5 years, 8 months and 13 days. Or, 2083 days. I’m not counting. I am counting actually. It’s been a goddamn drought.
That’s how long it’s been since I sold my last GT3. I’ve been in a few cars since then. Some of them equally reputable, others not so worthy. But since that time, I’ve been counting the days until I could get back into another GT3.
Those that know me will know of the challenging few years I’ve had. Those even closer will know even more of the recent turmoil I’ve endured in the past few weeks and having pulled through and kicked my aggressor flat in the face, I concluded that given we spend scant time on this planet, I should enjoy it – so I started looking for the one thing I know would make me happy – a GT3.
There’s not often more than a couple of GT3 Clubsports on the market – certainly not so much with Porsche dealerships, but as luck would have it, a perfect specification appeared at Porsche Aberdeen. Key options including Clubsport, front-lift suspension, PCM, sport chrono plus and most importantly, guards red – the rest were an added bonus. Cue some calls and negotiating, I lumped a deposit down and made plans to collect in later that week. There was of course the offer of a delivery but I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to enjoy some of those spectacular Scottish roads. Flights booked then and onto a plane that could only be piloted by Indiana Jones.
I don’t know how we lucked out so much but the weather was truly stunning. With snow warnings and floods having closed half the roads in remote Scotland, it was a good omen to the rest of the day.
Pulling up into the brand new Aberdeen Porsche Centre, I noticed, tucked under cover, was something undeniably red and angry. I pretend to not notice and instead walk into the showroom to enjoy my full experience.
It has to be said, the entire process was very pleasant, with presentation of some gifts and niceties paving way for documentation and signatures. I absolutely loved the Porsche espresso mugs and saucers and the key box was really sweet with a framed photo of the car. Having the dealer principle come down and shake my hand with congratulations was such a small, but important touch – that hasn’t happened before and I must recommend them as a dealer. Both Alana and David are awesome to deal with.
It was 12.30pm already and I had a 12 hour schedule ahead of me. I had to start making a move if I was to have any luck in getting back to London, but the moment I saw the car in earnest, all concept of time flaked away.
I’ve owned a number of GT3s in my life (this is my 6th) but each iteration improves on the presence of each predecessor before it. That deep front chin is menacingly purposeful and that rear spoiler has been matched beautifully in design to give the car its aggressive stance. But I can’t get over those comedy wheels – they look absolutely huge, snug under the arches with scarcely any room to fit a finger between.
As I’m putting my coat and bag away into the boot, the mrs is doing something quite unexpected. I look up and she’s claiming ‘Nah, there’s no way I’m sharing my space with THIS in the footwell’. In a matter of seconds she’s disassembled the fire extinguisher and dumped it in the boot. Fair enough, but why do Porsche have to hack away carpets to fit the extinguisher, it’s quite upsetting. In fact, I’ve never had my extinguisher fitted – it really is pointless.
Sat inside, the interior is leaps and bounds ahead of any previous 911 before it. 911 dashboards, especially GT3 variants, have always been simple affairs which have done well to stand the test of time, but this is a huge leap forward that is in tune I guess with the increase in technology on this car. A much modernised centre console that houses the PDK controller in the middle, there are a lot of switches and I can’t yet figure out if it’s cool or a little confused at the moment – there’s a lot of gadgetry and the user experience will be something I’ll be better equipped to judge in a few weeks. Porsche folding carbon bucket seats and the surrounding alcantara make the interior an exciting place to be and with generous stamps of ‘GT3’ across the cabin there’s no mistaking any intent.
Engine on and I’m greeted by the familiar bark of the old Metzger 3.8, except this isn’t the Metzger. It’s the much modernised DFI 3.8 straight from the Carrera family with added fireworks. It’s incredible really as I’m challenged to witness any discernable difference between both powerplants and Porsche have clearly done a fantastic job of injecting motorsport DNA into its homologation cars. I pull out of the Porsche dealership for the final time and release a signature blowdog scream out the main road as the car wails up first and second gear. I’m smiling and whooping at the same time – I feel home.
I have a plan for the day. It has no schedule, but I’ve marked four spots on the map that I have to positively drive through before I can head back home. My key villages are, in this order, Ballater, Braemar, Pitlochry and the Queen’s View visitor centre. Glenn has been pushing me to visit these locations, having done the trip himself recently.
Setting out of Aberdeen centre in relatively light traffic, I’m struck by the compliance offered by the chassis. GT3s have always been extremely capable in a variety of roles and this iteration seems to carry that tradition whilst further adding to its credentials. The most notable introduction of new technology being the PDK, it makes city driving an effortless breeze. As somebody who’s lived with GT3s most of my adult life in cities, manual gearboxes are great at a circuit and in Snowdonia, but for the remaining 96% of life with a GT3, a manual gearbox is a right royal pain in the left leg.
Heading directly west towards Ballater, it’s not long before we’re graced with a flurry of A and B roads and in short time, there’s almost no traffic as we start to approach Cairngorms National Park. The scenery begins to take a dramatic change and the rocky, weather worn landscape begins to demonstrate the effects of millenias of sculpting. Snow laced mountains begin to peek out from behind nearby hills whilst coniferous forestry is split clean in two by the beautiful River Dee as we follow it for 100 miles.
In Ballater, I take advantage of some photography as we park up next to the Dee where it is more a powerful stream than a river, but it’s still a beautiful sight and one can imagine the salmon caught from the fresh water here as it comes down from the mountains.
Heading out of Ballater towards Braemar, by now I’m utterly familiar with the GT3 again. Like an old friend, once we’ve dispensed with ice breakers I’m completely at ease and comfortable in this unique of propositions. The roads around here are drawn by a higher power with thick black marker pens, carving bend to bend and creating a harmonious flow of B road nirvana, flowing from forest to rivers to mountains.
The pleasure I’m feeling is climactic and the GT3 has seeped itself into my blood again. The steering is full of conversation – perhaps less of the excitable chatter the old hydraulic system used to have, but the new electronic set up does not stay quiet. Changes in condition, grip and direction are conveyed with complete clarity and the four wheel steering is doing god knows what I don’t know because all I can feel is complete confidence in a car designed by masters of their art. I certainly notice, however, that I’m yet to feel the lightness on the front that would sometimes plague 911s of past – it feels like the front is actually doing its share of the work for once. And if that added weight on the front means slightly less chit-chat then I’m more than happy for that compromise.
Each time I engage another set of bends I’m reminded by how much mechanical grip this car has – a throwback from the original 996 GT3, having the engine over the year does have some benefits. It has a pig-headed stubbornness that refuses to let go of the black stuff unless provoked. One startling difference I’ve discovered between this and the 997 is the break-point of traction. The 997 would rarely let go of the rear under full acceleration, requiring either lift off oversteer to provoke or trail braking. Porsche have finally discovered the tipping point, with 470BHP only now will the car let go with full throttle turns. Control is benign and predictable, if you know what to expect and know how to react to quick changes in direction. It’s a constant recital of poetry.
Then there’s the engine. Upshifting from 9,000 RPM is a repeatable event for sure. It barks, yowls and screams at which point you start to wince and realise you’ve still got another 1500 RPM of orchestral movement. It feels utterly wrong and unholy in a sanitised world and each time you reach those decibels, something inside pleads with you to stop what you’re doing. It’s a truly guilty feeling.
Thankfully, that is more of a treat than anything else because the car does not need to witness the redline often to be of benefit. In fact it’s probably more relevant on track, because the engine has excellent tractability pulling in impressive power from much lower in the rev-range. As far as the last of the normally aspirated lumps go, I’d say it’s amongst the very best in the world and seeing how all Porsches are going turbocharged I’m curious as to what we will have in the next-gen cars.
Which brings us to the transmission. Earlier I mentioned the ball breaking nature of manual gearboxes in GT3s and I’ll stick by those earlier comments. With this much power that’s so accessible, one would struggle to juggle all these pins with this much action going on, on these types of roads. Were I given a choice of manual or PDK for this car, it would probably be PDK. Especially around here.
Approaching Braemar, we’re now deep in the mountains and have happened upon an actual ski-resort, Glenshee. It’s stunningly picturesque and completely at odds with our expectations of what the UK should be like. I pull over for some air and yellow snow and take in the freshest air I can muster. It’s quiet, deathly quiet and I’m loathe to break the silence with another bark from the car so I postpone the inevitable and instead just enjoy the silence.
The roads here are a mix of conditions, but they’re mostly unpredictable. I’m shocked at how motorcyclists would consider venturing up here with snow banked roads and the melting ice creating dangerous concoctions on the roads themselves, I would not trust anything other than 4 wheels out here. However, as much fun as they are having, the GT3 must show them the way, so I set off again.
Long sweeping roads that provoke the mountain sides continue to swerve in and out and for a while I turn off all driver aids (stability and traction control) and investigate just how much the car is protecting me. Now with all safety nets removed, the car changes character momentarily. The rears want to play so much more and as always, TC on a GT3 is more about play time than restricting any inherent handling flaw, as is often the case with some cars. But this isn’t the place to experiment and I don’t want to be discovered 10 years later encased in ice with a frozen grimace on my face. Also the wife is feeling sick, very sick. So we pull over and I have a chat with another excited driver tourist in his RS5.
The air is colder out here, but I’m so comfortable I don’t ever want to leave. It’s a pleasure I’ve not had in a very long time and only those who can understand the intense high one can get from the solitude of the great outdoors with nothing other than your car as company, will get it. But we’re getting hungry now. We’ve been driving solid for 4 hours and burning only a cheap and nasty Costa panini from City Airport at 8am that morning. Onto Pitlochry.
I try to take things a little slower now and I’m ashamed to admit, I switch the PDK into fully automatic as I let the car do its thing whilst I enjoy the scenery instead. Right now, I’m absolutely knackered and I wouldn’t change PDK for a manual in a million years. Add to this, it’s now started to rain a little bit. Not so much that I need the wipers on full, but I’m asked to notch it down a bit both by the passenger and the weather. It’s all very pretty, even with the rain, as the rocks glisten in the surrounding countryside and the river develops more aggression and just when I think it couldn’t possibly get any more picturesque, I come over the brow of a hill to be greeted by one of the best sights any motorist can have.
The road keeps disappearing and reappearing into the distance as valleys and hills do their best to disguise the tarmac amongst the mountainside. Deep in the distance rain clouds create a sheen of mist in the horizon and this magical moment will remain with me forever. It’s such a beautiful region, the remoteness is both a tragedy and blessing.
We’ve had some lunch now at the town of Pitlochry and have decided that the Queen’s View will be the last stop before home. Anyone who knows that road will remember the tight, narrow nature of it. Only now you realise how big the 991 actually is and it is not without some trepidation I find myself tiptoeing from blind bend to the next. Any oncoming traffic has me holding my breath as the road is a proper tight rollercoaster. It undulates in only the way a fairground ride would and only if I knew there were guarantees of no traffic would I enjoy this road. Regardless, approaching the top, we pull over and walk up a small summit to enjoy this incredible sight.
It’s now hometime. I’ve just put my destination into my sat nav and frankly I’m scared. It says I have 480 miles to get home and I’ll be in just shy of 1:00am. Given it’s 5.30pm, this is a long drive home. The debate is if I have enough strength left in me to traverse such a journey. Bare in mind I’m just over a week out of fresh intensive surgery, I’m either delightfully stupid and actually gone mad, or I’m as hardcore a driving enthusiast as can be. I decide to push on.Every hundred miles or so I take a pitstop for a break, have a coffee, some fruit, whatever I can to keep me awake. And shame on the UK Highways Agency for having well over 100 miles of unattended, 50MPH restricted roadworks on the M1. It is disgusting and they genuinely should be ashamed of themselves.
The going is slow and a genuine test of my patience. I appear to have the same car tail me for well over 100 miles and from the variety of cars that join and leave the motorways I seem to be glued to, a good selection seem very keen to race me – I guess the wife did ask me that morning, “did I have to go for such a loud colour?” The miles slowly tick off and eventually I see signs to London. Paradoxically, the closer I get home, the more awake I’m starting to feel and I can’t help but start to digest the past 24 hours. I’m truly a privileged man and I feel like I’m the luckiest person alive to enjoy such a car on such an epic road trip.
As I pull up my drive, I’m suddenly hit like a truck with a wave of fatigue that threatens to put me to sleep right there on my drive. I have no energy to put the car in the garage and instead opt to block the GT3 in with the 118d. I’m absolutely wiped. My trip computer, which I reset just before I left Aberdeen Porsche, says I’ve been driving solid for 9h 44m and a total distance of 582.5 miles at an average speed of 61mph. Turning the key to my door I ask the wife for clarification. Am I a madman or a hero? She rotates her finger on the side of her head. Takes one to know one dear.0