As I struggle to get out of the bright Lava Orange 2016 GT3RS, I can hear the 4.0-liter engine ticking as it begins to cool. I walk around to view the huge 21-inch Michelin Sport Cup Pilot 2’s that have been thrashed for the past 50 or so minutes, and laugh out loud in disbelief. Today was a good day indeed.
It is not often that us working class guys have the opportunity to experience true visceral high performance driving
In the latest, state of the art German track weapons of our favorite brand. But hey, we are Kansas City Porsche Club guys and that’s the way we roll.
I have previously attended and written about the new Porsche Experience Center in Atlanta and have always come away impressed with the facility, the people and the experience. It is a fantastic venue that provides a safe and exciting way for anyone to really get engaged in the brand; drive these cars as they are meant to be driven-regardless of his or her experience level.
This was my third visit, and it was special. I had a business trip planned well in advance and had been itching for a return engagement, so I perused the Porsche.Com website and noticed a new drivers experience called the “GT Academy”. I noticed that it did not provide pricing, but did include instructions indicating that I had to call for arrangements. This sounded interesting.
Special kudo’s go to Colin Smith at the PEC who arranged a “special” GT Academy experience for me
He substituted the new Cayman GT4 for the regular “ole” GT3, after he realized that I had already driven that sled earlier in the year. He went on to explain that the GT Academy was designed for “more advanced” drivers. Heck, I thought, I have plenty of seat time playing Forza 6 on my Xbox One at home. Let’s do this.
Stepping into the entryway of the shiny Porsche North American headquarters transports you from the heat and humidity of a south Georgia summer morning and into an uber cool museum environment reminiscent of what you would see in the Porsche Exclusive catalogue. It even smells expensive.
I checked in at the desk, filled out some paperwork and signed my life away. (The supplemental insurance is mandatory for the GT Academy) I am given my credentials and “GT Academy” lanyard and head to the Cappuccino bar. Beverages are complementary. It’s the least they can do, right?
My instructor comes in and introduces himself and welcomes me—and we have a good chat. Kevin Clifford is the kind of instructor you want in these experiences. Born and raised in Malibu, California, he has a great sense of humor, a disarming demeanor, is very knowledgeable and more importantly, has the right credentials. With real world Porsche racing experience in the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge Series, IMSA, and the Grand AM-Rolex Sports Car Series, he brings a lot to the table. Starting out in karts as a kid, he worked hard and competed all the way to the CIK-FIA World Karting Finals. He is the real deal.
Keenly aware that the outside temperature is climbing, we head downstairs and onto the tarmac where an assortment of cars are all prepped, fueled and ready to go. The first act today is a gorgeous Sapphire Blue Metallic GT4. We get strapped into the LWB’s, go through a brief orientation and head out to the main course for some warm up laps. Having owned only PDK equipped P-cars, it took me a few minutes to get comfy with the awesome 6-speed manual. Being a former 981 Cayman owner, I was familiar with the general handling characteristics on track, but the GT4 operates at a whole different level. There is a much more direct connection between the driver and the track surface, and on corner entry, the car has terrific turn in (thanks no doubt to the GT3 front end) and excellent balance at mid-corner. On the exits, setting the suspension and rolling into the throttle is hugely rewarding and big fun. The 3.8 liter transforms the car into a world class, no apologies needed, track weapon. The PCCB brakes are hugely confidence inspiring and Kevin constantly reminds me that I am braking too early. (A pattern to be repeated later in the GT3RS)
For the next 50 minutes, we ran the GT4 through its paces
Including progressive high speed laps on the big outer course, pressing deeper and deeper into the brake zones, followed by time on the short but technical polished concrete course to practice understeer/oversteer and throttle control techniques. Finally, we ended up on the wet kick plate runway where I struggled to keep the winged Cayman on the straight and narrow but ended up executing at least a couple of nearly perfect 360-degree spins, which amused my instructor greatly. Through it all, the GT4 handled it with grace and aplomb. The GT4 is a masterpiece on track; supremely competent, but forgiving enough when pushed to the limit. To quote Chris Harris: “What a thing”.
We make our mid-session pit stop, grab a cold bottle of water and walk over to our waiting Lava Orange GT3RS. After reading all of the articles, and watching all of the YouTube videos, I was not sure of what to expect, but we sped through a brief orientation, adjusted my seat, strapped in and lit the beast.
The snarling, maniacal sound of that 500 HP naturally aspirated 4.0 liter flat 6 permeates the cabin, as there is no sound insulation. We head out slowly onto the main course to put some heat in the massive Michelin Sport Cup 2’s. Kevin informs me that this car, unlike the GT4, is much harder edged with little room for error at the limit. I heed his advice, leaving the traction control on and work up to speed slowly; focusing on smooth steering inputs and throttle discipline. Turn in is even sharper than the GT4, and the suspension feels much firmer. This is a physical car to drive fast.
Kevin continues to provide solid coaching feedback on my lines, as we make our way through the tight technical stuff and then finally onto the front main straight, where I roll into full throttle for the first time. The engine noise is intimidating but intoxicating, and as you approach the 8250-RPM redline the car shifts hard and breaks the tires loose into second and third gear. I barely have enough time to blink, but then hit the PCCB’s hard. “Way too early” Kevin yells above the engine noise. This was to be a repetitive theme for the next few laps until I built up enough confidence to really believe in both the equipment and myself. The GT3RS’ braking ability from high speeds is simply stunning and borders on insanity.
As initially intimidating the car is to drive at speed, once settled in and focused, I was able to really experience some of what all the road tests have touted for months
The car just gets better the faster and harder you push it. Clearly reserving the best for someone far more capable than me, but it does make you feel almost super-human. Did I mention the engine noise?
For the next 40 minutes or so, we continued to work on driving techniques that would enable this rookie to exploit as much of this incredible car’s capabilities as possible, while careful not to go beyond my own. I have some solid DE experience in my 991 Carrera; yet making any comparison to the GT3RS seems fruitless. Everything is turned up to 11. Yes the basic DNA is there, but the assault on your senses distorts your reality to the point where you just have to take it all in and enjoy the drive.
As we climbed out of the Lava Orange beast, we debriefed and Kevin asked about my experience. I searched for the word to describe my day. “WOW” is about all I could say. What a terrific experience and I come away humbled and grateful for the opportunity of driving these pinnacle GT cars at speed.
Thanks to my instructor Kevin Clifford and Colin Smith and the team at Porsche North America in Atlanta for allowing me to experience the new Cayman GT4 and the GT3RS on track back to back. I would encourage anyone who has a passion for the Porsche brand to make the trek to Atlanta and take advantage of this terrific facility and everything it has to offer.