It’s just ticked five am on a dark Saturday morning in mid October and I’ve convinced my girlfriend to drop me at an industrial estate close to Adelaide Airport in South Australia. The worst of winter is behind us but it’s still a touch too cold for comfort, and she’s slightly bemused. Not just as to why she’s awake before sunrise on a Saturday, but as to why I would want to co-drive two days across Australia to Sydney in a car that I’ve never seen before, only to hop on a plane and fly right home again that night.
As we unpack my camera bags we suddenly hear the unmistakable noise of a flat-six engine, growing louder with each gearshift, initially from blocks away but getting closer and closer as it cuts through the stiff morning air. Chantelle looks at me with a grin and says ‘Oh. I get it now. Enjoy your weekend’.
My friend had just taken delivery a brand new Porsche 991 GT3 the previous morning complete with full Martini livery and here we were, nineteen hours into ownership, ready to embark on a true cross-country sprint. The GT3 was slated to be at Sydney Motorsport Park the following Tuesday for its first track day but, with just 140km on the odometer, it was in need of some loosening up before the owner and V8 Supercar driver Dean Canto would fully explore its limits.
The owner was grinning like a child as he pulled up next to us. ‘I did that for your benefit so you knew I was on the way’ he says, referring to crescendo of flat-six noise we’d been listening to for the last minute or so. But his smile tells the truth. I don’t believe for one moment that it was solely for me.
The front boot already contains a helmet and associated racing gear, so I lower my duffel bag over the roll cage into the back and then myself down into the co-driver’s leather trimmed, carbon backed racing seat. With the 1kg fire bomb occupying a fair part of the passenger footwell it’s a snug fit, but we’re not here for comfort. The mini-911 shaped, Martini liveried key is twisted, the flat six fires back into life and my pulse races to a seemingly similar arc to that of the 9000rpm redlined tacho. Yes…this is going to be fun.
Making our way through the deserted Adelaide streets the cloudless night sky morphs to endless shades of brilliant pre-dawn blue. Stopping at each traffic light the throttle blip on down change is amplified through the free-flowing exhaust for the benefit of anyone who cares to listen. I feel blessed to be sitting inside, but I do wonder what it sounds like from the streets. The noise is trademark flat-six Porsche, but not quite as hollow and a shade more refined than what we’re used to.
After a not-so-quick coffee stop to admire the GT3 from the outside again, we depart the suburbs and cross the Adelaide Hills via the South Eastern Freeway using every ounce of self control to keep at the posted speed limit. We turn off just past Murray Bridge, deep into Mallee country now. Famed as the best firewood money can buy, the Malleeroot tree forms low but dense bushland that grows close to the road and is an ideal home for the kangaroos who are most active at dawn and dusk.
The sun is still low in the sky and as loud as the Porsche is, it does not scare the roo’s away and after a few close encounters we decide to drop the speed significantly. Hitting one could quickly destroy the front of the GT3 and its newly fitted Cup Car bonnet, an item not normally fitted to the road going GT3 but obtained by the owner through his motorsport contacts.
As we keep traveling inland the scrub dies off to flat plains, and we use the straight, open roads to explore the GT3’s ability a little further. Several repeated emergency stops to bed-in the optional Porsche Carbon Ceramic Brakes reveal them to be heroic in sheer stopping force and fade resistance, literally wrenching bitumen from the tar and covering the sticky Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 rubber with a layer of stones. After each stop the razor sharp violence of the new GT3 specific PDK gearbox is intoxicating on upshift as we build speed once more.
The funny thing about Australia is that despite our wide plains and straight roads, we are one of the most heavily policed nations on earth and it is not uncommon to find highway police 200km from the nearest town issuing grotesquely large fines. The roo threat has gone but we can’t risk our licenses, so the cruise control is locked at the speed limit and we set about pairing our phones to stream some music.
I was pleased to learn that the GT3 has one of the most awful stereos of any new car I’ve seen which subsequently rendered the Bluetooth pairing next to useless; the quality and volume isn’t even enough to overcome the tyre noise from those wide Michelin’s as they tear through the coarse highway bitumen. We quickly come to the same conclusion, that the real music in a GT3 is controlled by your right foot and not by a button on the PCM screen. This is the way it should be.
We stop for fuel in Hay; the halfway point of the famous Hay Plains and a country town only notable for breaking up hours of endless monotony. The owner has had enough driving and wants to experience the GT3 from the passenger seat so he throws me the keys, and with what seemed like every person in town and the local constabulary staring at us I very carefully navigated to the outskirts at exactly the posted speed limit.
As we slowly pass the pub, four local lads race to their old Hilux and give chase, sitting right on our bumper to where the speed limit opens up again. I glance in the mirror to see them leaning out of the windows, encouraging me to give it some. The owner smiles as I stab the throttle; at 9000rpm in second gear I look in the mirror and see them back in the distance, cheering and fist pumping the air as they turn around to head back to the pub. It’s good to see that the GT3 provokes the same level of enthusiasm from those outside as does from those lucky enough to be sitting inside.
Rainfall is the lifeblood of rural Australia and the closer to the coast you get, the more rain there is. On a road trip like this you see the countryside morph before your eyes; the grass gets greener, towns become bigger and more frequent, the landscape fills with rolling hills and the roads become more interesting. Most of today is spent traversing flat, parched land, but by late afternoon the landscape is beginning to morph into GT3 country.
The heat of the day has given way to a refreshing balminess, so with the windows down and a fresh tank of 98 Octane we delve a little deeper into the performance envelope of the GT3 as we head to our overnight stop at Forbes, two hours away. I won’t recount those last few hours here, but needless to say I will remember the wail of that boxer engine at 9000rpm for a very long time.
By nine we’ve reached Forbes and head straight to the local pub for dinner, making sure to park the GT3 around the corner to avoid awkward first impressions. With all the stops for photos we’ve been on the road over fifteen hours; the front of the GT3 is littered with bugs, I have a full SD card of photos to sort through and we’re both absolutely spent. The beer tastes divine but I don’t think it’s the alcohol giving me an inner glow; I sit there just letting the moment sink in. A new 991 GT3, the noise it makes, the roads on that last leg – the trip. It really is an epic experience.
Early the next morning, after a good sleep and a hot shower, we fall back into the GT3’s bucket seats and leave town while the sun is still low. The PDK plays a tune through the flat six that echoes off the stately homes of the now leafy boulevards. These towns were some of the richest places in Australia before the finance moguls shifted the cash to the capital cities, and their understated grandeur has not been lost.
From Parkes we set course for Bathurst to lap the famous Mount Panorama circuit, an open public road when racing isn’t on. Two weeks earlier Australia’s biggest motor race, the Bathurst 1000, was held here and just a few days ago it was covered in snow. But along with the sun, the tourist traffic is now out and we complete two laps at a rigid 60km/h. We suspect the Bathurst Police fund their annual budget from this road alone and a Martini liveried GT3 is not the subtlest of cars, so we are very careful not to break the limit.
Leaving Bathurst we turn to Oberon, taking Duckmaloi Road through fast sweeping bends and rolling green pastures that combine to provide a fantastic driving experience. This is rich farming country, but it’s the GT3 that has our attention as it gradually reveals itself to us. It is in its element here; the midrange pull swinging through the fast bends is staggering and it seems that no matter what the speed or revs, there’s so much in reserve, ready and willing, edging us on to explore its limits.
And on those few occasions when you can take it all the way, it screams toward that stratospheric redline, seemingly pulling even harder over the last 700rpm as it punches you in the back with each immediate upshift. A lot has been written about this engine, about its lack of historical lineage or race pedigree. But I can tell you that Porsche have excelled. The sound, the feeling, the inherent rawness as the tacho snaps into each gear all combine to produce one of the best naturally aspirated engines ever built.
We stop to catch our breath when we round a corner to find, of all things in the middle of a pine forest, a mobile coffee and burger van at the hilltop intersection of Jenolan Caves Road. The chef inside is Eric, a Maori New Zealander who comes out here on weekends to escape the world and turn a few dollars in the process. His friendliness and relaxed outlook is refreshing and his burger/coffee combo the best I’ve had, and we end up staying for an hour. His life is worlds away from ours but we find common ground, and he is keen to learn about the Porsche.
Eric has never heard of a GT3 before but he is smitten with it and asks if it’s the speed or the looks that does it for us. The initial answer is easy but prompts some reflective thought on my behalf. It’s neither. There are many areas of the GT3 that stand out on their own merits, however it’s the cohesiveness of the package that makes it the ultimate drivers car. The way it combines outright speed, handling competence and sheer usefulness is unmatched and as the owner points out, what other car of similar caliber could you drive across Australia, race for a day and then drive home again and still not have to service for another 15,000km? A Ferrari 458 or a Lamborghini would have needed three services and a clutch change in that time.
Our discussion seems a little lost on Eric, but we’re on the same page when it comes to the importance of enjoying life. We shake hands and exchange details; he turns his hip-hop back up as he returns to his burgers and we find the rev limit as we take off in the GT3, headed back to the twisties. As John Lennon said, ‘Whatever gets you thru the night, s’alright’.
Jenolan Caves Road continues on to Hartley, getting seemingly better and more involving as the miles pass. It’s a sunny Sunday morning but the road is almost empty, and through sheer luck we seem to find passing opportunities whenever we catch another car. This is driving nirvana, and neither of us can really believe it.
A few Sydney-sider friends had suggested we try the legendary Bells Line of Road, which was apparently deliciously twisty and would conveniently deliver us through the Blue Mountains to Sydney’s north-western suburbs. The road itself was as sinuous as promised, but weekend traffic was choking it and after a few frustrated passing maneuvers we resigned ourselves to the train of farmers market-going family trucksters as we crawled through Mount Tomah and Bilpin.
We gave it a quick squirt through some hairpins descending Kurrajong Hills, and then we were abruptly back in suburbia once again. We’d hit the Sydney city limits. It was time to put the PDK box into auto mode and enjoy the civil side of Porsche’s track-day weapon.
The GT3 was caked in road grime and the front littered with bugs. To me it evoked thoughts of the endurance racing Targa Florio 911’s of lore and it was one of the coolest things I’d seen, but the owner was only seeing how filthy his new toy was. We stopped at the first car wash we found and spent an hour returning it to pristine condition.
After passing through Richmond we joined the M2 as it cut a path across endless suburbia, our only joy coming from windows-down rampages through the many tunnels. The plan was to finish by driving across the Sydney Harbour Bridge, but we enjoyed one long tunnel so much that we ended up in the wrong freeway lane, traversing under the harbor instead of over it.
With the GT3 in Sydney and that fabulous flat-six engine now run in, our job was done. We drove to the airport and from the drop-off zone I reached over and pulled my duffel bag out across that roll cage, 36 hours and 1,672km since leaving Adelaide the day before. I shook the owners hand and thanked him, and as he left he gave the GT3 as much of a final rev as you can when the Federal Police are watching. I’m sure they secretly appreciated it as much as he, and I, did.
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