Auto review: Flying low around Thermal Raceway in the winged Porsche 911 GT3 RS
Published in Automotive News
PALM SPRINGS, California — The quiet desert around this small, California resort town would seem an unlikely place to showcase the ferocious cutting edge of automotive performance. In early February, I was an hour north of Palm Springs at the King of the Hammers off-road festival testing something entirely novel: a competition-focused, sand-slinging Ford Bronco DR.
A week later, I was an hour southeast of Palm Springs on Thermal Raceway. But this time, I was testing a familiar formula: the latest Porsche 911 GT3 RS. While the Bronco DR is intent on conquering a new desert frontier, the GT3 RS is already the supercar standard for on-track performance.
With its 2023 model, Porsche has raised the bar again.
Incorporating state-of-the-art aerodynamics and digital wizardry, the GT3 RS is a significant leap from the last-gen car that I tested at Road America three years ago. While the $225K cyborg will be enjoyed by a few (some of whom came out to watch our test with mouths agape) at exclusive tracks like Thermal, its technology will ultimately trickle down to more affordable performance cars. Consider the 911-inspired, push-to-pass button on the steering wheel of the $33K Hyundai Elantra N that I tested recently.
For this generation, Porsche has innovated the ability for drivers to adjust suspension settings on the fly with four “satellite buttons” on the steering wheel. Kinda like my own Lola race car.
I dialed in shock rebound on my yellow GT3 RS tester to allow for more feedback on Thermal’s fast, flat North-Desert Circuit, and dove into a 19-turn lap.
The GT3 RS is instantly familiar as a 911. Neutral and easy to drive, its predictability allows you to focus on learning the track. I was up to speed quickly — chasing Porsche endurance ace and RS development driver Jorg Bergmeister lap after lap.
But where the ‘23 RS transcends its predecessor is in prodigious downforce. With a gobsmacking 1,897 pounds of maximum downforce — double that of the 2019 model and nearly 50% of what a modern IndyCar possesses — the GT3 offers neck-straining capability at high speeds. At 135 mph into a sharp 90-degree Turn 4, I left my braking waaaay later than in a standard 911 — my eyeballs bouncing off the front windshield — before rotating into the corner apex.
Credit massive 16-inch front brake rotors — and a dual-element, swan-neck rear wing the size of a Boeing 737 that snaps shut under braking, effectively throwing a parachute behind the car.
Through high-speed sections, the wing works in tandem with a rear diffuser, nose cavity, sub-nose winglets and an array of wheel-well barge boards — the RS looks like a 911 and a Formula One car had a baby — to suck the car to the pavement.
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