The first Porsche 911 GT3 came in 1999
The 911 GT3 is set to be joined by a raft of new, hardcore models from other sports car makers - and Porsche itself. We look at what’s coming in the next yearIs there an initialism in the entire glossary of motoring terms more flagrantly abused than ‘GT’? To some car makers, such as Honda, Infiniti, Kia and Volkswagen, it is a mere trim level, and to BMW the term now seems to be synonymous with ‘ugly hatchback’.*
When you think of the cars that made the name famous more than 50 years ago – the likes of the Ferrari 250 GT and Lamborghini 350 GT – it’s enough to make you cry. Add just one number to those two letters, however, and once more you are transported into a world of thrills and excitement peopled only by proper driver’s cars. This is the world of the GT3.
Of course, if we think of a GT3 today, it is a Porsche 911 that inevitably pops into our minds, because although others used the term before the first 911 GT3 of 1999 (notably Lotus with the shamefully underrated Esprit GT3), it is Porsche that has made the name its own.*
Not for much longer, though. Within a year, a GT3 will be not so much a car as a class, and although not every member will be called a GT3, you won’t struggle to tell them from the rest of their stablemates.
A GT3 road car may or may not be the quickest car in the range, but it will always be the most focused. It will be more powerful than the standard offering but, unlike, say, a 911 Turbo, lighter, too. It will have extensive aerodynamic modifications and a race-ready alter ego to compete in global GT3 racing, now the most popular category of sports car racing the world has ever known.*
More than anything, while a GT3 car might look wonderful, it is anything but a car merely for show. It is a hardcore driving machine for serious drivers and no one else need apply. For their manufacturers, these cars are not the money-making machines you might expect, because they require extensive modifications in all important areas – powertrain, chassis and aerodynamics chiefly – yet will sell in tiny numbers.*
So why do them? Simply because they act as antidotes to other cars in their ranges, detoxifying reputations that might otherwise be poisoned by the world’s current addiction to SUVs. Porsche knows it can build as many Audi-based off-roaders as it likes as long as it also builds hardcore GT3s, because no one is going to fear that the company has lost touch with the cars on which its reputation was built.*
So as the likes of Bentley, Jaguar and Aston Martin prepare their first SUVs and inevitably least sporting cars, there shouldn’t be too much surprise that they also feel the need to balance them out with what may prove to be the most sporting, driver-orientated cars in their collective histories.
Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3
There’s no doubting the existence of this car, nor the timing of its arrival at the Geneva motor show in March. The road-going GT3 Vantage will aim to build on the many successes of its racing brother while elevating the bar of Aston Martin performance far beyond anything seen to date by any production car.
The Vantage GT3 will retain the 6.0-litre V12 engine that has been used by Aston Martin since 1999, but with its power raised from its current maximum of 565bhp to perhaps the magic 600bhp mark, a still relatively low level of stress when you consider that Ferrari’s F12 achieves 730bhp from less than 6.3 litres.
Perhaps as significantly, weight is set to drop, by as much as 100kg. The Vantage has never been put on such a strict diet before, and it is believed that simply removing some interior gadgets and installing thin seats will create most of the saving, while lightweight body panels using lessons learned over many years of racing will account for the rest.
We also believe the car’s track will be widened and an aerodynamic package visually much closer to that of a race car than anything seen on a road-going Aston to date will be used, but it is not known if the car will be offered with even the option of a manual gearbox.
The modifications should elevate the Vantage’s performance far beyond the level of the current Porsche 911 GT3 and place it on a par with the likes of the Ferrari 458 Italia and McLaren 650S. Expect it to be priced accordingly.
Porsche 911 GT3 RS
We’ve been waiting a long time for this. The RS was originally intended to make its worldwide debut at last year’s Goodwood Festival of Speed before being delayed by the self-immolating GT3 crisis. The new RS will now be at the Geneva motor show in March, and what a car it promises to be.
Porsche has been very successful in keeping detail leaks to a minimum, but we believe the engine will remain normally aspirated and that its output will be tickled up from the current 475bhp to 500bhp or more, although whether this is done through tuning or a capacity increase from 3.8 to 4.0 litres is not known. The 4.0-litre version of the previous (997) GT3 RS is the most revered 911 of modern times.
As ever, the new GT3 RS will be significantly lighter than the standard GT3, but the major area of development is believed to be aerodynamic, with insiders claiming downforce levels more readily comparable with those of sports racing cars than standard road cars.
The GT3 RS is likely to have the added poignancy of heralding the end of 52 years of normally aspirated 911s. This autumn the 911 will receive a mid-life refresh that’s understood to involve turbo engines throughout the range.
Jaguar F-type 'GT3'
Probably the GT3 car about which the least is known, although an even hotter, more driver-dedicated F-Type coupé has been rumoured for as long as the F-Type has been in existence. Jaguar is known to be looking very seriously at a GT3 race version of the F-Type because it is acutely aware that it is the only major premium brand without a presence in this lucrative and brand-building sport. A decision is expected imminently.
In the meantime, work is believed to be ongoing on an R-S version of the F-Type, which would fit strategies used for previous high-performance Jaguars such as the XFR-S and XKR-S. However, if it is to command credibility as a worthy member of the new GT3 order, the hot F-Type will need to be far more extensively engineered than any R-S to date, particularly in the areas of chassis and aerodynamic development.
Of all the cars on this list, the Jaguar is the least likely to see the light of day this year, if only because the company has the XE, the all-wheel-drive and manual F-Types, an XJ refresh and an SUV all to launch in 2015. It’s a programme that would tax the resources of a large car manufacturer, let alone a comparative minnow like Jaguar.
Okay, we know Mercedes-Benz will never call a road car a GT3 because, to quote AMG boss Tobias Moers, “that name belongs to the other company”, referring to his cross-town colleagues at Porsche.*Even so, Moers has described a Mercedes-AMG GT with GT3 qualities as “a good idea” and has fleshed out in some detail the approach it will take.
He said: “We want a package that excels in every area. I don’t want to make a dragster that’s only good for doing 0-100km/h in 2.8sec. We need more power, less weight, better aero and different suspension, but the targets should be the power-to-weight ratio, driveability, lap time and tremendous feel.” A GT3 car, in other words.
The target is to reduce the weight of the GT by 80-100kg, and Moers says it would be fair to speculate that the 4.0-litre V8 engine would need to produce about 550bhp. With work proceeding apace to ready the racing version of the GT for the 2016 season, it would make sense for the two projects to operate in tandem and for us to see something of the new road car this year.
Bentley Continental GT3
Bentley has already dipped its toes into GT3 waters with last year’s limited-edition GT3-R, but rumours persist that it is considering taking a proper plunge.
Although the GT3-R followed the standard GT3 formula and was indeed lighter, more powerful and more aerodynamically effective than the standard Continental GT V8S upon which it is based, the modifications were relatively modest and, for instance, did not feature the deletion of the four-wheel drive hardware.
Last year Bentley chief Wolfgang Dürheimer said the company could “push more” with its GT3 road car programme and was open to the idea of a more tightly focused, rear-wheel-drive road car. The success of its GT3 racing programme since then makes the possibility of such a car more likely.
If Bentley is to build a proper road-going, rear-wheel-drive GT3 car, its engineers will want to get its weight as close to and, if possible, below 2000kg. The GT3-R already has 572bhp from*its 4.0-litre V8 engine, but 600bhp is known to be easily achievable.
Comparison - Porsche 911 GT3 versus 911 GTS and Cayman GTS
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