How the Porsche 911 GT3 RS lapped the BIC in under 2 minutes

    Narain Karthikeyan beats his previous lap record with 175hp less.

    Published On Jan 01, 2024 07:00:00 AM

    8,619 Views

    We are standing on hallowed ground. A place where champions have raced and history has been made, and we are aiming to make history again. No road-going car in production spec has ever lapped under the 2-min mark and that’s what the target is. Welcome to the Buddh International Circuit, or BIC as we know it, the one and only circuit in India that has hosted rounds for both Formula 1 and MotoGP championships. This 5.125km track symbolises the pinnacle of motorsport and speed, and hence, setting a lap record here guarantees both man and machine the ultimate bragging rights.

    But to set a lap record on India’s ultimate track you need the ultimate driver piloting the ultimate machine. Yes, India’s first Formula 1 driver Narain Karthikeyan is back, and this time he’s behind the wheel of what is touted today as the ultimate road-going track car in the world – the 992-gen Porsche 911 GT3 RS.

    For Narain, the BIC is familiar territory. He’s the only Indian driver to have raced here in the Indian GP, not just once but twice (2011 and 2012), and he’s even more familiar with the job at hand. In fact, it’s with a ‘been there, done that’ feeling that Narain and all of us at Autocar India arrive at the BIC to meet the bright yellow 911 GT3 RS waiting in the pit garage.

    The 911 GT3 RS is one of most ultimate track-oriented cars in the world.

    Narain has broken the production car lap record at the BIC not once but twice, both times in a Porsche and both times for Autocar India. The first time the F1 star set a new lap record was back in November 2018 in his personal Porsche 911 GT3. His lap time of 2m 07.629s was a good two seconds faster than the previous best of 2m 09.853s set by Christian Hohenadel, the 2010 FIA GT3 champion in a Mercedes-AMG GT R. To break the record in a regular GT3 and not the track-focused RS model was very impressive, and a testimony to Narain’s speed and the GT3’s pedigree. But let’s face it, this was a record waiting to be broken and the opportunity to do just that came a few months later with the ballistic 911 GT2 RS. Producing 700hp, the GT2 RS’ twin-turbo flat-six is a good 200hp more powerful than Narain’s naturally aspirated GT3 and it was a given that he would smash the GT3’s record, but by how much?

    The previous lap record was set by Narain himself in March 2019.

    Conditions were not ideal on that warm March day and the high ambient temperatures had an impact on engine performance and also took its toll on the tyres, leaving a very small window for Narain to string together a hot lap. But he managed to shatter the lap record in his inimitable style. Using every one of the GT2 RS’s 700 horses, Narain blitzed around the BIC in 2m 00.266s – a good 7.5 seconds faster than his GT3’s time! This was a new lap record that wouldn’t be broken for a long time. But for how long? There was a nagging itch to set a sub-2min lap time and quite honestly, this would have been achievable in the GT2 RS if we had made the attempt at a cooler time of the year. It was certainly unfinished business for us and Narain. That was until the call from Porsche came once again.

    The 911 GT3 RS had just entered Porsche India’s press fleet, so would we like to have a crack at the lap record again? We obviously jumped at the opportunity, but how confident were we? To be honest, not very. The hardcore 911 GT3 RS may have been honed for the track but there was no getting away from the numbers. The latest GT3 RS develops 525hp, just 5hp more than the previous 991.2 model (520hp). That’s not a big increase by supercar standards either. It’s also a substantial 175hp less than the 911 GT2 RS’s turbocharged engine. There’s only so much you can do without forced induction and it appears that the 4-litre flat-six has reached its power output limits in pure, naturally aspirated form.

    Aero wizardry allows the 911 GT3 RS to hold an astonishing through the corners.

    But Porsche being Porsche has chosen not to sully the purest form of its revered flat-six by introducing turbocharging or hybrid power to the GT3 RS to get more speed. Instead, it opts for cutting-edge aerodynamics, sacrificing raw power for downforce to make the GT3 RS faster on a track. The question remains: Can it outpace the GT2 RS’s impressive lap record of 2 minutes flat – a formidable benchmark that has proved elusive for others attempting to surpass? With a huge power deficit, the GT3 RS is bound to be much slower down the BIC’s 1.1km back straight, but can it make up through the fast corners? And will Narain, who hasn’t raced for two years, be up to the job?

    Key to GT3 RS’ track pace is the massive rear wing that's adjustable for high and low downforce.

    Complicating our record attempt is the track, which was reconfigured for the Indian MotoGP, and though the track layout has reverted for cars, it still retains the markings for the bike race, which can be confusing. Also, C5, the left-hander before high-speed Esses has been tightened, and, as a result, the circuit isn’t exactly the same as before. In fact, it’s likely to be even slower. A track day the weekend before laid down a bit of rubber on the tarmac but not enough to make it nice and sticky, like after a race weekend. For all practical purposes, the track was still ‘green’ and that meant that grip wasn’t going to be optimal. We weren’t exactly bubbling with confidence, nevertheless, it felt great to be back at the BIC, which, after being spruced up for the MotoGP, looks fresh and rejuvenated.

    Narain is back at the BIC after four years and quickly gets up to speed.

    Narain arrives the afternoon before and immediately gets down to the first order of business, which is understanding the bewildering array of chassis settings and drive modes you can play around with on the GT3 RS. Track mode is, of course, the default setting and so is ESC fully switched off (for Narain). Lesser drivers have nine levels of traction control to play with. Where it starts getting complicated is with the nine stages of damper settings that alter the bump and rebound rates. The e-diff, too, has nine settings to balance the car through corners. So there’s a lot to play with and there’s just no time to find the right balance. “There are so many permutations and combinations, it can take many sessions to find the right settings and obviously, I couldn’t do that because of the limited time we had, so we went on the settings recommended by Porsche’s Motorsport team in Germany,” said Narain.

    He goes through the ritual he’s done hundreds of times before, which is slipping into his race suit and donning his balaclava, gloves and helmet. Meanwhile, Raj Kapoor, representing the FMSCI, the motorsport governing body that will verify the record, is on hand to check that the car conforms to basic safety requirements and that no modifications have been carried out. Yes, this is a box standard GT3 RS as per the homologated specs.

    Narain brakes as late as the 100-metre mark at the end of the long straight.

    Any doubts that Narain would be a bit rusty are blown away; he immediately gets to grips with what is the rawest and edgiest production 911 yet. The sound of the flat-six at 9,000rpm reverberating off the empty grandstand on the start-finish straight is absolutely spine-tingling, and with each successive lap, Narain is braking later and deeper into corners. “I haven’t driven here since 2019 when we set the GT2 RS lap record, but as racing drivers always say – once you’re on the track and you know it, you never forget it. So hopefully, I still remember all the lines and everything else,” says Narain. He’s quickly in the groove and lap times keep tumbling. He is staggered with the way the 911 GT3 RS corners. “It feels more like a full GT3-spec race car, especially the aero which you can use to get the max out of the car in terms of cornering speeds. The brakes are phenomenal and you feel like you’re hitting a wall.”

    Giving feedback to Porsche technicians after a few hot laps.

    Lap times keep tumbling and he quickly slips into the 2:01s before calling it a day. With a fresh set of Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2R tyres, Narain’s confident of finding that second and half. “No problem, a sub-2min lap time will be possible,” he says with an impish grin.

    It’s an early start the next morning, the idea is to hit the track when it’s cool. Colder air is denser, packing more oxygen into the engine, and increased oxygen allows for better combustion resulting in more power. That’s the theory, at least. Porsche’s service team have swapped out the tyres overnight and the BIC team has come in especially to scrub the track from overnight dust and dew. NCR’s notorious smog blankets the track, making visibility a bit of a worry but, thankfully, it lifts quickly. We are good to go.

    VBOX data recorder gives the corner-by -corner story.

    Narain fires up the flat-six, which sounds absolutely glorious in the crisp morning air. After a quick warm up lap to get the tyres, brakes and engine to their optimal temperatures, Narain goes for his flyer. He is absolutely on the limit, carrying more speed through every corner to compensate as much as possible for the slower straight-line speed. He’s bouncing hard off the kerbs, using every bit of road to shave off time wherever possible. Narain is uncharacteristically neat, driving with surgical precision and minimal steering inputs. Keeping it neat and tidy is the key because with just 525hp, you can’t afford to scrub off speed.

    Exiting the last corner, the GT3 RS gives a small twitch and shrieks past the start-finish line. My stopwatch says mission accomplished and race control officially confirms the time – 1min 59.854sec is the new production car lap record set by the 911 GT3 RS. Sure, it’s just half a second faster than the GT2 RS but that’s enough to make the GT3 RS the first production-spec car to go under 2min despite being over 20kph slower down the straight, making this record a triumph of aerodynamics over power. The GT3 RS’ aero wizardry, which includes an F1-style rear wing with DRS and movable aerodynamics, made it stick like glue through the corners.

    “In the back section of the circuit, this car comes into its own and it must be, I guess, 20-25kph faster than the GT2 RS in the long D and the fast corners. That’s why you gain a lot of time. It’s a track weapon, fantastic to drive. I’m a big Porsche fan, they’ve done a great job with this car,” says Narain.

    Three Porsches, three lap records with the same driver who is soon turning 47, but is showing no signs of slowing down. As they say, Formula 1 drivers are a special breed of speed, and so is the 911 GT3 RS.

    Setting up the 911 GT3 RS 

    In a car that lets you adjust every facet of its mechanicals, getting the perfect set-up could take hours of experimentation. Luckily, Michael Mayer from Porsche Motorsport in Weissach, Germany sent us an official recommendation:

    Tyres: I would recommend starting with 1.6 bar (cold tyre) pressure front and rear. Don’t go over the kerbs in your out-lap when warming up the tyres, before you start the hot lap (so as to not get a tyre failure with the low pressure).

    Drive mode: For track use, I always recommend using the car in Track mode.

    Dampers: With the Cup 2R tyres, you can try slightly increased Rebound Damping. The favourite setting of Jörg Bergmeister with the Cup 2R is +3 front and +4 rear (rebound damping; compression is at 0). But nevertheless, it depends a little on the driving style and the personal preference of the driver.

    The numerous ways in which the car can be is simply bewildering.

    Torque vectoring: Just go with the basic setting (0/0) if you don’t feel you need something special. If there’s time to look at PTV+ (Porsche Torque Vectoring Plus), you can also try this. For example, if you increase ‘coast’, the car will be more stable while turning in, and if you decrease ‘coast’, it’s the other way around.

    ESC/TCS: For lap timing on a dry surface with a professional driver, I always recommend switching off both systems on the 992 GT3 RS.

    Active Aero: Just put it in Dynamic mode, the system will do everything right automatically.

    For special functions, we have added a document, but on many tracks, no Special Functions (DRS or Braketip) are necessary for lap timing.

    Narain Karthikeyan's POV

    Accelerating out of turn 16 using all the track available on the exit is crucial to getting a good run down the start/finish straight. I hit 223kph, which isn’t very fast before hardbraking for turn 1, a third gear corner. Turn 2 is easily flat out before braking hard for turn three, where it’s crucial to get the exit right for a good entry onto the long back straight. Top speed is an unbelievably low 255kph, which shows there is so much drag even with the rear wing in a low downforce position. The brakes are absolutely mindblowing and hitting them hard is like hitting a wall. I never imagined in a road car, I would brake at the 100-metre mark at the end of the straight.

    With so much grip and downforce at the rear, the GT3 RS is prone to understeer first, so in the tighter corners like Turns 3, 4 and 16, I need to trail brake up to the apex to stop the front from washing out. Turn 5 has been modified and it’s the fast left-right-left kink, but a tight second gear corner. The GT3 RS really comes into its own in the fast and flowing mid-section. Grip is simply astonishing and I cannot believe I’m just shy of 160kph through the long parabola. It’s a light dab of the brakes for the fast left-hander that follows downhill, and the right-hander as you climb up is completely flat before braking for the tricky Turn 15, which you can’t see till you turn in. You need to be precise and not overdrive the GT3 RS to get the most out of it and I can tell you, no other road-going car has impressed me more on a track.

    Also See:

    358.03kph: Autocar India sets new Indian top speed record with Pininfarina Battista

    1780km in 24 hours: Autocar India, Vida by Hero Motocorp set a new Guinness World Record

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