Editor's Note: Many readers of this site first "met" Jack Olsen after he, his Porsche and his garage were featured in a story on our site in one of Petrolicious' early videos. And while Jack was well known in the So Cal Porsche scene before that, he's gone on to become more of a "celebrity" lately thanks in part to the videos he continues to make and his recent participation in Porsche's "Driving Challenge" with the new 911R. While we've yet to meet Jack in person, we are "friends" on social media and he is a reader of FLATSIXES.com. With that in mind, we reached out last week to ask him about his experiences with Porsche and the 911R. As part of that conversation we learned that Jack is one of the few people, outside of Porsche, who has driven both the GT3 RS and the new 911R back to back. You see, due to the process of filming the Driving Challenge videos Jack had quite a bit of "downtime". Porsche, in their infinite wisdom wanted to keep Jack entertained so they handed him the set of keys to a 991 GT3 RS and set him loose on their test track at Weissach. Who better than him to talk about how they compare. Here's what he had to say.
The 991 iteration of the Porsche GT3 RS was introduced at the 2015 Geneva Motor Show to overwhelming acclaim and a small amount of controversy. Among a great number of technical improvements to the track-focused 911 variant was the use of the dual-clutch PDK transaxle – with no manual alternative offered at all. The message was clear: the familiar H-pattern transmission had met its match and was now being tossed on the scrap heap of old automotive technology.
Driving is a Whole Body Experience
Or had it? Driving is a whole-body experience. Accelerating, steering, shifting, and braking have been the cornerstones of that experience for a very long time. Some Porsche customers felt there should be more guiding GT3 RS development than just low lap times – they felt the raw experience of driving should also be factored in. After all, the 911 was not just a race-ready road car. It was also an automotive legend with an idiosyncratic design that created one of the most involving driving experiences of any car ever made. Some drivers felt the GT3 RS was becoming too coolly efficient for its own good.
The new 911R was Porsche’s answer to those customers. If the guiding principle of the GT3 RS was to get from A to B in as absolutely few seconds as possible, then the 911R’s departure point would be to find the way to make that journey from A to B as visceral, involving, and fun, as a 911 could manage, even if it took a few tenths of a second more to get there.
It meant there were two different 500-hp 911 variants at the top of Porsche’s sports car pyramid. A house divided between pure efficiency and raw experience. Could that house stand?
Chosen To Drive the 911R
As one of the two drivers selected for the company’s recent ‘Porsche Driving Challenge,’ I was put in a position to see what the new 911R actually had to offer. I’m still processing the fact that I was chosen at all, but here’s what they put together: I’d spend two days at the Weissach test track under the guidance of Porsche factory driver Patrick Long -- and then two days charging up an historic hillclimb stage in the French Pyrenees while Patrick Long chased me in a helicopter. I’d be one of the first civilians to get to drive this new Porsche. I’d get to do it on a track where very few drivers are ever allowed to drive under any circumstances. And I’d have a two-time-Le-Mans-winning driver along with me for guidance and tips.
Like I said, I’m still expecting to wake up and discover it was all just a dream.
One part of the experience was especially interesting to me
At Weissach, I got to take out both the new 911R and the GT3 RS back-to-back for some laps. So apart from the marketing talk about the distinctions between these two latest-and-greatest 911 variants, I was in a unique position to experience the real differences. On the same day. On the same track.
Visually, the thing separating the two cars is the rear wing. The 911R generates significantly less downforce than the GT3 RS. But I’ll surprise you by saying that that’s one of the things I hardly noticed at all, even in the high-speed sweeper at the northwest end of the famous track. The GT3 RS is more stable through there, no doubt. But for this particular track, I don’t think overall downforce would be the biggest factor in lap times. And for me, the other surprise was that the manual transmission did not make me smile more when I was on the track. Having driven the GT3 RS first, I was surprised how much slower my shifts were than the PDK’s. The paddles come pretty naturally once you get used to them, and the PDK system is lightning-fast.
There Were Clear Differences
So those two factors – maybe the most-obvious differences in these cars -- played out differently than I would have thought. But there were clear differences. Pretty big ones. First and foremost, the GT3 RS comes with wider tires than the 911R. This is something I could feel in low-, medium-, and high-speed corners. Combined with that, the rear-wheel steering algorithms are more ‘lively’ with the 911R. So at any speed, the newer model felt more nimble, a little more lively, than the GT3 RS. The effect might not be to lower the lap times, but it made the 911R a lot of fun to drive through the twistier sections of the test track.
All around the track, as you might expect, the GT3 RS felt very sure-footed. It’s a reassuring car to drive, even as you get closer to its limits. It’s a partner you can count on to do what you ask. And while it’s possible to hot dog around the place with its tail out, it struck me as most in its element when it was carving through the corners in a very efficient (and direct) way.
The 911R Comes Into Its Own
For me, the 911R came into its own when I was twisting through the narrow road that leads to the Col d’Aspin summit in France. With 500 hp and the manual gearbox, the experience of blasting up the big hill plastered a smile on my face from bottom to top. Winding through the gears felt just right on the public road (which the police had blocked off for me, thankfully). And while I might have been able to get up the hill faster in a GT3 RS, the experience of being able to skip over undulations in the asphalt and drive with that sensation that you’re ‘driving with the rear wheels’ felt exactly right in the 911R. I was immediately transported to the feeling of my own 1972 911 on the same kinds of roads in southern California. You start to feel like you’re controlling the thing with your hips – left, right, left, right – all the while using the 911R’s incredible power to keep accelerating in defiance of all good sense (and gravity). As a canyon carver, the 911R hits exactly the right mark.
Making A Choice
People have asked me which car I would have, if I had to choose. I usually deflect. There are really strong reasons to choose both of these 991 models. And I can’t deny that my old 1972 911 is my sentimental favorite – 16 years developing the same car is like a long and happy marriage. The ‘72 fits me like a glove, and despite its age is still pretty quick around a track or a canyon corner. But for those of you who are actually in the (enviable) position of choosing? Well, I’ll offer this: the selection is about to get more interesting, as it appears likely that future GT3 and GT3 RS models might get the new 6-speed as an option. And since wings and deck lids can be swapped out, the choice might become one that involves a full spectrum of choices between no-compromise performance and involving, engaging driver’s experience.
Who can complain about that?
About the author: Jack Olsen is a Los-Angeles-based screenwriter with a borderline-obsessive devotion to getting quicker at his local race track, Willow Springs Raceway in southern California’s high desert. Jack is also well known for his two-car garage, which he designed and built during the 2007 writers’ strike — and which houses the daily-driver 1972 911 that Jack has been tweaking and developing for the past 17 years.