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Car vs road: Porsche 911 GT2 RS on Australia's highest road

By Andy Enright | Photos: Alastair Brook, 02 Jun 2019 Features

Car vs road: Porsche 911 GT2 RS on Australia's highest road

Porsche’s ultimate 911 on Australia’s highest motorable road

This could take some explaining. We’re parked on snow at the top of Mount McKay, the highest navigable road in the nation, and our Porsche 911 GT2 RS is about to fall off a cliff. For every metre the car creeps forward, its tail slides 10 centimetres sideways down the icy camber of the track towards the precipice. Unless something changes, 15 metres from now I’m going to be forever known as the guy who oversteered a million-dollar car to destruction. At 3km/h.

The original plan was to drive from Bright up and over Tawonga Gap, sidle through Mount Beauty as unobtrusively as possible in a car that looks and sounds as if it has just driven off the grid at the Bathurst 12 Hour, blast up the road to Falls Creek and, ultimately, reach the summit of Mt McKay. Take some snaps looking heroic, that sort of thing. It’s 70km of road that just doesn’t let up, and we’ve got 515kW to throw at it.

Read: Porsche GT2 RS goes back into production after maritime mishap

First we stop for a bite in Bright. A 911 GT2 RS in Guards Red is a magnificently obnoxious contrivance at the best of times, but when photographer Brook casually prods the sports exhaust button as I’m trying to nudge it into a spot outside a street cafe, it’s enough to have a coterie of little Mungos choking on their babyccinos. Synchronised stink eye from the mums, too. It’s safe to say this blaring carbuncle, festooned with spoilers, vents and decals, is not subtle, nor pretty.

Fuelled up and burbling out of Bright beneath interlinked fingers of oaks and cedars, it doesn’t take long before the Ovens River valley opens into rolling hills that mark the left turn at the intriguingly named Germantown.

The Tawonga Gap road enables the Porsche to gently warm its musculature. The road’s fairly flat at first, meandering past ordered leylandii hedges, signposts indicating that the old 100km/h limit has been pared back to 80. That’s no great issue as you feel your way into the car, the front Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2s warming as you lean on the front end through 45km/h recommended corners, the steering gently weighting and unweighting as you scythe across the crown of the road.

Read: Amazing numbers: the Porsche 911 GT2 RS - Gallery

At kilometre 17, a couple of hundred metres from the saddle at the top, comes a corner that would have tied an old GT2 in all kinds of knots. It’s a left-hander that lulls you in, but which simultaneously tightens and then ramps sharply uphill. That increase in gradient instantly knocks 5km/h or so off your forward velocity, pitching the car’s weight balance forwards, centripetal force then attempting to pry loose the rear treadblocks’ grip on the coarse-chip. In an old GT2, say a 996-gen, you’d have needed to be very quick with the steering to prevent the car spearing engine-first into the undergrowth.

This 991 version simply shimmies ever so slightly, the steering loses some heft and then it just shrugs and gets on with it. It bodes well for the challenges ahead.

The only significant downhill stretch of this route allows us to dive deep into hairpins on the carbon stoppers, again trying to provoke the RS into a betrayal of Porsche’s ‘engineering over basic physics’ philosophy. The reduced sound deadening in the back means that you hear the rear pads’ abrasive shushing as they grab at the discs. A rear-engined car shouldn’t be able to scribe such a clean line while being trail-braked into a corner and it’s only when sharp surface changes are encountered in the braking zone that there’s the merest flicker of activity from the stability-control indicator.

Switch it all off and it still only requires the merest finger or two of corrective lock. The widowmaker tag that GT2 models have long been saddled with can finally be retired.

Driving one is still an event, though. How could it not be when it looks like this? It’s the only production car I’ve experienced where the cabin becomes quieter when rolling the windows down at 100km/h, there’s a bassy resonance at 2000rpm that feels as if it’s about to liquefy your diaphragm, the rose-jointed rear end squeaks and grumbles and no matter how carefully you pack the car, there’s always something getting loose astern and setting up a percussion accompaniment with the titanium roll cage. 

Read: 2018 Porsche 911 GT2 RS - The Five Greatest 911s

The view in the door mirrors is pure theatre, with voluptuous haunches topped off by the angry rear wing end fences. Stop on the verge and road chippings stick to the tacky rubber, turning them into toroidal Golden Gaytimes. The tyres like to divest themselves of these stones at 15km/h, some of them pinging off the car’s undercarriage, but a good proportion from the front hoops, firing through the vents on the front wings like gritty Roman candles. At least they fly out at an angle and not at the windscreen like an old TVR.

If Tawonga Gap is the amuse-bouche, the road up to Falls Creek is a bottomless buffet of brilliance. It has almost everything condensed into 30km. Climbing 1187m, it meanders uphill consistently for the first 4.2km before the terrain varies, undulating from there to the 16.7km mark, after which it ramps up again after the East Kiewa River crossing, averaging a six percent gradient up to the ski resort at just over 1500m above sea level.

From the resort centre it’s only a few corners before the front lifter kit is engaged for the loamy track up to Mt McKay at 1849m, a crucial few metres higher than The Cross at Mt Hotham, at 1845m, the highest metalled road in Australia. With snow still on the Bogong High Plains Road, there’s a gate closing access to the high dam above Falls, rendering the resort a dead end and reducing traffic on the road up to the odd masochistic cyclist and resort utes. Clear road, game on.

We start by hooking a front tyre into the gutter and giving the Porsche a huge bung at its peak torque of 2500rpm. It responds as if it’s velcroed to the bitumen, without a sniff of under or oversteer.

Reviewing Brook’s cornering shots reveals the car to be so flat mid-corner that it almost looks parked. The tyres are at optimum temperature and as the speeds increase, there comes a point where sanity prevails and we realise that even on some of the tighter corners, we’re going to have to attack them at eye-widening speeds in order for the GT2 RS to get up on its toes.

Jumping on the throttle earlier and earlier also does little to unstick its composure, the flat vowels of its soundtrack lacking the musicality and magic of the naturally aspirated GT3 RS, yet you can’t argue with its sheer effectiveness. The nauseating sensation of relentless acceleration feels like you’ve got a stack of batteries under the floor, or a massive-capacity V8 driving the rears, rather than a turbocharged 3.8-litre six. A five-litre water tank in the frunk sprays the intercooler, cooling intake temperatures by as much as 15 degrees to further swell power and torque.

Read: Porsche 911 GT2 RS: Performance Car of the Year 2019 - Winner

It’s almost disappointing how imperiously the Porsche swats aside the challenge of one of our favourite roads. There’s too much traction at the back to unstick it at sensible speeds on anything but the tightest hairpins and the front only wilts into the briefest skerrick of push-on understeer when the tyres are cold. Climbing up past Bogong Village, the forest thickens and the sightlines become ever more difficult; thick stands of stringybarks cloaking the folds and contours of the hills.

The road surface deteriorates, ravaged by winter’s freeze/thaw cycles and it’s this constant nibbling at the suspension that suddenly makes the car feel more alive, doing just enough to dent its composure, sending little flares of oversteer, ABS interventions and, once or twice, the impression that the rear was close to its bumpstops. It’s better to soften the suspension a little here, and there’s a natural cadence to it, but it’s one we never get fully accustomed to.

With the scenery exploding through the windscreen and the rear end dancing towards dizzying drops, the Porsche comes good, but it’s a singularly focusing experience, leaving you dry-mouthed and gritty-eyed, the Alcantara-rimmed wheel clammy with perspiration. One misjudgement and you suspect you’d only be found the next time one of Google’s mapping satellites performed a pass.

The GT2 RS never feels quite as demented as a McLaren 720S at full boost, but it’d probably be the quicker point-to-point car. I’m struggling to think of anything that can demolish a road quite as brutally as Porsche’s ultimate 911.

It has an even more faithful front end than a GT3 RS on corner entry, which more than makes up for its firmer damping.

As we drive through the moribund ski resort, past the steel waters of the Rocky Valley lake and up the clinker-chip road to Mt McKay, the odd backcountry skier hiking to north-facing couloirs, it’s time to let the adrenaline leach from the bloodstream and make some sense of the way this car executes its objectives. It’s not a supercar for the aesthete or the connoisseur of accessible adjustability, but it’s no blunt implement, either. There’s genius in its balls-out balance, in the way it dissects a testing corner, but the reward in this car is often about the numbers: big, scary, your-mug-appearing-over-Tracy-Grimshaw’s-shoulder numbers.

It lulls you into believing that because it makes its power at a more accessible point in the rev range it’s a more usable thing than the screaming GT3, which can feel wasted if you’re not north of 7000rpm.

The power delivery of the GT2 RS is so crushingly potent that any purposeful application of throttle instantly becomes wholly antisocial. Go flat to the redline and the GT2 RS will take just 5.4 seconds to be in fourth gear and doing 157km/h. Most of the time the upshifts come even faster than that because you’ll tend to short shift, such is the torque on tap. A manual transmission would be ridiculous.

Alex Inwood reckoned the GT2 RS was brilliant on a circuit when he had the chance to pedal one at Portimao, but there’s just too much to love about this magical car to pigeonhole it solely as a flat-track bully.

The list price of this GT2 RS with representative options is north of $700K, but delivery-mileage examples continue to change hands for seven figures. That’s a lot of money to fall off Mt McKay. Fortunately, the snow thins just as the rear tyres are flirting with the precipice and we find some semblance of scrabbling traction on the wet rock beneath. The greatest 911 to date might have grown out of its widowmaker tag, but it still possesses many ways to scare you to death. Sometimes it’s reassuring to be able to rely on a few durable touchstones.