Driving the Porsche GT3 RS and GT2 RS, the New Quickest Production Cars

We drive Road Atlanta in the very car that dethroned the Corvette ZR1.

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JF Musial (TangentVector)

“No lap is ever the definitive lap,” Randy Pobst tells me. He just broke the production car lap record at Road Atlanta behind the wheel of the new Porsche GT2 RS. Like any race driver, he thinks it could go faster. “Whenever you see a Nurburgring lap time, whoever set that time always knows there was somewhere that could’ve been a little bit better.”

He would know. After all, Porsche had just fitted magnesium wheels to the GT2 RS, which cut 0.6 seconds off his lap times, an eternity at this level of driving. Pobst's 1:24.88 lap in the Porsche beat the previous record by 1.57 seconds, one Pobst also set, this time in a 2019 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1. “The ZR1 can’t put down the power out of the slow corners,” Probst says. “That’s its weakness.” Then discussion then turns to the McLaren Senna which, yes, would probably be even quicker. But those also cost more than $800,000, and anyway, McLaren hasn't brought one to Road Atlanta.

It's the night before we’re scheduled to drive Road Atlanta in the latest Porsche GT3 RS and GT2 RS. Sitting across from us is three-time LeMans winner Hurley Haywood, so I take the opportunity to pick his brain about the very specific task at hand: following him around Road Atlanta without being too slow or, worse, too fast. Haywood honed his driving skills behind the wheel of a Studebaker pickup on a huge farm, where he’d go out in the morning and drive till dinner. He never had any formal instruction but definitely logged his Malcolm Gladwell 10,000 hours of practice.

As for tomorrow, he says the trick with Road Atlanta is to stay off the brakes in a couple spots where I’ll be tempted to slow down too much. You need to carry speed, maintain the flow. At one point he refers to the GT3 RS as a “momentum car,” a term usually applied to, say, a Miata. That’s the level these guys are on: a 520-horsepower Porsche 911 is a momentum car. Pobst also beat the ZR1’s lap time in the GT3 RS, which packs 235 fewer horsepower than the Chevy.

That’s a lot of momentum.

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"Hellooooooooow."
Ezra Dyer

The next morning, three 911s await on pit lane. The lead car, an orange GT3 RS, will be driven by Haywood. Behind it are a screaming green GT3 RS and a red GT2 RS. Haywood’s car is shod with Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires, which by normal standards are considered a super-aggressive street-legal track tire. But they’re sensible shoes compared to the rubber on the other two cars: Sport Cup 2 Rs, which use a tread compound sourced from Michelin’s race shop.

I ask Jim Knowles, Michelin senior product category manager, how long a set of these will last at a track. “Probably for a few tanks of gas,” he says. “But that’s a long time for a race compound. A lot of the time, race tires are designed to last for one tank of gas, because when you come in for fuel you get new tires anyway.”

One of the used tires sitting near the Michelin truck has a pair of odd circular indentations in the tread, so I ask Knowles what that’s all about. “There were probably a couple washers or something on the ground and the tire sat on them when it was still hot,” he says. That’s how soft these tires are when they’re at temperature: enough to make a mold of anything sitting on the ground.

Knowles says that the R-compound tires are supposed to lower your lap time by a half second per kilometer, compared to regular Sport Cup 2 Rs. So here, that’s about two seconds. Another huge margin.

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That’s a lot of rear tire. And only $979.17 apiece from the Tire Rack. Fronts are $889.18.
Ezra Dyer

I strap into the GT3 RS first on the theory that a 9,000-rpm naturally aspirated track freak will be a good starter vehicle, inasmuch as the only other choice is a 700-horsepower turbocharged track freak that can hit 124 mph in 8.3 seconds.

My last visit to Road Atlanta came in 2010, so for the first few laps I’m relearning which way the corners go. Which is a conundrum, because many of them are blind and to stay on the line I have to keep up with Haywood. Thus, I’m forced to get up to speed by getting up to speed, because if I lose sight of his car's towering rear wing, then I’m lost. But by the end of the first 20-minute session, I can pay attention to the car rather than the track. It is a glorious object.

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The GT3 RS only has 520 horsepower but it gets through corners all right.
JF Musial (TangentVector)

I’ve always been drawn to the pragmatic appeal of the 911 Turbo. However, driving a GT3 RS at redline on a road course could convince you that all cars should have rear-wheel-drive, naturally aspirated flat sixes, and three-story wings on the back. With that fearsome shriek augering through your helmet, every upshift a cymbal-crash on the resonant frequency for euphoria, you don’t feel like any car could possibly go any quicker. And then you get into the GT2.

“If he can do it on those tires, then I can do it on these tires"

No longer is the challenge to keep up. Haywood would lose me in a given corner, and then I’d flex that magic 700-horsepower pedal and pull right back into position. We’re running in Sport Plus mode, which means traction and stability control on, but not intruding unless you get way out of shape. I notice the traction-control light flickering as I power up over the hill at the exit of turn 5. There’s a bump that upsets the car a little, so the electronics are saving me from laying rubber at 90 mph or so. There's a frisky powerplant back there.

On the back straight, the GT3s are hitting about 155 mph. In the GT2 RS, you can stay with the GT3 RS at what feels like half throttle. The straight-line power is just absurd, but so is everything else—when I looked at the car’s trip computer, I saw that the numbers for some of Pobst’s exploits are still logged on the high score screen, which displays a peak lateral acceleration of 1.63 g. I keep that figure in mind when it seems like Haywood isn’t cutting much amateur slack while flying through the last corner onto the front straightaway, where the wall looms right there at the corner exit. “If he can do it on those tires, then I can do it on these tires,” I tell myself.

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We didn’t want to reset the GT2’s trip computer because that top speed was too cool to erase.
Ezra Dyer

I also try to remember that this car has real downforce, an unusual factor for a street car that changes your calculations, because it means this Porsche can corner harder at 150 mph than it could at 50 mph. At top speed, it’s making 750 pounds of downforce. The car is not making loads of downforce at typical track speeds, but any noticeable downforce upends your expectations: The faster you go, the more stable the car gets.

The turns out to be important on the back straight, which includes a slight bend to the right that you wouldn’t notice at 120 mph, but becomes a real corner at GT2 RS speeds. On a couple of afternoon laps, I back off ahead of the straight, to create some space between the GT3 ahead. On the first pass, I get a sense of how much faster the GT2 RS will head into the braking zone. And on the next lap, I go for it, holding it flat all the way past that mild bend that now seems like it’s definitely a huge corner. I’m on the right line, so as I begin braking I let my eyes dart to the speedometer just as it flits from 171 mph to 174 mph—even at that speed, the speedometer is counting by threes.

The ceramic composite brakes haul the car down for the next slow left-hander with no fade, no drama, no tail-wiggle. It’s not scary. The original GT2 RS was supposed to be a crazed oversteering boogeyman, but if that was the case then Porsche’s since embraced the idea that performance is more fun when it’s accessible. At least, it’s accessible when you’ve got the Sport Plus babysitters helping prevent you from backing into the nearest wall at a buck twenty-five.

Eventually we pit in for fuel and, in the case of the GT2 RS, distilled water. A carbon-fiber tank in the trunk holds 1.3 gallons of water that’s sprayed on the heat exchangers under high loads, dropping the intake air charge temperature by as much as 68 degrees Fahrenheit.

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ChiaPorsche: for record-breaking lap times, just add water.
Ezra Dyer

I also examine the tires, not because I know enough to pronounce them healthy or not, but because I’m fascinated with how they wear as we run laps. A normal high-performance street tire might show feathered sidewalls or evidence of accelerated treadwear after a few lapping sessions, but these things are so soft, the rubber is scabbing and balling up in corners, then spinning off in the centrifuge of the straights. Behind the wheel, you feel some extra vibration in the corners, like you’re driving over textured pavement. Then on the straights you hear an unnerving, “Whap! Whap!” as the tires cleanse themselves and spray rubber at the inner wheelwells (and, as it turns out, at the car behind you). It’s all normal for race-compound tires, but it’s new to me.

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The GT3 RS wears a tattoo from molten Sport Cup 2 R flying off the GT2 RS.
Ezra Dyer

If you want to put the Road Atlanta lap-record champion in your personal garage, a GT2 RS starts at $294,250. But you’ll surely want the $31,000 Weissach Package, which includes carbon fiber sway bars and those magnesium wheels that drop 24 pounds off the curb weight. The total Weissach diet is 40 pounds.

Here I might mention that a US dollar bill weighs one gram and there are 454 grams to a pound, which means that 40 pounds of dollar bills would total $18,160. So the Weissach weight reduction would be less expensive if you were actually removing stacks of loose cash from the car. But then you wouldn’t get carbon fiber sway bars, would you?

If you’re worried about the money, a GT3 RS is only $188,750. Which sounds like a pretty swell deal for a car that would beat every other car around Road Atlanta. Well, every other car except one.

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