YOU KNOW, it’s not every week that I jet off to Portugal to test the most kinetic sports car in the world on an asphalt field of dreams. This week I’m driving a Chevy Traverse. I’ve paid my dues.
And I’ve learned that when destiny calls, answer. The McLaren F1 (1992-1998) is widely recognized as the greatest sports car of all time, but I couldn’t say for sure because I never drove it. This car held the series-production speed record (240.1 mph) for nearly a decade and won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1995 against purpose-built prototypes. But back in the day, when McLaren associates offered a test drive, I had a scheduling conflict. I asked for a raincheck, but it never stopped raining.
People find out what I do and ask, “Ever drive the F1?” No, I answer. “Oh,” they say, looking away. “Well, that’s all right. How’s that Traverse?”
Thereafter I resolved never to miss another technically perfecting, historically significant automobile, regardless of how many luxury hotels stood in my way. The Porsche 911 GT2 RS is all of that and a winged Pegasus too.
Based but loosely on the standard-issue 911 Turbo S, the GT2 RS joins a select group of six-figure time machines—Mercedes-AMG GT R, Ford GT, and Lamborghini Huracán Performante—built in the few hundreds for collectors, track-day enthusiasts and assorted rank poseurs. The noise-compliant GT2 RS isn’t as loud, raw or emotional as a proper race car, like the 911 GT3 Cup model, with a free-breathing flat-six and six-speed sequential gearbox.
But it’s faster: 0-60 mph in 2.7 seconds, officially (feels a bit quicker than that to me); quarter-mile time of 10.5 seconds (ditto). The top speed is given as an entirely adequate 211 mph. Thanks mostly to a rear wing the size of a coroner’s table and a jutting aero-elastic splitter up front, the GT2 RS generates hundreds of pounds of downforce, which I must say feels pretty reassuring when you’re sweeping through the Algarve International Circuit’s hammer-throw T15 at a buck-twenty and +1 g cornering loads. Damn, this thing is fast, I must have muttered a thousand times.
About 2,000 feet later, the car would still be pulling hard past 150 mph when I fired the carbon-ceramic retro-rockets. The car shed speed with nary a wiggle at 1.5 g, the brake rotors aglow, tailpipes guttering fire. I could taste sardines from the night before.
But the big number, the number that got me on the plane, was 06:47.3. That’s the GT2 RS’s lap time on the Nurburgring Nordschleife test track in Germany, a record for a street-legal production car. Have a look at test driver Lars Kern’s lap in September, but don’t forget your Dramamine.
It helps to have some context: 20 years ago a preproduction McLaren F1, with world champion Mika Hakkinen driving, notched a 07:11 lap at the ’Ring. That was insane, exalted, ecstatic. It wasn’t until four years ago that an all-wheel-drive starship called the Porsche 918 Spyder became the first sports car to break the 7-minute barrier (06:57). Celestial, unfathomable, titanic.
Last year the Huracán Performante, with all-wheel drive and active aerodynamics—ailerons, essentially—claimed the ’Ring record with a mark of 06:52. Um…awesome? A year later our test-car blew past it by five seconds.
The march of progress being what it is, there will undoubtedly be cars even faster than the GT2 RS. But will I want to drive them? We may not have reached the end of history, but I’m starting to run out of gonadal fortitude.
In the rear with the gear, its 3.8-liter twin-turbo flat six produces a hearty 700 hp, rendering a weight-to-power ratio of 4.57 pounds/hp (3,201 pounds in Weissach Package). This quite salutary ratio squats amid four ultrahigh performance Michelin tires, glued to glorious 20/21-inch (f/r) forged magnesium wheels–super-stiff but delicately spoked and vaned, like erotic Spirographs.
While most of its competitors use carbon-fiber passenger cells, the GT2 RS is built upon the same majority-steel unibody as other 911s, on the same assembly line in Zuffenhausen. To make up the difference, the parts bin has been exposed to radical lightweighting gamma rays: gorilla glass, magnesium roof, titanium silencer, carbon-fiber door hinges, body panels, and even stabilizer bars. Out go the plush front buckets; in go two carbon-shell racing seats, bolstered like a coffin.
The flat six is similarly mutated, with upsized variable-geometry turbos (67 mm), bigger exhaust manifolds and larger ducting for the intercoolers. The car debuts a technically cute water-vaporization system that spritzes H2O on the intercoolers, reducing process air temperature by as much as 21 degrees Celsius.
The variability of driver talent is a huge design consideration in this class of car. Each such offering from Ferrari, Lambo, or Mercedes-AMG has its own style at the limit. How freely does the rear end come around, off throttle and on? How touchy is the handling?
In the case of the GT2 RS, the answer is very, and this, may I say, is its best quality. When it’s right up against the tires’ side-loading limits, where it stays mostly around the Algarve circuit, the GT2 RS is a creature finely balanced between massive power and delicate control. The spring rates are about twice as stiff as those of GT3 RS with half the body roll. Which means you can’t jerk the Porsche around like you can the Mercedes-AMG GT R. The four-wheel steering system with ball-joint chassis connections is fingertip precise, stingy with its praise and lavish in its disdain. Between gouts of outrageous, manic acceleration around the track, pow-pow, one’s hands must remain calm.
Reasonable people may ask what happens to piston-powered superheroes in the near future of autonomous mobility. Don’t worry. Such cars will lead an equestrian life, from barn to paddock to track, washed and curried, never seeing the road. That’s OK. You can barely get the GT2 RS out of second gear on the street anyway.
Is it the fastest car I’ll ever drive? Maybe. I’ve learned never to say ever.
Write to Dan Neil at Dan.Neil@wsj.com