After all the fun we've had throwing Volkswagens and Audis in the ring together, a Porsche comparison was bound to happen. The 996 Twin Turbo is much like other turbocharged, Motronic-managed cars in that it is fairly easy to get basic power increases with software only. But with a 3.6-liter engine built for boost, all-wheel drive and a sports car body, it is the biggest hammer in Europe's go-fast shop. When half the entries of this shootout came to european car self-organized and ready to rumble, the 996 Twin Turbo shootout happened sooner. We're told it all started when someone logged onto a forum at www.6speedonline.com and said his car was faster than someone else's. Fightin' words, those are.
For those readers who caught our S4 shootout in the January issue, this was basically the same program, including exactly the same scoring system. Four tests, 25 points each. Points are awarded based on a car's performance relative to the best and worst performances, so no matter how close the field really is, it will spread out in our scoring system. Only cars, tracks and our driver were changed. The RSVP list peaked at 13 cars, but only nine came to the party. A few last-minute efforts just didn't come together.
Michelin supported this event with many thousands of dollars of tires, attempting to provide Pilot Sport Cup or Pilot Sport 2 tires for all the competitors. Only two sets of the latter were available in 19-in. sizes in the world. One was on Hartmann Motorsports' car, and one had been previously sent to a company that didn't make the event. Pilot Sport Cup tires aren't, and probably never will be, made in 19-in. sizes.
We decided that the tight, almost autocross-like Streets of Willow Springs wouldn't give these dogs room to run and changed to Buttonwillow Raceway Park, running configuration #23 clockwise. It has several healthy straights and includes the track's two most distinctive features: the long, fast Riverside sweeper and Lost Hill. Additionally, the long straight bypassing Lost Hill allows 80-to-0-mph braking and 1/4-mile numbers to be obtained all in one place.
We were fortunate to get noted sports-car racer Cort Wagner as our designated driver. Each team could use its own driver or choose to put Cort behind the wheel--and why not? A list of his achievements includes winning the GT class championship in the ALMS the last 2 years in a Ferrari and in 2000 in a Porsche. In 1999, Wagner had a career year, winning GT Class in the ALMS as well a becoming the USRRC's GT3 Class Champion, and being named winner of the Porsche Cup, the world's most successful racer of Porsche cars for the year. And we've just learned that he will return as driver of a factory-backed Porsche in 2004.
We again turned to GIAC and its four-wheel Mustang chassis dyno. The dyno uses a combination of inertia (inescapable due to the mass of the rollers) and electrical resistance loading. The time required for a pass and the resistance offered by the dyno are determined by Mustang's software, partly using factors entered by the operator. We entered the numbers used by GIAC for all 996 Twin Turbos and left them alone. Torque output reacted by the electrical load units is measured with load cells on lever arms. Unlike most four-wheel dynos, the Mustang's front and rear rollers are mechanically linked, so they always turn the same speed. There was no problem managing front-to-rear torque split, and PSM stayed happy on all the cars. As before, Garrett and Andrew did the hard labor of strapping down the cars safely but left the operation of the dyno to european car. Having tuned several of the cars in the shootout, GIAC was concerned that competitors might claim bias had entered the results due to the choice of venue.
The dyno score was split between peak horsepower and torque delivery. The first is simple enough; it's the biggest number. The second is more complicated: Imagine each car has a gear that tops out at 100 mph, then add up all the torque available to accelerate the vehicle from 40 mph to 100 mph in that gear. The area under that curve was scored for power delivery. Most cars make more torque at redline than at 40% of redline, so it is an advantage to be able to spin faster. In the real world, being able to keep accelerating for a longer time before shifting makes a car faster.
As with the 1.8Ts and S4s, the car that had the most attention paid to its flow paths breathed freely on the top end, added a bundle of extra revs and posted a torque delivery figure out of proportion to its peak power. Protomotive's hybrid-turbo monster had area under the curve 15% greater than the highest peak-horsepower car, the Evolution Motorsports Stage 4, and 11% greater than the nearest competitor, By Design. Of 25 points available on the dyno, the 551-hp Protomotive car collected 24.107. Second place went to the 564-hp Evo Stage 4 car, with 20.053 points. Displacement ups the ante; the best torque delivery figure from the S4 Shootout, posted by AWE's Silver Bullet, was superior only to that of the least powerful car in this 996 shootout, Axis Sport Tuning's yellow machine.
Bringing this car as it was may be seen as a bit of miscalculation on Axis' part, but the company has a record in magazine shootouts. Axis has won Sport Compact Car's Ultimate Street Car Challenge twice in three tries, once with a completely stock F360 Modena, and just a few months before this Twin Turbo shootout with a supercharged 350Z, which was also the least powerful car in that contest. This shootout didn't include all the "reality check" categories of USCC--we were here to find the baddest-assed, mo-fo'inest Porsche Turbo in the land. No dandies needed apply.
Day two started as a typical cold, foggy December morning where Highway 58 crosses Interstate 5, with competitors finding warmth, plastic-frosted donuts and almost-drinkable coffee in the lobby of the Super 8 Motel. The breakfast of motorheads. Ten minutes north, they rolled into the pits, Buddy Gainey's PES Stage 5 and Evolution Motorsport's Todd Zuccone both on space saver spares from running over debris. Nobody objected to shuffling the run orders so By Design could lend Buddy one of its front wheels for the tests, a truly classy move. We ran the road course first, then braking, so that any driveline carnage resulting from repeated dragstrip launches wouldn't prevent a car from posting scores in other events. Cort Wagner took out By Design's Cabrio first. There had been no time to bed the brakes, and they faded after four hot laps. Cort came in, shaking his head and saying, "You wouldn't believe how over-motored these cars are." I pointed out that the $17,000 PCCB brakes were actually on fire and told him to take another cool-down lap. Still, the car was good enough for second place, with a best time of 67.08 sec.
The Protomotive car's 67.23 sec. was good only for fourth, but Cort kept saying things like, "This thing's bitchin'; there's another 2 seconds in that car out here; the engine's almost too explosive."
Then he admitted to not really being able to use full throttle without spinning the tires and going sideways. Alex Ross calls his automatic-equipped, Imagine Auto-prepped car "Monkey Tronic." Cort didn't know this and called it "Chicktronic" before posting a 67.14-sec., third-place lap time.
The Saturday before the shootout, someone from CarGraphic called my cell phone to find out which track configuration we'd be using so their chassis guy could prepare the car. Whatever he did must have worked, because its 66.38-sec. lap was fastest of the day. Or maybe it was just that prominent front splitter. Cort noted that he felt downforce working through Riverside, which is long enough for that to make a big difference.
Our braking test was simple. We didn't have time for 10 stops and statistical analysis, so we gave the cars four chances to go from 80 to 0 mph and took the best one. To keep consistent procedure, we had Cort drive again. Measurements were made with a Stalker ATS radar system.
It would appear Porsche's own engineers know a little about making their cars stop, as By Design's Cabrio, with its PCCB ceramic brakes, cleaned up with a braking distance of 182 ft.
Alex Djerdjevic's S Car Go-prepared effort included Hoosiers and Brembo's 15-in. GT race brake system, stopping in just 184 ft. Protomotive landed another 2 ft closer to the radar gun. The worst-stopping car was the Evolution Motorsports Stage 4, separated from the PES Stage 5 car by the widest gap in the field, 209 ft versus 203. Overall, this was an astoundingly well-braked bunch of cars. While Los Angeles County Raceway may have been slightly downhill, where the S4s were stopping, and it is doubtlessly dirtier and less grippy pavement, the shortest stopping S4 took 219 ft to stop from 80 mph. Rearward weight bias has its advantages.
This was the event several competitors had been waiting for, and we saved it for last. Amazingly, the slowest car was still 2/10 clear of the 12s. In fact, considering all the big talk that was thrown around beforehand, all but one of these cars were surprisingly closely matched, falling in a 0.65-sec. window from 11.13 to 11.78 sec. in the quarter mile.
The By Design car was most dramatic, experiencing severe wheel hop off the line. Some competitors reported they could see the whole roofless chassis bending and twisting under the forces of the launch. Still, its time was mid-pack.
Third fastest was Alex Djerdjovic, who drove his own car to an 11.21-sec. pass, making sure the hidden nitrous switches were used appropriately. That system had been a pack of gremlins on the dyno and served only little better here, though it showed some serious power with a trap speed of 131.19 mph.
Alex Ross was so excited when his turn came that he forgot to wait for Les Bidrawn's signal on his first, and perhaps best, pass. We'll never know, because the radar wasn't ready. Still, Alex reigned in his Monkey Tronic excitement and got down to business with that 11.13-sec. pass. These were the only owners who drove their own cars, the others preferring to let Cort Wagner do the job.
That's the last nine cars. The first car was Protomotive's entry, which had the power to crush the other kids. It ran a 10.74-sec. pass with 131.74-mph speed, showing itself to be in a completely different class than the rest of the field. Todd Knighton, the car's builder, received congratulatory E-mail from as far away as Saudi Arabia the next morning.
Protomotive's car dominated this shootout, with first-place finishes in two of the four events and excellent performances in the others, capturing 91 of 100 possible points. It is a well-used, daily-driven car that's been under development for 2 years. All the bugs have been sorted. It's incredibly fast and, by all evidence, utterly bomb-proof. It is the car that should have won.
The second place car was exactly the opposite. Purists might call it an abomination if it hadn't come from the factory: a Turbo Cabriolet. With well under 1,000 miles on the clock, it rolled into By Design's shop completely stock just 6 days before the event began. With the exception of a small brake-b-que, it surprised us with its speed and never missed a beat. Whether that was because it was so new there hadn't been time for anything to break, or because it was actually done right at the very last minute, we can only guess. With only 74 points of 100 for the Cab, the margin of victory was huge. There was definitely a winner, but there really are no losers in this bunch of cars. The last-place finisher, Axis Sport Tuning's entry, is still more car than most people will ever ride in, let alone drive. It ran the quarter mile in 11.78 sec. Even a little Rottweiler is big when it's trying to climb on the couch and sit on your lap.