After the debut of the 996-generation 911 in 1998, Porsche began making plans to enter the car into the GT class at the 2000 LeMans, and set out to develop the race car, simultaneously developing a road-going variant which was required by GT class homologation rules. The car debuted at the Geneva Motor Show in 1999 before going on sale.
Porsche uses the 911 GT3’s 3.6-liter six to homologate the engines it develops for racing, so it is beneficiary of a mouthwatering menu of technology. It’s all about getting weight out of the reciprocating components and making it breathe better. A total of 7.7 lb was removed from the engine, which turns so smoothly that no vibration dampers are needed on the crank, saving about 5 lb more. The intake and exhaust cams were tuned to a sharper edge, and a new tappet design contributes to more rapid valve opening and higher valve lift, essential components of a deep-lunged engine. Version ME 7.8 of Porsche’s engine management system ensures efficient, clean running.
The 380 bhp grabs the asphalt through the rear wheels only-gloriously unimpeded by any sort of traction control (ABS is the only electronic aid of any sort). Bigger brakes and wheels than in the 911 Turbo, improved aerodynamics, adjustable ride-height suspension, Michelin’s newest generation of Pilot Sport rubber and the best power-to-weight ratio in the line help the GT3 996 perform like the best-balanced athlete ever to rise from the 911 gene pool. It has only two seats, and the air conditioning can be left out to save further weight, but at 3,043 lb (compare to a 2003 C2 at 2,959 lb, a C4 at 3,267 lb or a GT2 at 3,168 lb), it still is more street car than race car.
The GT3’s gearbox is a six-speed manual transmission, blessed with delightfully short and precise shift throws, revised synchro rings (out of steel instead of brass) and splash oil lubrication and external fluid cooling (similar to Porsche racing practice). The track layout was ideal for exploring the car’s strengths-which are many but begin with the new, optional ceramic composite brakes. They’re 50% lighter than the standard system, reducing unsprung weight by almost 40 lb. The cross-drilled, inner vented ceramic rotors are immune to corrosion, are virtually fade-free and their hardness means an extended service life. On that day at the track, they were simply awesome, especially when setting up for the acute, second-gear right-hander just after the long, 150-mph front straight. It took a couple of laps to for me to "get" it; at first I was stabbing them much too hard and too early, but soon I learned how deep they could take me into a corner with smooth and steady application of the pedal.