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911 R: Driving the purest Porsche in India

23rd Sep 2017 6:00 am

In order to get that pure, unadulterated Porsche experience, we get our hands on the only 911 R that came to India.

Don’t believe the hype. It’s a phrase I’ve lifted shamelessly from 1990s pop culture, but it’s also somewhat of a cautionary mantra. It’s something the cynical will always have on the tip of their tongues when approaching something big. Something popular. Something rare. Something expensive. Something sought after. Something desirable. Something famous.

It represents the idea that the greater the allure, the greater the disappointment when you finally encounter it. It’s a terrible approach to life, I know, but sure enough, on the flight to Bengaluru, my mind is coming up with excuse upon defeatist excuse. “It’ll probably be too much of a handful.” “I mean, what was wrong with PDK, really?” “Why have they quadrupled in value? I can’t see what all the fuss is about.” “You know, maybe there’ll have been some miscommunication, and I won’t even end up driving the thing; there’s no point getting excited.”

Like I said, terrible approach.

Our red Carrera coupé, borrowed from Porsche Bengaluru, pulls into an unassuming bylane, and I notice the gates on either side here are very large and the walls very high. Thoroughly modern-looking structures peek out from behind them, which tells me this whole neighbourhood is more than meets the eye. And sure enough, as our large gate opens up, it reveals a vast courtyard with various cars strewn around. These, it’s hinted to me, are the ‘everyday’ ones, but trust me, you’d covet any of them gladly. Coolly, out of the big mansion doors strolls a man in a polo shirt, shorts and boat shoes; it’s Boopesh Reddy, property and infrastructure developer and proprietor of, well, all of this. Our introduction and initial exchange is interesting, but happily, before long, he pops the question – “So, should we go see it or what?”

His garage is a collection of unimaginable exotica, but his three favourite Porsches get a special section of it all to themselves. Amazingly, the Riviera Blue 911 Turbo S is the least interesting of the trio, despite being the most powerful. That’s because on one side of it is a Cayman GT4 – the more powerful, stripped out, track-ready manual version, and on the other is the very reason we’re here.

Especially from behind, it’s almost unassuming, the 911 R. Sure, it’s got the 44mm wider derriere of the GT3, but you can’t really tell from back here; there aren’t even any spoilers. Even the front – it has the lower bumper of the GT3, but it’s hardly what you’d call shouty. I suppose it’s the signature stripes that really give it away. But then I start to poke around it like a nerd with a magnifying glass, and the little details start to show. There’s a vent at the front edge of the bonnet to channel air up from the bumper to help stick the light nose to the road, and while the engine cover may be similar to a Carrera’s, it’s got its own unique grille with a ‘911 R’ badge on it. The 20-inch wheels are ever so slightly ‘dished’ at the rear, wrapped as they are in 305-section tyres and revealing a set of yellow brake calipers which (Porsche fans, you may excitedly chime in now) represent PCCB – Porsche Carbon Ceramic Brakes. And because they’ve thrown out the spoiler, they’ve had to add a mighty great underbody diffuser at the back to keep the R pinned to the road at high speeds, which, ironically, causes a very India-specific problem. “You raise the nose to clear a speed breaker but that just pushes the rear diffuser down, so you have to be very careful to make sure it doesn’t scrape; sometimes I think I should just remove it altogether.” I’m not entirely sure if he’s being serious about that last bit or not.

The R has now been brought up to the aforementioned courtyard via a car elevator concealed under a patch of astroturf, and I’m pacing impatiently around the car as Ashley’s lens probes the last of its many, many special little details. That trepidation and doubt I felt on the plane seems to have been left on the plane itself, because now I’m just itching to drive this car. Maybe it’s seeing it in person, maybe it’s hearing stories about it from its owner firsthand, but it more likely has to do with seeing that carbon-wrapped, stubby, six-speed shifter for the first time. I’ve never driven a manual Porsche, and why would I have – no one ever buys them in India (I’m not sure they even can), and all the press cars I’ve ever driven anywhere in the world have had automatics. And I know, ‘don’t believe the hype’, but the way people talk about this gearshift, it’s like it should come with its own halo.

We’re headed to the Nandi Infrastructure Corridor Enterprises road, which anagrams conveniently to NICE. And nice is how we hope it will stay, given that it’s a Sunday afternoon, the skies are starting to cloud up and we’ve descended upon it with three Porsche 911s. Yes, apart from the R and our red Carrera, Mr Reddy has decided to bring his Turbo S along as well. It truly is a sight to behold – the 911 R coursing ahead, making the pictures you see on these pages, and the other two a little further back, ‘requesting’ the other motorists to temporarily keep their distance.

I’m trying to make mental notes about what’s new or different with the interior, but it’s impossible to concentrate with the cacophony that’s ricocheting into itself all around the cabin. They’ve stripped this car so much that it only weighs 1,370kg, making it the lightest of all the current 911s, even the ridiculously serious GT3 RS. The roof is magnesium, the bonnet and wings are carbon fibre, the glass is plastic and the inside door handles are fabric straps. Part of the diet also included removing the rear seats and much of the insulation, which has basically turned this into the inside of a subwoofer. Free from the shackles of sound deadening and certainly from turbocharging, this is the most visceral I’ve ever heard a Porsche flat-six sound. There’s a proper, guttural garble down low, but it wakes up so quickly, because the motor revs so freely. This is helped by the optional single-mass flywheel on this car – it adds to the noise and vibrations, but the lower mechanical resistance means the motor responds a lot quicker. Initially I’m a little hesitant, not because of that hype mumbo-jumbo, but more likely because the owner’s following right behind me. As the twin-turbo Riviera Blue streak bolts past me, however, there’s nothing for it but to pin the throttle and give chase. The sound refines itself with every small increase in RPM, until it’s gone from cacophony to philharmonic orchestra; that tremendous wail only an atmospheric flat-six can make.

The clutch is heavy; German-build heavy, not diesel-truck heavy. It has 500hp and 460Nm to contend with, after all. That just makes it all the more satisfying to kick it in for each shift. And the shifter; it really is something else. The throw is so short, it needs no more than your wrist, but then it too is firm, so you want to put your shoulder into it. You don’t shift the lever so much as snatch at it, and it makes the same ‘snikt’ sound as Wolverine’s claws when they come out.

That was intense. It’s not just my eardrums that have been given a workout, my spine has too, thanks to the carbon-backed, single-piece fixed bucket seats and the stiff ride. A few more photos later, the clouds crack wide open and our game gets rained out. I’m gestured to park the R under an overpass so we can pack up our things and call it a day. Leave aside the fact you can no longer buy one of these from Porsche, it has appreciated so wildly since it was sold out, you probably couldn’t afford it second-hand either. But if you could, you’d really have to be committed. It’s not an easy car by any means, but then, since this is a 911 that comes only with a manual, you sort of knew that already, right? It’s stiff too, and loud, and when you roll off the line, that single-mass flywheel makes a sound like nails on a chalkboard. It’s not meant for lap times is what Porsche says; that’s the GT3 RS’s job. The 911 R is made for fun. For driving enjoyment. And even though our time with it was brief, that’s something that was made abundantly clear.

Believe the hype. Believe every word of it.

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