It's no coincidence that Porsche's motorsports honcho and a two-time World Rally Champion helped develop the GT3. Unlike the Ferrari Enzo, the Bugatti Veyron, and the Porsche Carrera GT, the GT3 isn't an exercise in corporate ego and wretched excess. Nor is it a car whose fundamentally uninspiring qualities have been overcome with heroic surgery, such as the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, the Chevrolet Cobalt SS, and various AMG Mercedes-Benzes. The GT3 is the 911 pared down to its essence. As such, it embodies the very soul of Porsche, a company that considers motorsports not merely a marketing strategy but a corporate imperative.
The first Porsche ever built won its first race a month after it was finished. The company established its bona fides during the 1950s with a series of giant-killing sports racers and burnished its image during the '70s with a string of ground-pounding, twelve-cylinder prototypes. Motor racing is so deeply rooted in the company's heritage that the 911 Carrera-the quintessential version of the quintessential Porsche-takes its name from the Spanish word for "race."
The GT3 is the spiritual descendant of the iconic 911 Carrera RS, the pared-down, pumped-up version of the 911 that served as the homologation basis for the Carrera RSR racing car. By the same token, the modern GT3 is the street version of the GT3 Cup car, which competes in international Supercup races and numerous national series. This fall, Porsche will launch an upgraded road car called the GT3 RS, and this, in turn, will be the homologation model for next year's GT3 RSR. To further confuse matters, the GT3 RSR will compete at Le Mans in the GT2 class. Don't mind the alphabet soup. Just think of the four models of GT3 as great, greater, greatest, and way out of your league.
Here in the States, most Cup cars race in Porsche club events and the IMSA-sanctioned GT3 Cup Challenge. This year's first IMSA event, a support race held before the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring, drew forty entries. (The enduro had only thirty-five.) Although the rules require all drivers to be amateurs, most cars are prepped to a professional standard, complete with gaudy graphics and trackside support. Arrive-and-drive weekends run about $25,000. If car ownership is your thing, the MSRP is $131,000, plus a $9000 spares package. Believe it or not, that's a sweetheart deal. "I couldn't build a car for that much. There's no way," says Dennis Aase, who prepared four of the cars that raced at Sebring. "Even if I started with a wrecked car, it would cost at least $175,000."
Porsche Motorsport North America president Uwe Brettel, the mastermind behind the series, sees it not as a moneymaker but as a marketing tool. "For sure, we could have made $20,000 more per car. But what for?" he says. "We are not out to make the maximum profit. We race because it's the best way to promote the road car. The link between the road car and the racing car is integral."
The first roadgoing version of the GT3 was built in 1998, but it wasn't exported to the United States. We weren't deemed worthy until 2003. At the time, the GT3 was based on the 996 platform. This, the first of the water-cooled 911s, sold well by Porsche standards. But with plenty of styling cues and mechanical components shared with the d,class, Boxster, it never got the love from Porschephiles. The more highly regarded 997 debuted for the 2005 model year, and the new GT3 is the first GT3 to be derived from it.
The GT3 starts life as a Carrera 4 body-in-white on the production-car assembly line in Zuffenhausen. The space devoted to the front axle in the four-wheel-drive model is used to hold a 23.7-gallon fuel tank, and some structural modifications are made to accommodate the new engine, transmission, and oil reservoir. Thanks to the aluminum trunk lid and doors, not to mention a host of other weight-saving measures, the GT3 weighs in at 3076 pounds.