Payne: In 'Vette vs. Porsche War, 911 GT2 sets the standard

Henry Payne
The Detroit News

The Carousel/Kink complex at Wisconsin’s Road America is one of the most demanding sections of race track in the country. The 700-horsepower Porsche 911 GT2 RS rips through it like a locomotive on rails.

With sticky, 13.5-inch Michelin rear tires clawing the pavement, I carry a neck-straining 1.5-g through the 180-degree Carousel turn and then explode into the left-right Kink as if shot from a cannon. A tap of the 16-inch brake rotors through the Kink at 115 mph and the Porsche goes straight to the head of the 700 Club.

You know the 700 Club. It’s inhabited by rare machines that push the envelope of what’s possible: 700-plus-horsepower cyborgs that define brands and make car enthusiasts’ knees weak. They are cars few can afford, yet all covet. They dominate our screen savers and lure us to showrooms.

They’re an intimidating lot, from the muscle-bound Dodge Hellcat to the winged Corvette ZR1 to the futuristic McLaren 720S. But the best of them is so, well, familiar looking.

The Porsche 911 has been around since 1963. Same conservative soap bar shape. Same blunt nose. Same rear-engine-dragging-out-back. You’ve seen a million of ‘em. They just get faster.

The ‘Vette has been around for even longer, and this rival odd-couple — one from Stuttgart the other Detroit, one white-collar the other blue-collar, one flat-6 the other V-8 — have pushed each other. Think Borg vs. McEnroe. Lakers vs. Celtics. Each from different worlds, yet always peers.

But with a bigger wallet, Porsche is the supercar standard.

Just ask the pro racers sitting around the table between Road America test sessions. Talents like David Donahue and Robb Holland and Randy Pobst. Champions all. They have traveled the globe and driven the 700 Club’s mightiest — Astons, Lamborghinis, McLarens, ‘Vettes, Vipers, Astons.

And yet they agree that the 911 is the benchmark. It’s predictable. Easy to drive. Puts down the power without turning your hair white.

“This car should be diabolical,” says Pobst surveying the rear-engine German. “But it’s not. I get high on these cars because they do exactly what you want.”

It was not ever thus. Hurley Haywood, Porsche legend with three LeMans wins to his credit and now a factory test driver, rolls his eyes at the thought of the first turbocharged Porsches. “You put your foot into it and then waited for the turbo to kick in,” he remembers.

The GT2 has no discernible turbo lag. None. Armed with the same twin-turbo, 3.8-liter flat-6 as the 580-horsepower Turbo S, the GT2 RS cranks up the power to an insane 700.

Drive it back-to-back with its stablemate the GT3 RS — armed with a normally-aspirated, 520-horse flat-6 — and the latter feels slow. I drove the Turbo S at Thunderhill Raceway three years ago and marveled at its athleticism for a 3,600-pound car.

At the wheel of a lightweighted, 3,241-pound GT2 I could easily keep up with pro Donahue in a Turbo S at Road America. The GT2 adds a cape to mortal drivers.

Credit years of engineering — and lots of steroids. Like the current Mustang GT350 and GT500, the 911 GT3 and GT2 are essentially the same car, but the GT2 gets the turbo (just as the 700-horse-plus GT500 gets the supercharger). They are an amazing weave of modern technology — rear-drive with rear-steer, gummy Michelin Sport Cup 2 R tires, multi-link suspensions, high rear wing, aluminum chassis, 7-speed, dual-clutch gearbox — that work together to make the perfect athlete.

The GT2 RS obliterated Car and Driver’s Lightning Lap record at Virginia International Raceway held by the mid-engine, carbon-fiber, $700K Ford GT supercar. By four seconds.

Donahue lapped Road America in the same time — 2 minutes, 15 seconds — as the lap record for my sports racer class (which weigh a mere 1,000 pounds). You could buy two $290,000 GT2s for the price of one Ford GT and have change left over. And you could buy two Corvette ZR1s for the price of a single GT2 RS and still afford a Chevy Equinox for the family.

The front-engine Corvette is an incredible bargain, but it is a handful compared to the 911.

Exiting the uphill Canada Corner at the end of the 140-mph back straight at Road America, I put 700 ponies to the ground and the rear end barely moves. The GT2 rushes corners so quickly that I pray for brakes — prayers are answered with massive, 16-inch rotors as big as Captain America’s shield.

The GT2 wears the crown, but I prefer the normally-aspirated GT3.

There is no better soundtrack on the planet. With similar-size flat-6 sans turbos, the GT3 gets its power by howling to 9,000 RPM (the forced-induction GT2’s redline is 7,200 RPM). That’s similar to my ol’ 1969 Porsche 908 flat-8 race car — the most glorious engine I’ve driven.

Wide open at throttle, the GT3 is a visceral thrill ride. Exiting Turn 3 onto a long straightaway, the car fires off 100/millisecond upshifts like a semi-automatic rifle — 2nd gear at 9000 RPM — BWAAAUUGGH! — 3rd gear — BWAAAUUGGH! — 4th ...

It lacks the punch of the turbo GT2, but 346 pound-feet of torque will do. And the sound puts my reflexes on knife edge for better driving. Pummeled by the noise and stiff ride, I’m wearier after a GT3 session.

That doesn’t translate so well to daily commuting. A St. Louis pal leased a GT3 and brought it back, his teeth and ear drums rattling. He traded for a 911 Targa. Halo mission accomplished — the GT3 got him to the dealership, and into another car.

Corvette follows a similar model, but at a lower price. On paper the ZR1 — ancient push-rod front engine, leaf rear springs — shouldn’t be able to come within a country mile of the German rocket, but it’s right there. Pobst lapped Road Atlanta in the ZR1 and GT3 at identical times — the GT2 was up the road another 1.5 seconds.

Paying an extra $150K is a lot for 1.5 seconds.

Buyers walk out of the showroom in a standard $70K  'Vette every bit as posh inside as the $100K 911. Still, Corvette is chasing the GT2 with a mid-engine Corvette later this year.

The ‘Vette will be upgraded to a full coil-over suspension, and a rumored hybrid pairing a twin-turbo, overhead-cam V-8 with an electric motor up front. 700 Club? We might have to talk about a special, 1,000-horse wing.

Right on cue, we get a new 911 this year, too. The standard is an ever-moving target.

Detroit News auto columnist Henry Payne took the Porsche 911 GT2 RS for some quick laps around Wisconsin's Road America.

2019 Porsche 911 GT2 RS

Vehicle type: Rear-engine, rear-wheel-drive, 2-passenger sports car

Price: $294,250 base, including $1,050 destination fee ($325,250 as tested)

Powerplant: 700 horsepower, 553 pound feet of torque, 3.8-liter twin-turbo flat-6 cylinder

Transmission: 7-speed, dual-clutch automatic

Performance: 2.7 second zero-60 (mfr.); 211 mph top speed

Weight: 3,241 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA 15 city/21 highway/17 combined

Highs: Stable manners at the limit; fistfuls of power
Lows: Looks don’t wow like a mid-engine supercar; costs 2x Corvette ZR1

Overall: 3 stars

The 520-horse Porsche 911 GT3 RS does not have the grunt of its turbocharged, GT2 brother, but its 9,000 RPM, normally-aspirated engine is a joy to rev.

2019 Porsche 911 GT3 RS

Vehicle type: Rear-engine, rear-wheel-drive, 2-passenger sports car

Price: $187,500 base, including $1,250 destination fee ($219,750 as tested)

Powerplant: 520 horsepower, 346 pound feet of torque, 4.0-liter flat-6 cylinder

Transmission: 7-speed, dual-clutch automatic

Performance: 3.0 second zero-60 (mfr.); 193 top speed

Weight: 3,153 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA 15 city/19 highway/16 combined

Highs: Glorious flat-6 sound at 9,000 RPM; Grip, grip and more grip
Lows: Beats you up as a daily driver; pricier than 'Vette ZR1

Overall: 4 stars

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at or Twitter @HenryEPayne. Catch “Car Radio with Henry Payne” from noon-2 p.m. Saturdays on 910 AM Superstation.