One, two, four, twenty, one hundred. It was a vast mob of ’roos, emerging in waves from the spinifex. Startled by the searchlight blue of the LED headlights, they scrambled over one another to reach safety.
Some were knotty, muscled adults, timing their leap across the boundary fence in advance like a chess player, effortlessly skimming as if working ground-effect. Others were scrappy little tackers, jinking furiously, looking for a breach in the wire. One lost grip, lowsiding on the sand like an inept motorcyclist, limbs flailing desperately, eyes wide, spittle flecking from its soft mouth. Pre-dawn out of Dunkeld in a Porsche 911 GT3 rewards a certain circumspection, but delayed gratification only makes what’s to come that bit more piquant.
Choosing where to take Porsche’s latest 991.2 version of the GT3 had us scanning Google Maps for weeks in advance. We wanted roads that offered tight, technical sections, a variety of surfaces, faster open sections and, to avoid the wrath of the photographers, an escape from the tree-blanketed roads of the high hinterlands near Melbourne. The Victorian Alps were out too, as we’d recently shot there and wanted something different.
The route we settled on started in Dunkeld, at the southern end of the Grampians National Park, headed north to Halls Gap, cut up onto the high plateaus north-west to Wartook and then snaked east through Roses Gap, eventually flanking Lake Lonsdale into our destination, Stawell.
The 911 GT3 needs little in the way of introduction. This version gets the latest 9R1.5 engine, a 4.0-litre flat-six related to that of the 911 RSR race car. Likely the last naturally aspirated engine to reside in the back of a GT3, it revs to 9000rpm, makes 368kW and ditches the old hydraulic valve gear in favour of a simpler set-up that lowers friction and frees up another 6kW. Helper springs on the rear axle permit a more malleable ride quality, while better aero, an optimised four-wheel-steer system and the fitment of standard Cup rubber promise a ride and handling balance unlike any previous GT3.
That’s the promise. Maybe it just doesn’t like early mornings, but the GT3 feels recalcitrant at low speed, this PDK-equipped car chuntering and clattering on the overrun with the Clubsport-spec roll cage clanking and pinging as it starts to soak heat from the engine. Porsche has ditched the rattly dual-mass flywheel on this model, and the PDK transmission mates to an e-diff rather than a mechanical item but at idle the GT3 still sounds like a sack of scaffold clips being emptied into a wind tunnel.
The road north towards Halls Gap is, thankfully, fairly benign, which is a good thing, because otherwise there’d be a decent chance you’d punch a GT3-shaped hole in the undergrowth while gawping at the scenery. It’s like a seamlessly scrolling Aussie version of the Drakensberg hills of South Africa, great uplifted chops of sandstone glowing bright red in the low sun. Focus on the road rippling in the dancing heat haze and, once the engine oil has warmed through, it’s game on.
As kids we used to play on the river bank near our house. The river had cut a deep trench in the clay banks and, at one point, it narrowed into a steep v-shape, the water gathering speed as it churned and gargled through. We would challenge each other to jump to the other side, but nobody ever dared. We’d heard that one kid had tried and been washed away. It was doubtless apocryphal, but, as an eight-year-old, I’d sit and wonder what happened to him. Then one day I just decided to jump, sailing out into the void, arms and legs pumping uselessly in mid-air, before crashing into the shingle on the opposite bank and rolling onto my back in elation, laughing uproariously at the sun.
That moment fully four decades ago came pouring back, a vivid-hued memory that had previously grown careworn and faded. I’m laughing like an idiot, pounding the palms of my hands atop the GT3’s suede wheel and you will too, if you ever get to power a GT3 through to its 9000rpm redline a couple of times in succession. From the atonal discord at low revs, the sound builds into something far more purposeful at three grand. With 5000rpm on the clock, the note hardens perceptibly, the exhaust’s bass tone being overwhelmed by a maelstrom of induction, wind, tyre, transmission and valvetrain noise.
Peak torque of 460Nm arrives at 6000rpm, and there’s an understandable temptation to click the right paddle, to upshift out of this metallurgical hailstorm. Stay planted and madness follows. From 7500rpm the car lunges dementedly for the 9000rpm redline, revs piling on like a runaway reaction, the engine sounding as if it’s about to thresh itself into swarf. It’s operatic and slightly terrifying. You’re just clinging on, wide-eyed and dry-mouthed. Nerf the redline and change up again and you get to steel yourself and have another go, after which you look at the speedometer, experience a moment of clarity, slow down and laugh like a drain. Relief is a hell of a drug.
It’s impossible to resist the snaking run up to the Victoria Valley lookout near Mirranatwa as respite from the temptation for ever-bigger numbers to creep onto the clock on the open Grampians Road. The tricky apexes and blind bends reward a degree of restraint, resetting the datum of what’s socially acceptable.
After a few runs for the cameras, we head north into Halls Gap for caffeine and savoury comestibles. I’d visited the town a few times before and had always taken a not particularly noteworthy route through Ballarat and Ararat. Branch left instead at Ballarat and arrive at Dunkeld via the Glenelg Highway and the Grampians appear far more majestic, a vast cinematic sweep of sawtooth peaks jutting from the volcanic plains.
From Halls Gap, the road becomes a whole lot more demanding, and timing is key here. Mount Victory Road can be a furred artery of tour buses and Britz portapotties at peak times and something close to perfection at others. It’s deserted today.
Editor Inwood hops into the car to shoot some video while I clamber onto a rocky outcrop above the Venus Baths pool to keep out of shot. It’s quite something to hear the car coming up the road, each corner perfectly plotted by its audible signature, a flare of rev-matching for the left hander over White Cliffs Creek, then the giddy soar to the redline through two gears before the keening of the steel brakes and another thousand rpm.
At times, the sound fades and vanishes behind the curves of the rocks, while at others it bounces crazily around the granite amphitheatre, phasing and shifting before the Miami Blue car explodes into view, all fury and tenuous adhesion before disappearing into a sweet tang cloud of hot oil and Dunlops. “Did you see that?” I shout, not quite able to process what just happened and needing validation from snapper Jacobs. Of course he did. Something that sounded like Brian Blessed trapping his scrotum in a split plastic picnic chair is pretty hard to miss.
Video requires pass after pass. It’s usually an onerous process, but today nobody seems to be issuing much in the way of complaint. Repeating the same section of tarmac affords us the opportunity to become familiar with the car’s behaviour, teasing more from it. One corner loses its camber quickly, hooked inside wheels suddenly pawing at thin air and setting the car into a lazy slide. We leave the stability control switched on. The ‘on’ position seems to be what most manufacturers would call a sports mode, allowing a hand or two of yaw before it intervenes. If it senses that you’re fast and accurate with wheel and throttle, it’s eye-wideningly hands off.
At 2.6 turns lock-to-lock, the steering’s a little slower than you might expect. It’s certainly nothing like the speed of, say, a Ferrari 488 (2.0 turns) but it’s enormously reassuring. There’s none of the nose-bob of old 911s and although the electrically assisted wheel fizzes in your hand, it sits dead-eyed and still when you take your hand off it. Hold the door grab handle instead and it’s fizzing too. Just sometimes the GT3 feels like a sly artifice; a knowing and flattering simulacrum of analogue from digital.
It’s undeniably effective though. The changes made to the rear suspension increase its pliancy and it’s even possible to switch the dampers into their firmer mode on this patched and root-buckled hill route, something that in prior GT3s would probably have had the car bucking fundament-first into a rock wall after a couple of seconds of gung-ho throttle application.
The steel brakes are so good that you probably won’t feel inclined to throw $21,590 at Porsche for the addition of ceramic composite discs, while the merits of the dual-clutch transmission are sure to cause a spirited discussion.
Inwood wondered whether, after you’d acclimatised to the frenetic savagery of the GT3, that you’d crave the additional layers of intimacy afforded by a manual ’box; an opportunity to learn different sides of its character. I’m not so sure. I don’t really subscribe to the view that the interactivity afforded by manual gearboxes is good interactivity in a vehicle this fast.
I’d rather devote processing time and space to something other than the mechanical chore of gear changing. Your mileage may vary on that one but my view is that the GT3 falls into that category of being too quick for a manual transmission to make much sense. Flame on.
Mount Victory Road keeps giving right until it runs out of elevation at the Balconies, before dropping sharply down the other side of the Granicus Fault, where the scenery turns a bit more Nevadan with scrubby trees and rock outcroppings.
It’s easy to work into a flow on this more rhythmic section of road, the more generously cut hairpins and cross-basin sightlines allowing the GT3 to engage corners faster, tempting that giddying application of throttle.
Keep going through Zumsteins and the blink-and-it’s-gone Wartook, and you find a hairpin back onto the Roses Gap Road. I’d chosen this route to put the Porsche onto a road that felt almost too tight and enclosed, delivering a ridiculous sensation of speed. At first the road is all big vistas, but the gums soon choke it into a eucalypt tunnel that rolls and contours gently, giving itself coyly. It pays not to badger the car through here and just let it roll into cambers, picking up the throttle seamlessly out, allowing the Porsche to use the natural contours of the land to its advantage.
We follow the GT3 on one section in the camera car, marvelling at its otherworldly ability to move so quickly on its suspension. It jinks like a fly from one xy coordinate to another with no roll, rebound or reaction, several times a second. If you didn’t know better, it looks like shonky CGI animation.
We intersect the Western Highway and realise that the GT3 is almost running on fumes. We’ve averaged 20L/100km today and the fuel tank’s a relatively meagre 64 litres, so we ditch the plan to take in the Lake Lonsdale detour and set the nav for the last 30km to the BP in Stawell. The arrow-straight highway run gives us a chance to absorb some of the GT3’s less welcome qualities. It’s so loud that even the optional Bose stereo struggles.
We’d probably criticise the cheapness of the plastic column stalks were they in a Kia Rio, there’s a harmonic at 2500rpm that rattles the rear deck and air-con vents and corresponds exactly to 100km/h in 7th, the rear wing is the perfect height to obscure the light bars on a highway patrol Commodore, and if you leave the car in the sun for any period of time the metal shift paddles give you one heck of a sizzle. There’s a constant fusillade of stone chips pinging in the insulation-devoid rear wheelarches and the ridiculously overwrought cupholders block the air vents inside. If any of these things get on your nerves significantly, it’s a signal that you’re probably not driving the car properly.
We roll up the main street in Stawell, feeling wholly conspicuous in this blue riot of downforce, and park for lunch. Old boys in rusted Subaru pick-ups slow to stare at this extrovert, alien thing that’s just landed. A kid stands, slack-jawed, recoiling as the front-lifter kit chuffs noisily, dropping the nose back to attack height.
We read the speculation that Porsche plans to turbocharge the next-gen GT3 and get a bit morose, but the feeling doesn’t last. We’ve just driven possibly the world’s greatest sports car on some fantastic roads, the sun is shining, the cafe is promising an award-winning snot block and I’m still 286km from home. That’s if I go the direct way. This could be the last time I ever drive a ‘new’ naturally aspirated GT3, so 286km be damned. Car versus road? Seconds out, round two…