What the Porsche 911 brings to the track 50 years in: Motoramic TV

April 30, 2013

Porsche is throwing itself something of an ongoing birthday party this year to honor the gestation of the 911 50 years ago. Fifty years is a great run for any single model, but especially for one that belongs to the realm of expensive sports cars. Many a would-be 911 competitor has come and gone over the course of its tenure, but that flat six is still playing its funky tune out behind the rear axle. To salute this accomplishment, but also just to have silly fun, I took the new 991-series Carerra S to Carolina Motorsports Park to evaluate the latest 911 in its natural environment: a track.

Perhaps the biggest change with the new 911 is its added four inches of wheelbase. Evidently, this added length makes the car more stable in high-speed corners, to the extent that the new Carerra S is a match for the old GT3 on a fast road course. I don’t pretend to be able to perceive such things by the seat of my pants, so I recruited a guy who can: Marty Barrett, a performance driving instructor and Porsche GT3 owner.

Barrett didn’t have his car at the track, but the Xtreme Xperience supercar track-day outfit was holding a drive that day, and the Xtreme fleet happens to include a recent 911 Turbo. So the 997 — albeit, ferociously turbocharged and all-wheel-drive — was handy as a frame of reference.

Anyone who owns a GT3 is a purist, so Barrett’s admiration for the 991’s track manners carry extra weight. The new car’s sharp turn-in drew praise, as did the 3.8-liter flat six’s power delivery. As we followed an Xtreme Xperience instructor in the Turbo, Barrett noted that the 997 wasn’t losing us as quickly as his 100-hp advantage would suggest. Perhaps the Carerra 2S has only 400 hp at its disposal, but it deploys that horsepower to great effect, pulling strong out of corners even with the track soaked in drenching rain.

After a few fast laps with Marty at the wheel, I took my turn. If there’s anywhere that the new 911’s extra stability comes in handy, it’s Turn 10 on the back straight of the Carolina Motorsports Park road course. This is a blind high-speed kink where your commitment to the apex is confounded by either a bump or the corner curbing (I never got a close look, given the fact that you’re at triple-digit speed here). The deeper onto the apex you drive, the more the curbing upsets the suspension and tries to spit you off the pavement. Slow line smooth, fast line bumpy. Pick your poison.

And yet, lap after lap, Barrett keeps goading me to carry more speed, and the 911 keeps shrugging off the track’s attempts to shuck it into the greenery. I’m impressed. But still scared of this corner.

Every time Porsche redesigns the 911, there will be a chorus of drivers claiming it’s been neutered, that its legendary scariness is hereby banished by the latest engineering. That was said when the 996 replaced the 993, when the 997 replaced the 996, and now especially with the 991.

Well, I’m not buying it. The motor’s still behind the rear axle, and when I deliberately squeeze in too much throttle on a second-gear corner, the sudden slew of the rear end causes the steering wheel to spin in my hands like I’m helming the Andrea Gail into the teeth of the Perfect Storm. The pendulum yet swings.

You can say the 991 is tame for a 911. But it’s still a 911.