a wrench to manually tighten or loosen the suspension settings on each shock absorber, but the new car needs just a twist of a dial to adjust the rebound and compression damping of either the front or back shocks. There’s also a dial to adjust the rear differential lock rate, and even a button that flattens out the rear spoiler for less drag and more speed down the straights. That’s the Drag Reduction System (DRS) you see in professional racing.

All this wizardry comes at a price, of course. The GT3 RS has a starting price of $248,000. The most expensive of the six test vehicles here listed for $341,650, after a host of accessories and customizations were added, including its $11,540 ceramic brakes, $20,000 personal yellow paint job and $38,250 “Weissach package” of extra lightweight carbon fibre. If you want the exclusive watch, that’s an extra $15,650.

After buying a new Porsche 911 GT3 RS, customers can opt to purchase a watch for an extra $15,650.Mark Richardson/The Globe and Mail

I squeezed into that car’s bucket seat and attempted to keep up with the pace car in front. My first laps were comparatively slow and responsible, just trying to get a feel for the track and the car’s abilities while cognizant of the potential repair costs of a moment’s distraction. I could feel the feedback of every bump and ripple in the asphalt, though the ride was smooth and relatively quiet.

My second set of laps were in a less highly specified car and I followed the advice of racer Mark Webber, who’d studied my analytics and told me to “just mash the pedal and steer – you’ll be fine.” My lap times were much quicker as I gained a trust in the car’s astonishing traction and phenomenal brakes.

And then racer Jörg Bergmeister took me on a “taxi hot lap” of the track and filled in the blanks. He switched off all the traction controls (“With Porsche, ‘off’ is always completely off,” he said, unlike most other makes) and used his experience of thousands of laps of Silverstone to show just what the new 911 GT3 RS is really capable of doing. It was as if he turned everything to 11 with his skill and confidence, and he must have shaved at least 15 seconds from my fastest time.

The new Porsche 911 GT3 RS comes with a rear spoiler that extends higher than the car's roofline and adjusts its angles as needed.Mark Richardson/The Globe and Mail

Despite its road-legal credentials, the Porsche 911 GT3 RS is wasted anywhere but a race track, and there, there is no place for posers. If you’re a talented driver, however, and you have the funds to indulge yourself and the body-fat index to prove yourself, I can think of no other production car that will hustle you faster through a lap, and in comparative comfort at that.

Tech specs

Base price/As tested: $248,000 / $341,650

Engine: four-litre boxer six-cylinder; 518 horsepower, 343 pounds-feet of torque

Transmission/Drive: Seven-speed PDK automatic / rear-wheel drive

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): n/a

Alternatives: Acura NSX, Audi R8, Chevrolet Corvette, Aston Martin DB11, Mercedes-AMG GT R, Maserati MC-20

Despite its road-legal credentials, the Porsche 911 GT3 RS is wasted anywhere but a race track, and there, there is no place for posers.Handout

The writer was a guest of the automaker. Content was not subject to approval.

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