This past Sunday was a glorious day, if you were a cactus. Not a cloud in the sky, and no shade to be found anywhere either. Temperatures were pushing triple digits Fahrenheit, the lawn had turned a light shade of brown, and the few tourists I had seen earlier in town had not discovered the miracle of sunscreen as they were as red as the lobsters we had devoured the prior evening. I had a few hours before I needed to be anywhere, so it was a good opportunity to pull a couple of cars out of the garage and just go enjoy a drive. While I am a big fan of convertibles, this was the type of weather where you can feel your brain cells boiling when your dome is baking under the scorching sun. Something with a roof and at least semi adequate air-conditioning seemed to be very much in order. The cool environment also would lend itself to a bit more of a workout so manual and highly engaging were in order.
Porsche 911 (997.2) GT3 RS
The first set of keys I grabbed happened to belong to the white red eared winged Teutonic beast. Since its arrival on the east coast, the Porsche 911 (997.2) GT3 RS has become a bit of a favorite and is looking more like a long term keeper with each passing day. It’s a car that scores at the top of the charts on driver’s engagement. Its lack of polish is the secret ingredient as pushing a GT3 RS is a very visceral rewarding experience. The GT3 RS is a car that demands concentration and effort to get the best out of it. From the moment you put your foot on the brake, push in the clutch pedal, and turn the key to the right, it is a loud, vibrating, ball of muscle. Release the clutch pedal when you are not in gear and it sounds like someone is shaking a metal box of spanners right behind your head. Sound deadening in the cabin is limited to whatever ear hair the driver has. The clutch is firm and very exact. The stick shift is stiff and deliberate. Each movement of the gear shift is finished off with a firm click into the next gear. Changing gears is a deliberate full fist exercise, not a casual batting of a stick around a rubbery selector. Miss the right gear notch even slightly and you will land in the wrong gear, a very bad thing, especially when downshifting. The racing buckets are excellent, in fact I would rate them as best seats in any of the Porsches we have owned. They wrap around you and keep you firmly planted behind the wheel. The seating position is higher and is more upright that other supercars. The windshield is far less raked back as well which reinforces the more upright driving positioning. This results in great line of sight to each of the front corners making road placement almost second nature. The 997.2 is the last generation 911 with hydraulic steering. The weighting and feedback this provides is outstanding. To top it all off, the air conditioning blows ice cold so it’s a perfect choice for a blazing hot summer day.
Driving the GT3 RS requires a high degree of concentration and driving it hard, requires a fair amount of skill. While the GT3 RS has huge amounts of grip, you never forget that it will bite you quickly if you get it wrong. Your right hand is constantly moving from the steering wheel to the gear shift. The clutch is not of the forgiving type so getting the timing right between right hand and left foot is critical. The GT3 RS needs to be pushed to get the best out of it and this is also where it truly rewards. Cruising is not its forte. Corners are definitely slow in, fast out. At the apex you can feel a very slight bit of body roll and the physics of having an engine is hung off the back axle. Moving that weight around smoothly is key to getting the most out of the GT3 RS. As it swings through a corner you need to balance that movement and then pick the right moment to stop its sideways progress and bring it back into line. Power delivery is also very different. Below 4000 rpm, it is lazy and a bit gutless, once you get it into the 5000 rpm and up range, it starts to come into its own and just flies. The big ceramic brakes retard forward progress most impressively. In a way they are almost too sophisticated alongside the old school transmission. The GT3 RS is one car where it feels like you can scrub speed off even faster than you can pile it on.
For an hour drive on some great back country roads, the GT3 RS is a highly rewarding choice. While the lack of sound-deadening coupled with the very firm suspension do cause a fair amount of brain and body damage when exposed to for extended periods, you barely notice in on an hour’s outing. GT3 RS does well on the roads around here, nothing is straight for very long and you can get the car flowing smoothly through the multiple “s” curves as you wind through the woods. On my go to “I have an hour to go enjoy a drive” route, the GT3 RS both struggles at times and really shines. There are a few sections that are quite slow through a series of switchbacks and when the revs drop, the engine gets quite lazy. On the quicker bits it shines and feels very dialed in. Passing is a bit of work as it needs proper planning. To do it well requires a bit of planning and proper set up. A well-executed pass on the GT3 RS involves dropping down 2 gears, having space to give yourself a bit of a run before you swing out, burying your right foot as you enter the left hand lane, and then shifting up as you swing back right as the slower moving obstacle now recedes in your rear view mirror. The GT3 RS demands skill & concentration. It will happily remind an average driver that they are exactly that and you do feel that the GT3 RS will bite if you get it a bit wrong.
After a bit of fun in the modern yet old school Porsche, it was Ferrari F40 time. One of my summer goals has been to get out in the F40 at least once a week and so far, we are on track. The F40 is one car that rewards regular use and gets quite cranky when it doesn’t get it. Many of the issues I have had with the F40 going back over our decade and a half together, can be traced back to periods when it did not see regular usage. This year with its regular outings, the F40 has been running beautifully and feels very much like its old self again.
Getting the F40 moving is as much an exciting event today as the first time I sat in the car. First open up the front clam shell, unplug the battery conditioner, open the driver’s door, step with right foot into the driver’s footwell, swing your tushy into the driver’s seat, and then pull your left leg in. The cabin is spartan by anyone’s standards. The dash is covered in grey fuzzy cloth and the naked carbon fiber floor panels look to be held together with green gel toothpaste. The smallish steering wheel is mounted a unique more vertical angle that takes a bit of getting used to. If I didn’t know better, I would guess that Ferrari used a chimpanzee to model the driving position as its designed for a driver with long arms and short legs. Key into the ignition, turn it two positions to the right, wait for the fuel pumps to pressurize, then give the black rubber start button a good firm push. The starter motor whirls for a second before the engine catches with a deep baritone growl, and then settles quickly into a slightly excited state at 2000 rpms while the catalytic converters warm up. Next step is to turn the air conditioner on and wait for the revs to drop down to around 1000 rpm. Once the F40 has settled into its normal idle, a quick press of the suspension button raises the front nose and rear, then its left foot down on the heavy clutch, hand on top of the cool metal gearshift ball, push it over to the left and up into reverse, release the clutch while slightly flexing the right ankle, and then begin to slowly roll backwards. Once clear of the garage, the upper body work out begins. The F40 is by far the most physically demanding car we own and of all the cars we have owned in the past, I would only rank the Ferrari 365GTB/4 Daytona and 365BB above it. With hands on the wheel at 9 & 3 o’clock, it takes a bit of muscle to get the steering wheel around to the right. Foot back on the clutch, gearshift slotted back into first, right ankle rolled forward again, and we are off. Slowly trundling down the driveway is done with only the slightest touching of the accelerator. Our driveway is partially gravel and you can hear the pinging of each small stone that gets tossed up into the carbon fiber clad wheel wells. At the bottom of the drive, look both ways quickly and then if it is clear, down goes the right foot carefully and we are off. The revs climb to about 3500 rpm and then it’s a quick up shift to 3rd. I try to avoid 2nd gear until the car is fully warmed up as it can be a bit notchy at times.
With the F40 now fully warmed up and the clutch feeling right, it’s time to push a bit. We cruised down a few back country lanes, before heading down along the coast and they up to the highway to give the turbos a chance to really let loose. Hearing the turbos whistle behind your head never gets old. I didn’t push the F40 hard, nor did I feel I needed to. Getting it flowing down the windy back country roads is a wonderful, highly enjoyable feeling. Inputs need to be smooth. Keeping the car neutral and balanced is key. It was all 2nd gear, 3rd gear, glaze the brake pedal, then back down into 2nd for the next curve. You get into a rhythm as the steering lightens up, the nose goes exactly where you point it, and you set up each curve properly to keep the car moving smartly. The F40 is a slow in fast out turbo lag beast in which you need to make sure all 4 wheels are headed in the same direction before seriously getting back on the power. The F40 has an enormous amount of traction, but when it does break free, it happens suddenly and requires lightening fast reflexes to catch. Most F40s that have been in accidents have rear damage as that’s the end that tends to go through the hedges first.
When the sun is out, it’s always a good time to go out for a drive. While there are wind in your hair (or what remains of it) days, there are also cold air being blasted at your feet days. Having a number of different types of cars to choose from, makes each a potentially enjoyable experience. The Ferrari F40 and the Porsche 911 (997.2) GT3 RS are two cars that always engage, demand effort from the drivers, and provide an abundance of rewards when you get it right. An hour or so in each is a great way to spend a summer weekend day.
Thoughts and comments? Please see the comments section below.
The sign up for new blog email notifications is at the bottom of the page.