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2004 Porsche GT3 Track Review: Beauty and the Beast, An Owner’s Perspective

I bought my GT3 after reading all the stories on the car in both the US and UK motoring press over the last few months. If you’re a car nut I’m sure you’ve read them all too, so I won’t repeat what you know here, I’ll just share my personal opinion of the car after clocking up 2,300 miles, around 400 of which have been at the track.

I’ve been tracking a modified M3 (SMG) for the last two years, and felt ready to take the next ‘step up’ to something that would help to make me a better driver. Once I decided the GT3 was the car for me I called a few local dealers, and discovered that the entire run of 750 cars coming to the USA is pretty much sold old out. I then went to Porsche’s web site, pulled up the dealer locator, and started dialing. After dialing my way through the A’s, B’s, C’s and so on, I found a ‘M’ dealership that had one sitting on the floor, and it was only an hour away, so I jumped in my trusty M3 and headed over. Three hours later I left in the GT3, which really surprised me, as I’d only expected to put a deposit down on a new order!

Leaving the dealership, I was surprised by how noisy things were in the cabin. You hear everything – and loudly too – and the suspension allows you the opportunity to read the typesetting on manhole covers as you cross them. The radio is all but useless in the general ambient din of wheels, road surface, induction, and engine noise. Porsche did indeed leave out the sound deadening!

To run-in the car I did three weekends at the Angeles Crest, an incredible set of roads that run thru the San Gabriel Mountains, just north of LA. The car felt very different to the M3, much more nervous and not nearly as planted. I felt as if the front end was floating above the ground, like a big two stroke motorbike in a perpetual wheelie. Since this was my first Porsche, I can’t tell you how this feeling compares to other Porsches. The controls are all easy and straightforward, and the car reacts beautifully to their inputs. And while the brakes are stunning, the pedal is placed a bit too high, making it awkward for heel toe work. The clutch is direct and clean, and the gearshift is ok, though not as crisp as I had expected.

After the first 1,000 miles were gently done, I went to a Porsche Owner’s Club event at Streets of Willow to learn about the car and its track manners. It is a completely different car to drive at the track than the M3, as the Porsche doesn’t feel nearly as well balanced or planted. I’d learn that the secret to making it go fast lies in learning a whole new way of driving. The P-car really demands that you get to know it, understand it and most of all, respect it. You can’t get away with some of the gentle throttle steering inputs like you can in other cars, as it showed me by “coming around” on me at over 100mph in turn one. As I went flying up the hill tail first, both feet in, I realized that all I thought I knew about race driving was useless. This was a new relationship, and the old ways just wouldn’t do with this car. Imagine transitioning from training domesticated show-poodles to wild wolves and you’ll get some idea of how much harder the GT3 is to handle at high speeds than an M3.

The following weekend I did two track days at big Willow, the self-proclaimed “Fastest Road in the West.” I was lucky to find another GT3 owner there, so I took some time to compare notes with him. He had swapped out the OEM Michelins for Yokohama AVS, and was able to turn pretty fast laps, but I was still struggling to find my feet in the car, and last weekend’s spin was still firmly implanted in my memory. With the GT3, I was well off my old pace in the M3, and the car felt like it was about to “go away from me” everywhere on the track. I was pretty unimpressed, and mentioned this on the Roadfly Porsche message board. That is when I was sent a very helpful note from a racer who explained to me that the problem with my car was almost certainly in the suspension and alignment. The GT3 cars are hyper sensitive to set up, he said, and they must be dialed-in properly to feel right, otherwise they are really off, and quite a handful. He sent me a set of specs that he had from the Porsche factory – the ones they use to hustle GT3 cars around the Nurbergring. What did we do before the Internet?!

I took the car to a Porsche racing house in Los Angeles, and had everything dialed-in as per the spec sheet. This process included corner weighing and balancing the car with driver’s weight in it, and then re-aligning everything around that. The guy doing the work said that he could see that the car was definitely fighting me by the tire wear patterns.

A week later and I’m back at Willow Springs once more, for another 60-lap day. The car felt completely different now- balanced, steady, stable at high speed mid-corner, predictable and fairly easy to drive, so it was true, these cars are very sensitive to alignment. I also had with me Judy Ray, my long time driving instructor. She is the co-owner of Driving Concepts, and a veteran of six years racing in Porsche cars. She showed me how to drive the car, and then sat in the passenger seat as I slowly built up my P-car skills. Judy says that the thing to remember with a Porsche is that, “The engine in the back really wants to be in the front, and it’ll do anything it can to get there.”

I discovered she was correct. You really have to drive for the rear weight bias; two things that are key to accomplishing this well are “slow in, fast out,” and “never lift.” The idea first may be rather obvious, as straight line braking avoids the possibility of over rotation of the “pendulum out back” (the engine), often the result of trail braking. But the second idea, “never lift,” is less obvious.

As you feed power through the accelerator, the rear of the car really squats down, and begins to hook-up hard. This plants the motor’s weight hard on the rear contact patches, and really helps to stabilize the car. It will go through a corner much better under power, and it loves to be blasted from apex to exit. Under power the GT3 is stable, controllable and predictable, it’s when you come off the power that the pendulum behind you tries to move to the front – fast, so stay on the power, and you’ll stay in control.

I had to scrape my heart off the roof of my mouth a few times, but I’ve got it now, and I’m addicted to my GT3, it is a blast! That said, I was still off my old pace in the M3, but now that I’ve been shown “the way,” I’m confident it’s just a matter of time, practice, and more instruction.

The other thing really worth mentioning about this car is how beautifully crafted it is. The attention to detail, and fit and finish of every individual component really makes you realize that you have bought something very, very special. I also love the fact that this is such a bare bones machine. No electronic gadgets, no cruise control, just a simple old fashioned sports car. It is exactly what I hoped it would be.

In conclusion, I think that the two most important things to do if you are planning on purchasing a GT3 are having the right instruction for how to drive it fast, and getting the correct alignment dialed in. This certainly isn’t a car you can jump into and just drive fast, it is a very peculiar, and unforgiving machine, but once you learn its wicked ways, it becomes both addictive and extremely enjoyable. Just don’t be surprised when M3’s go whizzing by you, as they are a much easier way to go fast!

About Andrew MacPherson

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Art says:

I have a 2004 GT3 and want to experience the full potential of the beast. What Allignment shop did you take it to in LA?

Bernard C says:

can anyone help me to obtain the factory alignment guide ?

admin says:

Ask over in the Roadfly Porsche 911 Forum.

Porsche 911 Forum

Victor Zimmerman says:

Andrew,

I read your informative post and was wondering if you might be able to send me those suspension specs. I am in process of purchasing a 22004 located here in dallas, and will be taking the car to Hallet up in Oklahoma in the spring.

Best regards,

Victor Zimmerman
214 649-5782

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