Playing with Porsches at Silverstone

Porsche 911 GT3 Gen2 

Yesterday I spent a fantastic day at the Porsche experience centre having a sneak peak at the new 911 GT3 with the guys from Drivers Republic

Unfortunately 911’s are a little beyond by price range, so I got to go through a competition on the DR website a couple of weeks ago.  The event itself was part of a two day preview that Porsche was giving for existing GT3 customers.  DR arranged with Porsche to extend the day out to a group of DR readers and offered places on their site.

It was a great day, as well as getting a really good look over the new car we got to chat to guys from the project team at Porsche who have developed the car (and in fact all the previous GT3 range of 911’s), have a tour of the Human Performance Centre and then finally have a drive of the cars on the test track.

The chaps from the factory are a fascinating bunch of guys.  What really stood out was their complete enthusiasm for not only their own cars, but for driving as a whole.  I spent the most time with Andreas Preuninger who was the project manager behind the GT3.  He’s a really good guy and had some great stories about his time at Porsche.

Andreas Preuninger

Over the years he and his team have managed to convince their accountants and management that their desire to create ever faster Beetle shaped cars isn’t just a flight of fancy.  In the process they’ve almost created a niche of their own for extremely focused, hardcore road and track supercars.   Whilst the sales teams doubted they’d be able sell the first 200 cars they planned, the last version of the GT3 sold to upwards of 5000 customers.

The latest 997 GT3 Generation II that we went to see really is a fantastic bit of kit.  There’s an incredible amount of thought and detail that has gone into making the car not only go a little bit faster, but feel better for the driver.  As an example of the levels Andreas and his team go to in order to find performance, you only really have to look at the effort put into just the engine mounts.

The engine in a car is one of the single biggest masses, so in a race car you fix the engine solidly to the chassis to stop it moving around as the car changes direction.  Any movement can unsettle the car making it harder to drive on the limit.  The disadvantage of this that there’s nothing to isolate the noise and vibration from the engine, so in a road car you just can’t get away with it.  Usually road cars use rubber engine mounts to soften the noise, with high performance cars using harder rubber to help keep the engine in check.  Even so, according to Andreas the even in the last GT3 the engine moved up to 15mm under load, and as it weighs 300KG that’s quite a bit of momentum.

The new GT3 uses engine mounts that are built using a magnetorheological fluid.  Essentially that’s an oil that has magnetic particles suspended within it.  By applying a magnetic field to the fluid its viscosity can be changed from thin (and therefore soft) to thick (and therefore hard).  This allows the car to sense when it’s experiencing high g-forces and stiffen up the engine mounts accordingly.  From what was said the engine now rarely moves more than 2mm from its ideal position, whilst also reducing unwanted noise when driving normally.

The driving part of the day was really eye opening for me.  Whilst I’ve done quite a bit of track driving in the past, that’s always been in my Elise so I wasn’t really too sure what to expect from the big, heavy 911.  Whilst I knew it was going to be very quick in a straight line, I have to admit I was very surprised by just how much speed the big car could carry once you pointed it into the corners.   You can tell there’s a fair bit of extra mass to move around, but it feels so stable and secure when you ask it to change direction it was never a problem.  Quite why I thought it wouldn’t be as capable as it was I don’t know, I guess I should have believed the hype!

One particular surprise was the electronic stability control systems.  Being a 10 year old Lotus my car’s lucky to have a radio, so the idea of driver aids is something a little alien to me. 

Stability control monitors what each wheel is doing at any one time, and uses this information to detect if the car experiences understeer or oversteer .  If it realises that something out of the ordinary is happening it can apply braking to each wheel individually to help the driver gather it up.  It’s a great aid to safety, but if you’re on track having fun it can get in the way by stopping the car doing what the driver wants.  I thought Porsches PSM system was very good indeed.  Even on the normal setting it allows a fair amount of slip, and with the sport mode on it gives you a serious amount of room to play before helping out.  It’s a world away from the systems I’ve experienced before with Mercedes that stop you doing anything interesting with the car.

So all in all I had a great time, the driving was fantastic fun but it was great to be able to chat to the techie guys behind the cars.  I guess it was quite a brave decision for Porsche to allow us lot in to quiz their guys and give their cars a good thrashing.  From what I understand it’s the first time that an event like this has been opened up outside of the motoring press and selected customers, so it was really quite a privilege to attend.  The Drivers Republic chaps are doing a great job building a community around their site, and whilst I originally had some doubts about how well a magazine would translate online, it really works well.  It’s great to see them working to get Porsche engaged with their community and from what I saw yesterday it can only do them a world of good. 

The enthusiasm of the factory guys was infectious, and just what I think petrolheads want to hear.  It was a completely different Porsche to the one you might expect, and from my limited experience very different to the one you see in your average dealership – sorry Official Porsche Centre (with a few exceptions to be fair).  Lets hope both Porsche and DR can do more events like this, and maybe even get a few more manufacturers involved. 

Right… I’m off to buy to lottery tickets!

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