According to the fossil record, 66 million years ago dinosaurs roamed the earth and had evolved through natural selection to their greatest success and diversity. The Age of Dinosaurs and the Cretaceous Period of geologic time ended suddenly (geologically speaking) about 500,000 years later. Their demise was caused by a catastrophic climatic event widely thought to be either a massive asteroid impact on the planet, greatly increased world wide volcanism, or some combination of both. This event also initiated mass extinctions of many other reptiles, mammals, and plant life on Earth.
The Porsche 911 is the "dinosaur" of modern sports cars, yet it is not extinct-far from it, in fact! Since its debut at the Frankfurt Auto Show in 1963, the 911 has evolved continuously with the help of "natural enthusiast selection" to be one of the world's most successful and recognizable sports cars in history. With this article, the first in a new project series, we take the track-gobbling T-Rex of the 911 family, the new 2010 GT3, on a road trip into real dino-country. Our destination is Drumheller, Alberta, the self-proclaimed Dinosaur Capital of the World, located smack in the middle of western Canada's Badlands.
A brisk 90-minute drive northeast from Calgary gives you a much better insight into what the engineers had in mind when they designed this new machine. Over uneven, cracked, and bumpy open country highway, the new GT3 demonstrates its highly evolved poise and power. The ride is firm, yet never too jarring, and perfectly damped to keep the contact patch securely clawed to the tarmac surface. To enable this, the suspension components were completely revised with new PASM damping calibration, spring rates increased 12 percent in front while the rear remains the same (45 and 105 Nm, respectively), antiroll bars are from the now-dormant GT2 (25mm front and 23 mm rear), and the setup incorporates new front axle roll center geometry (again a la GT2). With Porsche's superb variable rate steering rack, the new suspension provides razor-sharp feel and handling straight from the factory floor unlike any stock vehicle I've ever driven.
On the power end of things, the resulting thrust and roaring sounds are scintillating for a normally aspirated engine of this size. Most European car enthusiasts are already well aware of the engine displacement increase from 3.6 to 3.8 liters for the new GT3, and the increased power generated, up 20 hp to 435. They are also likely privy to the facts that the latest evolution of this legendary Metzger GT1-based dry sump powerplant utilizes a new VarioCam system to control the exhaust valves, and that power is available right up to the 8500-rpm redline. The power achievements were also aided by re-working oil pumps, pistons, camshafts, exhaust system, A/C system, and the dual-mass flywheel for improved efficiencies and reduced weight.
In back-to-back runs with a 997 GT3 Mk1, the new 2010 997 GT3 Mk2 exhibits similar hair-raising thrills on the top end of the rev range, but the new car's extra power is certainly noticeable. Torque through the entire rev range however is greatly improved, which brings the fun factor up a couple of notches, something previously thought impossible. The outgoing engine is actually perceivably smoother, likely due to the new engine's increased displacement and more aggressive cams, which in turn give it a new, more fitting raw and nasty edge-just like T-Rex himself.
On the transmission side, a new short-shifter linkage is standard, along with a revised Getrag six-speed transaxle incorporating stronger steel synchronizers. This gives the shift action nice short throws with a slightly stiffened resistance, combined with a more metallic "notchiness" that most hardcore enthusiasts will love. The clutch action is solid and heavy and perfectly matches the suitably manly shift feel.
Slowing the new GT3 is effortless from any speed. The standard steel brakes have been upgraded with two-piece rotors all around, slightly reducing the unsprung weight at each corner (fronts up from 350mm to 380mm in diameter, and the rears remaining at 350mm). The pedal feel is bedrock hard, just like any self-respecting racecar, but is also easy to modulate at any level of pedal force. Further reductions in unsprung weight include the sexy new centerlock wheels, which combined with the new brake rotors drop 5.5 and 5.2 pounds per corner front and rear, respectively. The ceramic brake option reduces this figure again by a further 44 pounds all around, or 11 per corner, if your wallet will permit. I chose to spec this car with the standard brakes for two main reasons: 1) pedal feel (pedal travel is too long with ceramic brakes in my opinion), and 2) maintenance and replacement cost, as this car will be seeing some serious track time.
On the exterior, the legendary 911 shape is still clearly recognizable after all these years; the fresh modern skin stretches and curves with artful elegance and functional form, just as if Mother Nature had created it herself. The new design cues not only improve cooling to the engine and brakes significantly, but also increase downforce by five times at 186 mph, from 66 pounds to 220 pounds, and perfectly proportioned with 88 pounds in front and 132 pounds in the rear for optimum high-speed handling. The new rear wing is a visual sensation too, and clearly indicates to the masses that this car is ready to rumble. I also applaud the "3.8" badge of honor on the outside of each upright. Deadly cool. At the front, the spoiler lip remains a dangerous four inches from the ground, but its shape reaches further forward in a splitter-like fashion, making bumps and ramps all the more treacherous to this piece. Fortunately, you can buy replacements by the "six-pack" from Porsche.
Inside the cockpit, minor touches have improved the interior from the already upscale 997 fare. The new GT3 receives a cleaner center console and extra Alcantara trim on the door handles. I opted for the standard interior trim with manually adjusted Alcantara/leather sport seats, although I did select the smooth leather steering wheel, a no-cost option, for improved bare-hand grip over the standard Alcantara unit. I may feel the itch to go Euro with lightweight sport bucket seats and a half roll cage sometime in the near future. However, the standard sport seats are excellent for daily driving, keeping you firmly in place when the going gets twisty, and allowing you to drive in comfort for hours on end. And believe me, you'll want to.
Driving down the final meandering incline into the Red Deer River valley takes you through millions of years of late Cretaceous sediments, the medium through which wind, water, and time have carved the eerie and dramatic scenery of the western Badlands. Drumheller, population 7,932, lies at the center of the valley, and aside from its unusual setting, it seems just like any other small, sleepy town in Alberta. However, Drumheller is truly world famous for significant fossil finds in the area, its tacky dino-tourist traps, and for the modern and outstanding Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology.
Arriving at such an interesting, beautiful, and naturally historic place, especially in a Porsche 911, makes you rather reflective about time and nature, but especially evolution. The Beetle, the 356, the 911... Will the 911 continue to thrive? How and where does it go from here? We'll find out next time as the evolution continues.
Getaway to Drumheller:
Things to do and places to see
• Visit the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology
• Drive the Dinosaur Trail
• Check out Horseshoe and Horsethief Canyons
• See the Hoodoos
• Visit the BIG T-Rex
• Go to the "Little Church"
• Have lunch at Fred and Barnie's, or the Longbranch Saloon