Porsche Learns a Valuable Lesson from the 911 R

2018 Porsche 911 GT3

At one point in 2007, Porsche owned 4 of the 10 fastest lap times around Germany’s Nurburgring. The other owners? Well, a couple belonged to specialty-car makers Donkervoort and Radical. Pagani had the 7th spot with the Zonda F Clubsport, and the remaining position was held by the McLaren F1. Things have become a bit more diverse in the past 10 years, but with 20 of the top 100 lap times belonging to Porsche, it’s safe to say the engineers in Stuttgart are still the world’s best when it comes to building a ‘Ring king.

Like few other companies, the pursuit of speed has been Porsche’s business. Whether that manifests itself in ultra-lightweight Spyder and RS models, high-revving engines, or advanced transmissions, the German automaker has been willing to sacrifice whatever it needs to make a car complete a lap faster than the competition.

Last year, Porsche dropped the manual transmission from its track-focused 911 GT3. The logic was simple: The 7-speed PDK dual-clutch transmission shifted faster than even the most experienced drivers could manage with a manual transmission. The GT3 was built to achieve fast lap times, thus the manual transmission didn’t have a logical home in it.

However, with the success of last year’s driving-first, lap-times-second Porsche 911 R, that attitude seems to be shifting. And now, perhaps thanks to a new Nurburgring record courtesy of the Lamborghini Huracán Performante, we’re finally seeing Porsche cater its products as much to driving enthusiasts as it does to racing enthusiasts.

Although the 7-speed PDK dual-clutch transmission will remain standard equipment, the 2018 GT3 will feature the return of Porsche’s 6-speed manual transmission—as Porsche puts it—“for purists.”

The car will feature a slightly lower curb weight than PDK-equipped GT3s, at 3,116 pounds versus 3,153, and its top speed is 1 mile per hour faster, at 198 mph. But its 0-60 time is more than a half-second slower, as a PDK will help the GT3 hit highway speed in 3.2 seconds, versus 3.8 seconds with a manual.

Porsche is a company that has built a reputation for turning (rich) Average Joes into track-day champs, and last year’s GT3 was the very epitome of that philosophy. Yet Porsche had no trouble selling the manual-only 911 R after debuting it at the 2016 Geneva International Auto Show, and it’s worth noting the company’s decision to bring the manual transmission back to the GT3 coincidentally coincides with increasing market prices of analog 911s from the 1970s and 80s. Over a year ago, I looked at the 911 R’s manual-only configuration and wondered if we’d begin to see stick shifts pivot toward a life as valuable options, rather than base-spec equipment.

As hypercars like the McLaren P1, Ferrari LaFerrari, and yes, the Porsche 918 Spyder continue to set exclusive performance benchmarks, they also insulate themselves from the limited skills of typical drivers. Porsche appears to understand that in order to make a truly exceptional sports car, a company needs to build cars that can fully engage the person sitting behind the wheel. It’s the formula that has made the Mazda MX-5 Miata the best-selling 2-seater sports car of all time and turned cars like the Lotus Elan, BMW M3, and the classic Porsche 911 into the stuff of legend.

After all, what’s the point of a sports car that does the driving for you?

Would you be willing to trade acceleration for a manual transmission in a sports car?

-Matt Smith

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