The GT2 RS launch in Portugal gave us a chance to catch up with Mark Webber, recently retired from front-line racing duties but now working in both development and as a brand ambassador for Porsche. The 41-year old Aussie was brought along to give passenger rides on the circuit at Portimao, but sodden conditions put paid to that. Instead, we talked to him about Porsche 911s.
Although wearing Porsche branded clothing, Webber was keen to point out that his connection to the brand started well before he became a works driver for the recently cancelled WEC programme.
“One of the first posters on my wall was a 959 when I was a kid. Motorbikes and cars were what I loved. I drove my first 911 in 1994 when I was 18, back in Sydney.
“It was a Carrera, it belonged to a friend of my dad’s, and I remember the clutch being super heavy. It was air cooled, I loved the noise, loved the seating position and how nimble it was. That’s how I lost my 911 virginity.”
Above: Webber during his time with Porsche as a WEC driver
The passion simmered in the background as Webber pursued his top-flight race career, but in 2009 it became an itch he just had to scratch.
“In F1 I had to drive the company cars, of course, but I could buy other products with my own money. I didn’t until I got a 997 Turbo S and it was a case of ‘what the hell have I been missing?’
“I had a Renault for events, of course, but I used to turn up at the [Red Bull] factory in the Porsche to do simulator work. I’d park out front and everybody would know I was there, because it was the only Porsche in the carpark.”
Things got more serious in 2010 when Webber bought a 997 GT2. He still has it, and reckons it’s one of the keepers.
“That car is still one of the all time greats, I love it. I love the PDK in the new car, but don’t get me wrong, but that manual box was something special. That car was eight years ago now and it’s still blindingly fast.”
He’s subsequently added a 997 GT3 4.0-litre to his personal collection, as well as a Porsche 918 Spyder and an early ‘seventies 2.7 Touring.
“Whenever my wife is with me in that she’s saying slow down,” Webber says, “it’s just because of the feeling, I’m not going that fast. 100mph feels like 200mph in that thing.”
Webber admits he’s as fastidious about looking after his cars as any other obsessive owner.
“I never drive them in the rain and they’ve never been tracked. Well, not quite – the GT2 has been on track, but not crazy. I was with Valentino Rossi and he begged me for a passenger ride, it was short and sweet and of course he was going ‘slow down! F**king slow down!’
“But I don’t need to abuse the material, I’ve driven on race tracks plenty… I’m a little anal about it, when I take them for a service I love people saying how immaculate they are. You can’t undo that day you drove it in the hail, or if it was grimy or the road was covered in salt.”
Unsurprisingly, he will be getting his own GT2 RS, and has been agonizing over the exact spec: “I never take a roll cage, just my own preference. It will be red with black wheels and probably not so much of the red interior, more black. Obviously it will have the lifter and probably the LED lights as well as the Weissach package with black stripes.”
Will he saving a few more kilos with the aircon delete? He looks at me as if I’ve suggested he goes for pink velour upholstery.
“No mate, I won’t.”
Outside of PR activities, Webber is still involved with Porsche’s road car development, having driven the GT2 RS on the Nurburgring ahead of its successful record attempt, and he’s keen to stay at the sharp end.
Above: Mike Duff tackles the 911 GT2 RS
“On the motorsport side I’ve got my ear to the ground, I know the industry pretty well. We’re looking at different things, we are attending Formula 1 meetings obviously from the engine side,” he says, referring to Porsche’s consideration of returning to the sport as an engine supplier, “but there’s no decision made on that. Formula E is up and coming too.
“This is about people, mate – it’s a big strength I think I bring to the culture of going racing, I’ve got a huge amount of experience. Obviously post Bahrain [and the end of the WEC programme] we’re deciding what we’re doing, but once that fires up I’m looking forward to getting going and really helping Porsche wherever we can tweak the stopwatch.”