2016 Porsche 911 GT3 RS Review: riding shotgun with works driver Jorg Bergmeister

$387,700 Mrlp
  • Fuel Economy
  • Engine Power
  • CO2 Emissions
  • ANCAP Rating

Without doubt the single best road car for the track in the entire galaxy. And with a price tag of less than $500K is has no peers, none.

We thought we’d nailed our bucket list after burning up Johannesburg’s Kyalami Grand Prix Circuit in the new 911 Turbo S – but all that was blown out of the water after riding shotgun in the latest Porsche 911 GT3 RS with works driver Jorg Bergmeister.

Sure enough, if I’d thought the blindingly quick 911 Turbo S was as good as it could get, the GT3 RS soon proved to be another kind of weapon entirely – this is the 911 you buy when the already brilliant GT3 isn’t quite enough.

It’s a difficult car to describe, on the one hand it’s a streetcar for the racetrack, and on the other it’s a race car for the street. Either way, this is undoubtedly the one 911 that all others are measured by.

It’s also a menacing thing in the metal, looking like it has absolutely no place on public roads, despite its road-legal status. And nothing you see on this car is there for show.

The massive rear wing delivers 220kg of downforce at 300km/h, while the big front splitter and louvered front guards help generate up to 110kg of downforce at the same speed.

Most of the bodywork is exotic. The bonnet, engine cover, and front guards are carbon fibre. The roof goes one-step lighter – it’s a one-millimetre-thick slice of magnesium that shaves 794 grams off a carbon-fibre equivalent. That’s what I call ‘going to the extreme’, but then that’s what this 911 is about.

The GT3 RS borrows its wide body from the 911 Turbo to make room for the big wheels and massive 325/30 ZR 21 Michelin Cup Sport 2 rear tyres – the widest fit ever on a Porsche 911.

The heart and soul of the GT3 RS is a reworked version of the 3.8-litre naturally aspirated flat-six engine from the GT3 that’s been stroked to a brawnier 4.0-litre displacement.

Wind it out to a sky-high 8250rpm (9,000rpm for the GT3) and there’s 368kW of power available, while peak torque of 460Nm arrives at 6250rpm.

And like most track-ready supercars these days, there’s no manual transmission option on the GT3 RS, instead favouring an upgraded version of Porsche’s sublime seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox (PDK) from the GT3. So you can even drive it in fully automatic mode on the way to the office.

That said, there’s an awful lot of racing tech underneath this car to help keep it firmly on the tarmac, even driven at the limit.

For starters, it gets GT3-spec springs and anti-roll bars, though the electronically managed dampers have been retuned for higher loads for the GT3 RS.

The front suspension is fully adjustable across camber, castor and ride height, as it would be in a proper GT racer.

Both front and rear anti-roll bars are adjustable too, and there’s an electronically controlled limited-slip differential. Just like its GT3 sibling, the RS also gets rear-axle steering.

We already know this thing is fast, especially at the famed Nurburgring, where it has lapped the 20.8km Nordshleife in 7 minutes and 20 seconds, or 5 seconds quicker than a standard GT3.

But what’s it really like from the passenger seat?

Well, it’s better than anything I’ve ever experienced from a street-legal production series car, as I found out when I got the nod from German-born works driver, Jorg Bergmeister, to ride shotgun with him for a few laps of the recently restored Kyalami Grand Prix Circuit, in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Bergmeister is an experienced driver who has won more than his fair share of big races over the years, almost all of them in a Porsche.

His career highlights include a win in the 2003 24 Hours of Daytona, driving a Porsche 911 GT3-RS. In 2004 he took top spot on the podium in the GT Class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and in 2006 and 2008 he won AMLS (American Le Mans Series) GT2 Class Driver’s Championship driving a Porsche 911 GT3-RSR.

I could list quite a few others, but suffice to say the guy can steer – even if it’s only with one hand. But more on that later.

Climb aboard the GT3 RS and it’s not what you’d expect; this is definitely no stripped-out track-day racer, as its hard-core looks might have you believe.

There are lashings of Alcantara including the headliner and door trim. You also get climate control air conditioning, satellite navigation and a pretty-decent sound system.

The carbon fibre-backed racing shells look and feel brilliant; a luxury blend of soft leather and more body-hugging Alcantara, but with enough bolsters to nullify the effects of the g-force even under extreme loads.

Interestingly, there is no six-point racing harnesses in this car, just regular seat belts fabricated in Lava Orange to match the door-pull straps and outrageous paint job.

Time to fire up that 4.0-litre flat-six, which lays claim to one of the best 911 engine notes you’re likely to hear this side of a factory Le Mans entry.

Unbelievably, Bergmeister is blasting out of pit lane (clearly, he’s forgotten about the adjustable pit-lane speed function on the GT3 RS) and as mentioned earlier, he’s steering with one hand only, while working a two-way radio with the other.

As two other 911 Turbos follow us in hot pursuit, he’s still carrying on a conversation with me, while at the same time riding some serious curbs at flat-out pace. It’s extraordinary stuff.

Right from the get-go it feels like a sharper instrument than the GT3 - on another level entirely. Throttle response seems to have the sensitivity of a hair trigger, while torque builds just as quickly, but in a totally linear fashion. It’s allowing Bergmeister to constantly make adjustments, I know this because I’m watching as his feet work the pedals.

Mechanical grip is uncanny, especially at the critical turn-in point or even when Jörg has the throttle pinned through the faster sections, and there are plenty of those at this freshly surfaced Kyalami circuit.

It almost feels like the car is running full slicks, as it simply refuses to break grip – ever. There’s a huge amount of downforce at play here too, with that big rear wing literally jamming RS car into the tarmac.

The GT3 RS’s PDK transmission responds instantaneously to each and every pull of the steering wheel-mounted paddle-shifters. Better still, you can feel and hear the gearshifts, especially during downshifting into a corner in Sport, when they are at their most aggressive.

Jörg’s braking points are very late, (that’s natural for a professional racing driver) but from what I can see and feel, he’s not exactly hammering the brake pedal all that hard.

Fade is of course non-existent despite the fact this car has been lapping at this pace all morning.

It’s as close to a full-blown racing car as is possible for a 911 road car to be, and yet, you still get a beautifully crafted cockpit made from the finest materials.

It’s also a faultless instrument of power, precision and emotion. One that is totally addictive, even for a passenger.

With a list price of $387,700 it also represents a genuine bargain against track-ready rivals like Ferrari’s 458 Speciale priced from $550,000, and McLaren’s 675LT from $616,250 - if there were any left to purchase.

With a worldwide production run limited to just 2000 examples, the GT3 RS is essentially sold out before production even begins.