You can’t see air move. Pity really. It’s doing a lot of work around here. Some of it good, some more… alarming. The wind turbine at the top of the Gotlandring’s jump churns in the breeze as I watch Wookie hurl the 911 Dakar up the blind ramp. Hitting the lip at 92mph, the raised nose catches the wind and the damn thing pulls the mother of all wheelies.
I gulp. I’m sitting at the bottom in the GT3 RS, knowing I’ve got to follow him and that this, the wildest, most track focused road-going 911 there’s ever been, will be able to take so much more speed up that slope – 106mph, it’ll turn out. And yet I can barely get it off the ground. The air that had lifted the Dakar can’t find a way under the GT3 RS. Porsche has clearly learned a lot since the days of backflipping GT1s.
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The Dakar isn’t part of this test, but the contrast between the two Porsches is a perfect illustration of what air can do, how it can be to your will or bend you to its. How powerful and dense this invisible force is.
Photography: John Wycherley
I take the Alpine next, but it doesn’t have the necessary power to hit wheel lifting speeds. Probably just as well given it’s downforce-lite in this company. The others make full claims of figures and speeds, Alpine will only say “up to 29kg more than an A110S with aero kit”.
The Ariel (110kg of downforce at 70mph) fails to break the bonds of gravity for different reasons. I chickened out. I do the jump twice, the second time to check that the first time had been as squirrelly and unsettling as I’d thought. Less to do with the car I realize as I look at the direction the wind turbine is pointing. Cross wind. Played havoc with the 700kg lightweight.
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Time for tires do what they were designed to do: be pressed into tarmac, ideally as firmly as possible. I start in the Alpine for no other reason than it needs less heroism. The rear wing is apologetic, the A110R still uses the same 296bhp 1.8-litre turbo engine as the A110S and despite extensive carbon work, it’s only 34kg lighter. Love those carbon wheels though, especially the disc-like rears.
It’s the perfect introduction to the Gotlandring. Deft, agile, beautifully balanced chassis, not enough power to give yourself a scare. The superfast bottom section is actually surprisingly bumpy, catching out other cars including the McLaren Artura and BMW M3, making them jiggle and jump. Not the Alpine. It might now be stiffer and ride 10mm lower, but it’s unfazed by anything this track can throw at it. The A110R saunters around, humbling most other stuff without seeming to expend much energy. It’s at its best on turn-in. That’s where the genius is most evident, how it moves from braking to cornering with so little fuss or lost momentum.
It’s the best balanced of these three, the most adjustable mid-corner. Thank the mid-engined layout. The others are essentially rear engined and although both have made great strides in improving balance, this little coupe dances to the rhythms of this circuit with better coordination than either the Porsche or Ariel.
But the same sense of engagement, excitement and drama? Not even close. Sorry Alpine, but your chassis was already great. It was the engine that needed greatness thrusting upon it. Yet it’s unchanged. It needs more power to properly exploit the chassis, but more than that it needs character. The four cylinder sounds anemic, the gearbox needs to be sharper, faster. I get out of it thinking it’s a slightly missed opportunity, that the engineers have got so involved with the intricacies of it that they’ve forgotten to lift their heads up and consider if it moves the game on far enough. If Alpine was serious about this being a track toy, it needed to go further than just offering a bit less body roll and a bit more grip.
The GT3 RS is ruthless. A racecar in all but name, it looks daunting and does little to put the novice at ease
How to sum up the differences between the Alpine and Porsche? The former always works with the circuit, finds its flow, kisses curbs. The latter? Well that just tears it to pieces, inch by Swedish inch. The Gotlandring is a very demanding, tricky track. The Alpine masters it by flitting lightly about, the Porsche just stomps all over it shouting “I am the law”. And yeah, the Judge Dredd analogy is pretty accurate.
The GT3 RS is ruthless. A racecar in all but name, it looks daunting and does little to put the novice at ease. So many things to play with: should my rebound damping be harder? Should the torque vectoring under coast be reduced? Or is that something to do with school book geology? It draws you in despite this because the touch points, the action of the controls, the purity they operate with, inspire complete confidence.
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You get moving and it feels rigid. There’s no slack, no play, all intensity and focus. You might not be ready, but the GT3 RS is already stalking its prey. And slowly, steadily, it draws you in. Although it never will, you start to relax. Tension slips from your shoulders, your inputs, which have so far been snatchy and sharp because you’re convinced the GT3 RS is some sort of savage, become smoother.
And now it’s got you. The addiction starts here. Within two laps you’ll be fiddling with PASM settings, knowledgeably tweaking your diff settings and firming up the compression damping for the Tarmo carusellen. Because this is what this GT3 RS does. It compels you to get involved. Addiction via hypnotism.
Like the Alpine the chassis could handle more power. But unlike the Alpine it doesn’t need to. The howling 9,000rpm flat six plucks your neck hairs like a virtuoso. The gear changes are instantaneous. You realize nothing road legal attacks a track like this, that the sensations it delivers, the appetite it has for corners, the speed it sears through them, are unlike anything else. I felt the downforce more in this than in a McLaren Senna, in the baffling high speed turn-in bite and amazing stability.
It drives with such clarity I quickly worked out that a bit more front end camber would negate the low speed understeer. Given a choice I prefer mucking about on loose surfaces, or at least sliding around on tarmac, but here’s a car to convince me there’s happiness and contentment in accuracy.
Time for an Atom bombardment. I don’t blame some of my colleagues for taking one look at the 4R and backing slowly away. There is something of the rattlesnake about it. It’s a reputation earned on its spec sheet, which informs you this is probably the most powerful lightweight ever to come from a recognized marque. There’s 400bhp and 369lb ft from the Type R-sourced turbo engine. Think of this particular car as a 4R+. The regular £77,940 4R does without wings, carbon and Quaife sequential gearbox. That’s the hot rod, this is the £140k track monster.
And it takes the GT3 RS’s philosophy and runs with it. The whole initial intimidation report into powerful addiction thing? The GT3 RS can’t hold a candle to the Atom 4R. That was surprisingly approachable. Here Dr Chassis meets Mr Engine.
The chassis has no right being so supple and magnanimous. The springs don’t need to be stiff because they’ve only got 700kg to deal with, and the exotic Öhlins dampers deliver silky composition. It rides the bumps and curbs without ever being skittish and even when it does lose grip has a far bigger sweet spot than you’d ever imagine.
But the engine. Oh my God. This demented, gnashing banshee, trapped in the intake by your ear. The turbo shrieks and gasps are accompanied by striking acceleration and exposure. It’s a vortex of volatility.
But while my colleagues are convinced I’m out there St Georging a dragon, actually I’m the calm at the center of the storm. The Atom 4R is a masterpiece, but even I accept it’s too extreme to make the final. The A110R? I don’t doubt the work that’s gone into it, but I do doubt the end result. Which leaves the GT3 RS. Typical. Porsche in brilliant car shocker. Is there anything it can’t do? Well, apart from jumping. The road will tell.