- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 9, 2003

Driving any late-model Porsche provides an absolutely exhilarating driving experience for the sports-car enthusiast. Obviously some examples are more stimulating than others. The 911 GT3 is such a vehicle. It is a street-legal, non-turbocharged road car — a pure sports car for the Porsche purist.

The GT3 enables the skilled driver to achieve racetrack lap times unheard of, or at least unexpected, in a car without turbocharging that can be legally driven on public roads.

Powered by a 3.6-liter, normally aspirated boxer six-cylinder engine, the GT3 enjoys an output of 380 horsepower at 7,400 rpm and 284 foot-pounds of torque at 5,000 rpm. A reduction in moving masses allows the engine to spin more freely in attaining the extra power without sacrificing fuel economy.

All that energy reaches the rear wheels only through a limited-slip differential via a six-speed manual transmission. The suspension is specially tuned and consists of a Porsche-optimized MacPherson-style spring/strut axle up front and an independent, five-link with coil springs, gas-pressure shocks and adjustable anti-roll bar in the rear. The brakes are larger than those found on the rest of the 911 lineup, including the Turbo, and feature a six-piston setup instead of four. For those wishing even greater stopping capability, a ceramic brake package is optionally available for $8,500.

The GT3 is longer, lower and possesses a wider front track than other 911s. There is a large rear fixed-wing spoiler for added down force and improved aerodynamics at elevated speed rates. The car tips the scales at a mere 3,043 pounds, meaning that each of its 380 horses has slightly less than 8 pounds to propel — a better power-to-weight ratio than either the 911 Carrera or 911 Turbo. The GT3 is capable of a top track speed of 190 mph riding on special 18-inch alloy wheels shod with Michelin speed-rated tires made specifically for the car.

The real beauty of the GT3 is that it hearkens back to the days of true sports cars, without all the electronic stabilization intervention — it actually allows you to make a mistake, but not without warning. I was granted the opportunity to run at speed on the challenging Virginia International Raceway road course with none other than legendary endurance racing expert and champion Hurley Haywood riding shotgun. Hurley is a three-time Le Mans winner and chief instructor of Porsche’s Driving Experience.

Following a couple of orientation laps riding around the course, I finally got to slide behind the wheel. My first lap was done in a conservative manner for individual familiarization. I picked up the pace considerably for my second lap. My red GT3 felt terrific, responding beautifully, until, when coming down the hill from turn three and approaching four (a blind left-hander), I turned too late. The moral here is, if you wait until you can see the turn, you blew it.

Turn four is a decreasing radius affair with a reverse camber surface that immediately enters a tight right-hander followed immediately by a tight left. I felt the rear twitch and start swinging right — I corrected, but too much, initiating a reversal of direction.

Trying for all I was worth to remain on the track, I input more correction, but to no avail.

I looped around to the left, spinning backwards off the track and into the grass, killing the engine. No harm, no foul — just plain old-fashioned embarrassment. Hurley (we’re on a first-name basis now since I’ve ridden with him so many times before) calmly instructed me to reignite it and get back on the track before the other would-be racers caught up.

Too late; another car was coming through the turn behind us. I heard “Get back on the track, catch the other car and pass him” come from my right. I did as I was told and blew the other GT3’s doors off on the back straight.

I managed to stay on the track the rest of the day with no major errors. In my defense, I wasn’t the only one to have an “automotive ballet” experience. Driving the GT3, after all, is about enjoying dynamic motion with all of one’s senses.

The car’s two bucket seats are bolstered in leather, providing outstanding lateral support and weighing in some 20 pounds less than standard 911 Carrera seats.

There are options available for the GT3 enabling one to move from the $99,900 base price to $129,960. My Guards red test GT3 came with a sticker totaling $118,250.

It isn’t a car for everyone (U.S. availability will be limited to “a few hundred”), but I wouldn’t mind having one in my stable for a spirited ride when the mood strikes.

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