After a half century of 911 RS models, Porsche could be suffocated by success, having bumped the ceiling of what a gasoline-powered sports car could do. The 2023 911 GT3 RS, though, is a naturally aspirated glutton for (and a spectacular example of) fresh air.
This story originally appeared in Volume 14 of Road & Track.
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The GT3 RS generates 518 hp and 342 lb-ft of torque from its 4.0-liter six. That power is best unleashed on a circuit such as England’s Silverstone, a Formula 1 amphitheater that highlights this superstar’s 9000-rpm vocal range and gripping performance. The RS brims with carbon fiber, in most body panels as well as in its skyscraping rear wing, Race-Tex-clad bucket seats, and, with the Weissach package, anti-roll bars. A Ring-ready suspension is a racer’s dream: Springs are firmer than a standard GT3’s (50 percent more so up front, 60 percent in back), and four intuitive steering-wheel knobs allow adjustment of front and rear rebound and compression. Porsche Torque Vectoring offers a similar plus-minus range of settings for the electronic differential, for either coasting and braking or lockup on corner exits.
Air is the GT3 RS’s stock-in-trade, the cooling breeze, vivifying oxygen, and crushing downforce that links it directly to the GT3 R racer that glows in the Silverstone paddock. Andreas Preuninger, head of Porsche GT vehicles, explains the obvious, saying, “From the first look at the GT3 RS, you know: It’s all about aerodynamics.”
That look socks your eyeballs like a young Mike Tyson. Another jab comes with the price, $225,250 even before the inevitable knockout blow of dealer markups. Add stuff like ceramic-composite brakes and the $33,520 Weissach package—which trims 33 pounds from US-spec models, for a total of 3235—and there’s two GT3 RS vehicles here at Silverstone today that top $304,000.
Between track sessions, I cruise the British countryside in a right-hand-drive GT3 Touring, the wingless wonder that could pass for a base-model Carrera to the untrained eye. The new RS will never pass, with that great, looming wing, lurid color schemes (even the center-locking forged wheels are available in bold metallic crimson or blue shades), and boastful “GT3 RS” door script. Add a disemboweled hood and enough black plastic aero bits to stock a Corvette Racing shop, and this Porsche is Exhibit A in shattering those deluded souls who claim all 911s look alike.
Porsche’s active aero management is practically a German engineer’s doctoral thesis. It starts with an industrial-size central heat exchanger that supplants the luggage compartment of a standard 911 and its three-radiator layout. The single-radiator concept is straight from Porsche’s RSR racer.
Cooling surface area drops by 32 percent, necessitating efficiency everywhere else. The radiator is tilted at a 43-degree angle, to catch air through an S-duct and generate front-axle downforce. Deflecting vanes in the enormous hood nostrils prevent waste heat from shooting straight over the roof and into the rear engine intakes. Some redirected air stubbornly flows up and over doors, so a pair of roof fins deflects it again. The design cuts intake temperatures to preserve at least 15 hp. Bladed inlets reduce pressure in front and rear wheel arches, a nod to the Le Mans-winning 911 GT1. Even the signature rear fender cleavage of 911 RS models plays a new role, creating a vacuum to smooth aero rather than drawing combustion air.
To pancake the rear end, the swan-neck-suspended wing is 40 percent larger than on the previous RS, with visible pistons hydraulically activating its upper section. A two-piece active front diffuser displaces side radiators, pivoting to increase downforce by up to 80 percent. It works in sync with the rear wing, which is taller than the roof, another production-Porsche first, and also functions as an airbrake.
There’s actually a bit more drag than in the 991.2-gen RS. But the vast spectrum from the most slippery profile to full downforce is in sight of GTE racers and a new league for a streetgoing Porsche. How new? At 177 mph, a max downforce of 1895 pounds more than doubles that of the last RS and triples that of a standard GT3. It exceeds the McLaren Senna’s pavement push by 121 pounds.
The racing gods, or unfair British weather forecasters, dampen my initial track foray, pissing rain on the historic 3.7-mile circuit just as I’m leaving the pits. That doesn’t stop me from ripping through gears, via a seven-speed PDK with a shorter final drive than a regular old GT3. Sometimes downforce gets in the way of a car that can crack 184 mph at the top end and scorch 60 mph in an estimated 2.6 seconds. To goose my speed past Silverstone’s grandstand, Porsche’s new drag-reduction system (DRS) flattens every wing. DRS automatically engages when the car goes above 62 mph, above 95 percent throttle, and above 5500 rpm and is doing less than 0.9 lateral g. When it isn’t meeting those four conditions, confident types can push another steering-wheel button to summon DRS, mainly for blinding sweepers where excess downforce would slow the car.
Woolen-gray clouds part for an afternoon stint. My first trip to Silverstone—where damp patches still have the RS losing traction, and mistakes in one hurricane-force corner compound irrevocably—is no time to play F1 hero. But I chase a Porsche factory driver anyway, nipping 150 mph on the long straight. This RS generates tremendous mechanical grip, even on Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires, as opposed to the ultra-aggressive Cup 2 Rs we’d be using on a drier, toastier surface.
The RS’s arsenal of weaponry, the alertness of its steering and chassis, recalls the Porsche Cup race car. The supple engine’s reworked cams and shafts add 16 more horses than a GT3 has. It turns delightfully nasty above 6000 rpm, its redline as addictive as nicotine to a button-pushing lab rat.
I’m not usually big on right-seat hot laps with pro drivers; they tend to feel like what I’m doing, only faster. I almost never write about them. A trip around a full F1 circuit with Jörg Bergmeister is different. The former Porsche works driver, Le Mans GT-class winner, and five-time American Le Mans Series champion led driving development for the RS and may know it more intimately than anyone alive. With the track almost dry, minutes from closing, Bergmeister escorts me at a violent, madcap pace, using every millimeter of Silverstone surface and almost putting a wheel off at one point. His scary late-braking heroics make my eyes widen and organs leak fluid; there’s no way a street car can stop this quickly. But it does.
“That’s where the downforce works the most for you,” he shouts over the shrieking engine and tires. He’s having a ball. I’m wishing for one more go, and for Bergmeister to be my driving coach.
The GT3 RS has more bandwidth than any other showroom 911. It’s an onion with many sulfuric layers that will require time, skill, and patience to peel and will bring tears to drivers who skip steps and overestimate their abilities. As for collectors and dilettantes who will happily overpay for one yet barely scratch its speedy surface, let alone drive even once on track, I wish them a 911 Cabriolet with comfort seats and leather air vents. For myself, a GT3 RS and a long residency at Silverstone.