A Ferrari from miles away-miles. People told us as much: faces contorted through childish excitement at having seen, heard, and almost felt the sheer physicality of a 599GTO running fast. Sitting inside, torso pinched by carbon Sabelt buckets that shave nineteen pounds from a 599GTB’s seat shell, you’re aware of the noise, but it no longer registers as something especially notable, because there comes a point at which concentration overrules sensory faculties, and it wouldn’t matter if the Concorde were taking off ten feet away.
Tipping the GTO into Schwedenkreuz, the mother of all turns at the Nürburgring Nordschleife, is one of those moments. The anatomy of this turn, and the right-hander at Aremberg that follows, defines this car perhaps more clearly than any other sequence of bends.
A few seconds ago, the car was careening downhill at an indicated 180 mph-guardrails no more than fifteen feet from either mirror. Then came the terrifying entry point, which is blind and cambered and pulls the machine inexorably to the outside edge of the pavement, where accidents of dental-record proportions await the foolhardy.
Speed is the issue here. If you know the place well, you should be able to turn, clip, and exit without danger, even beyond 120 mph, but the GTO piles on the momentum with such alarming ease that the braking zones require concentration. I have raced very fast cars here for years, but I’ve never driven anything that hauls like this 661-hp animal. The latest generation of carbon-ceramic brakes do a great job, even if the pedal travel is a little long, but the simple fact remains that you enter these braking zones — places with no runoff and minimal margin for error — 20 mph faster than in the latest Porsche 911 GT3 RS. It takes serious adjustment.
Unquestionably, the GTO has the most impressive steering response and front-end grip of any front-engine sports car. The project brief for the GTO, aside from the paradigm increase instraight-line performance, was simple: eradicate understeer. Above 120 mph — the speed at which the GTO enters Schwedenkreuz — the combination of aerodynamic and tire grip is very impressive. The steering is slightly sterile and numb — fast, too — but when you request a small direction change, the car delivers precisely that: it inspires great confidence and allows you to lean harder and harder on the GTO when firing into turns. At this juncture, the GTO seems entirely, unflinchingly omniscient-built to devour this circuit. It scoots through, then sheds 75 mph in a blink for the following right-hander, Aremberg.
Again, the entry phase is spellbinding: a wrist flick and it’s nailed. You have to stifle a chortle as the car defies physical convention, and then, midcorner, its vast 285-section-width front Michelin Super Sports (a brand-new Cup tire with 9/32 of an inch of tread) claw into the surface and allow the driver to indulge the gas pedal. It’s all so simple. The apex is clipped, and you push the long-travel throttle into the bulkhead and then clench your nether regions for the inevitable slap of V-12 motive force. It comes only briefly, though: the rear axle accepts the torque but then begins to yaw ever so slightly, and the F1-Trac stability control intervenes-the motoring equivalent of the dad’s entrance into the infamous kitchen scene in American Pie.
It seems strange, because it doesn’t actually feel like you’re making an especially awkward demand of the 315-section rear tires, but the hip-shimmy confirms that you’ve overstepped the mark. It’s a theme perpetuated throughout the lap: brain-bending entry speeds, disappointing traction on the way out. It feels quite strange, too. In a car like this, you’d normally expect to nurse it into and through the apex and then unwind the lock, unleash the afterburners, and feel a smile kissing the inside of your helmet’s chin bar. But sadly, the GTO can’t always deploy its firepower. This contrasts sharply with The Other Car, the fastest Beetle of them all.
But before we delve into the dynamic differences of Porsche’s latest contribution to spec-sheet hyperbole, we should investigate the technical diversity represented by these two cars. Those who complain that automobiles in general are increasingly formulaic in terms of layout, construction, and orientation need look no further than the $416,150 Ferrari 599GTO and the $245,950 Porsche 911 GT2 RS.
With the 599, Ferrari has chosen an unlikely basis for its fastest and most powerful street car. The GTB Fiorano is a big lump of GT loveliness, but despite an aluminum body, it is quite heavy, and the racier GTO remains a 3500-pound proposition. However, mass becomes less of a problem if you’re propelled by a diamond-polished V-12 that brings 661 hp and 457 lb-ft of torque. Ferrari claims some immense performance figures, aided in no small part by the latest, and perhaps last, incarnation of the automated F1 gearbox.
Reflecting the stereotype perfectly, the Porsche offers a less exotic recipe-half the number of cylinders, a steel body shell, and a manual transmission — but the resulting specifications are truly remarkable. Its 612 hp falls far short of the Ferrari’s, but because the European-spec GT2 we tested weighs some 500 pounds less, it has the better weight-to-power ratio (4.94 pounds per horsepower versus 5.35). And when it comes to torque, the GT2’s 516 lb-ft, which arrives at 2250 rpm, shades the GTO’s 457 lb-ft at 6500 rpm.
But of all the figures that best hint at the differences in performance between the two, it’s the weight distribution that stands out. Locating the 6.0-liter V-12 entirely behind the front axle loads the rear tires with more than half of the Ferrari’s total mass. But by hanging the 3.6-liter flat six where the luggage should go, the 911 GT2 RS goes one better, with 62 percent of its weight bearing down on the rear tires.
You can’t hear the Porsche from miles away. In fact, you can barely hear it from a few feet away, although from behind the wheel the suspicion remains that air being accelerated away from the extralarge rear wing might be treating the residents of Nürburg, Germany, to the occasional sonic boom. This car is just so damn fast. You don’t need a measuring device to discover that it pulls harder than the GTO; every sustained surge of boost brings a crazed whooshing noise — like a recording of paper being ripped and then replayed much louder — as the sheer volume of ingested and recirculated air comprehensively muffles any exhaust noise. The GT2’s engine is a propulsive device; the GTO’s is a musical instrument.
At the same time, the Porsche won’t carry the same speed into a turn as the Ferrari. It stops as well as the GTO, but it doesn’t share the same ability to fire into an apex with supervehicular tenacity. But there’s a little more to it than a paucity of grip from the smaller 245-section Michelin Pilot Sport Cup rubber (with just 5/32 of an inch of tread — something to remember should you want to exercise your skills in a thunderstorm); entry speed in the GT2 requires concentration.
Speed accrual is even more of a problem than in the Ferrari and is further compounded by the need to downshift manually, leaving an awful lot to be done in a very short space of time. The upshot is that it is easy to fall into the trap of simply entering with too much speed: this car whooshes its way to 140 mph after just about every turn at the Nürburgring, and whereas your brain tells you from previous experience that you need to brake at a certain pressure and for a certain duration, in the GT2 RS it feels as if you’re overstopping the car, even though this is the correct method.
Now the car clicks. The slow-in/fast-out mantra has defined 911 driving for five decades, and it still applies. There’s no doubt that the GT2 loses ground to the 599 in those entry phases-it just doesn’t have the same mechanical purchase on the surface — and, of course, its less linear power delivery makes holding a stable throttle position through the turn more difficult, but when you release the steering angle and squeeze the right pedal to the floor, the combination of twin turbochargers and rear-engine traction are imperious. The GT2 RS flings itself from bends so aggressively that you wonder if Porsche shouldn’t offer wheelie bars as an option.
In fact, had Ferrari and Porsche tried to create two more contrasting ways of arriving at similar levels of performance, they probably couldn’t have given us anything more disparate than this pair. Beyond the obvious chasm that lies between their methods of power delivery and their weight distribution, there’s a sensory mismatch at work, too.
Aurally, the GTO is perhaps the most communicative car extant: every millimeter of throttle travel alters the pitch from the intakes, but underneath the noise and the drama lie a set of controls that are at best subdued and at worst a touch numb. This begins with the steering, which is very fast and heavily assisted. Sure, it’s very accurate, but there’s little feel transmitted back through the Alcantara rim. The sense of disconnection continues with the transmission, which, despite being the best-ever Ferrari automated manual, removes the driver even further from the process of controlling the car’s progress. The result is that, Airbus-pilot-style, you guide this big machine with your fingertips and palms. You are deliberately isolated from the mayhem of frictions being played out around you. How you view these conundrums — whether a car with a GTO badge should be about outright speed and competence, whether notions of interaction should play a greater or lesser role — will color your view of this Ferrari as much as its styling or performance.
The Porsche is the polar opposite. It sounds no more engaging than a hedge trimmer, but it is one of the last great analog driving experiences. Yes, Por-sche has now seen fit to equip the GT2 with traction and stability control systems, but they can be completely disabled, at which point you’re left with a metal box containing a monstrous powerplant, a stick between the seats, three pedals, and a lingering doubt as to the real size of your testicles.
And the Porsche really does communicate. Its steering is slower, but the wheel tightens and unloads according to road camber, vehicle yaw, and pitch. It feeds information back to you in the hope that you’ll have time to do something with it before the turbos go native again. And, of course, configured like this, the GT2 RS is only as good as the hands and feet (and testicle size) of the operator in charge. You drive the GT2 RS with your hands, your shoulders, and, at times, seemingly every muscle in your body. You either admire the simplicity of that approach or wonder whether Porsche has overestimated the abilities of the über-rich.
No amount of carbon-fiber trim on the GT2 RS can hide the fact that this is, after all, a 911, a car that costs $78,750 in basic form. Next to the Porsche, the Ferrari looks, feels, and even smells more expensive. Objectively, it’s impossible to justify the GTO costing twice as much, but poke around in the respective cabins and compare the little mailbox of an engine-viewing platform on the Porsche to the piece of crackle-red installation art wedged behind the front axle line of the 599, and you could be forgiven for thinking that they don’t belong in the same test. Still, any 911 that has a carbon hood and a sticker to save weight carries with it the coolness of the philosophy wrought since the 1967 911R; these lightweight Porsches, even the modern ones, are already legendary.
And so what emerges from this exercise is a pairing that exposes both the benefits and compromises of the two cars: what the Porsche would give to have just a smidge of that extra turn-in speed, and what a difference to the GTO some 911 traction would make. But the bottom line is that the Porsche is the more effective machine around the Nürburgring: it is deflected less by bumps, matches the GTO in the braking zones, loses a little between turn-in and apex, and from there disappears up the road in a gnashing of turbocharger whoomph.
For Ferrari, this probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise. The GTO remains one of the great driving experiences and, technically, is supremely gifted — to the point that you have to accustom your body to just how fast it is possible to enter a turn. Its divine V-12 engine asks the same question of the Porsche’s anodyne turbocharged lump that the GT2’s transmission does of the Ferrari’s paddles, namely: do you want to be entertained or merely cover ground at the fastest possible speed?
But it was the Porsche — and all of the challenges it offers as it charges between and through corners — that won me over. It is, essentially, a 935 with license plates and a warranty, and that’s the coolest thing you could ever say about a car.
BASE PRICE: $416,150
DOHC: 48-valve V-12
DISPLACEMENT: 6.0 liters (366 cu in)
HORSEPOWER: 661 hp @ 8250 rpm
TORQUE: 457 lb-ft @ 6500 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed automated manual
STEERING: Hydraulically assisted
SUSPENSION, FRONT: Control arms, coil springs
SUSPENSION, REAR: Control arms, coil springs
BRAKES: Vented discs, ABS
TIRES: Michelin Pilot Super Sport K1
TIRE SIZE F, R: 285/30YR-20, 315/35YR-20
L x W x H: 185.4 x 77.2 x 52.2 in
WHEELBASE: 108.3 in
TRACK F/R: 67.0/63.7 in
WEIGHT: 3538 lb
WEIGHT DIST. F/R: 47/53%
PORSCHE 911 GT2 RS
BASE PRICE: $245,950
ENGINE: DOHC 24-valve twin-turbo flat-6
DISPLACEMENT: 3.6 liters (220 cu in)
HORSEPOWER 612 hp @ 6500 rpm
TORQUE: 516 lb-ft @ 2250 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed manual
STEERING: Hydraulically assisted
SUSPENSION, FRONT: Strut-type, coil springs
SUSPENSION, REAR: Multilink, coil springs
BRAKES: Vented discs, ABS
TIRES: Michelin Pilot Sport Cup
TIRE SIZE F, R: 245/35YR-19, 325/30YR-19
L x W x H: 175.9 x 76.6 x 50.6 in
WHEELBASE: 92.5 in
TRACK F/R: 59.4/61.2 in
WEIGHT: 3021 lb
WEIGHT DIST. F/R: 38/62%