“Just bought a new-to-me 991 GT3. Next time you’re in ATL, you’re welcome to drive it.” That text popped up on my phone from a good friend of mine, David, near the end of June. I think he meant that I could drive his new Teutonic baby low and slow around the streets of Dekalb County. I had a completely different idea.
I had experienced the SCCA’s Track Night in America program at NCM Motorsports Park back in June in my own Ford Fiesta ST, and found the program to be an outstanding way to get quality track time in a low-stress, safety-conscious environment. The minute I got that text from David, I went directly to the SCCA’s website to find out when the next Track Night at Atlanta Motorsports Park would be. I offered up some free driver coaching to David, who had very little track driving experience, in exchange for being able to pilot the car myself for a few laps.
It was on like Donkey Kong. I registered in the Advanced Group, and David registered in the Novice Group. The idea was that I would let David ride in the passenger seat with me as I drove first, and then I would provide some right-seat coaching as David took his turn.
David had done some parade laps in his old 993 at Atlanta Motorsports Park, and I had never seen the track at all. Luckily, Track Night provides some low-speed parade laps to all drivers to kick off each event.
We agreed that I would take the parade laps and talk David through each section of the track as we passed through it — as all good Jalops know, talking, driving a new car, and navigating a new track all at the same time can be hazardous, so I didn’t want to do it at speed. David was an excellent student, asking questions about each turn and internalizing it for his own laps.
Atlanta Motorsports Park has had its share of issues. There is still quite a bit of construction going on, even though the park has been “open” for several years.
Nevertheless, the track is quite good. My first impressions were that it reminded me a bit of New Jersey Motorsports Park—-nothing terribly challenging about most of the corners except for Turns 14 and 15. If we had been there to race rather than merely drive, that is where the race would have been won or lost. Immense courage was required to steadily increase your speed and still maintain proper grip for the entrance toTurn 16 (where we would later be driving so fast that we’d be forced to shift to fifth).
The collected group of cars included everything from a Toyota Cressida(!!!) to a Boss 302 to a Cayman GTS, but there was no doubt that David’s GT3 was the belle of this Southern ball. I received so many “nice car” comments as I entered and exited the 911 that I got tired of explaining that it wasn’t my car, and I merely said “Thanks.”
The parade laps were over. Time to drive this mother.
Track entrance is right after Turn 1, heading into the esses of Turns 2 and 3. The GT3 roared to life, delivering nearly instant torque to the rear wheels along with massive, gut-punching acceleration. It bit hard into the transitions, demonstrating exceptional balance from the get-go as I put the inside wheels on the curbing of the apex Two and Three.
Turn 6 was my first “Oh, Shit” moment. Since you’re heading downhill out of five, the braking was much harder than I anticipated. Luckily, the GT3’s brakes were more than up to the task, so that wasn’t the problem — it was the exit where I tried to apply the power too quickly. The GT3 reminded me that it’s still a 911 by doing its damnedest to kick the back end around as I tried to track out toward Turn 7. I collected the car by correcting the steering and shouted out to David.
“I PUT THE POWER DOWN TOO EARLY,” I explained over the exhaust note as the GT3 screamed up and over the crest of Turn 8 and down the right side of the track into Turn 9.
Later on, we’d enter Turns 14 and 15. When driving through those, one must ask himself, “How brave and/or lucky do I feel here?” It’s one thing to drive a press car on course. It’s entirely another to drive a friend’s car. If I had taken 14 and 15 as quickly as possible, I would have entered 16 incredibly quickly. Thus, the exit of Turn 16 would have required me to get waaaaaaay outside down the front straightaway, and the penalty for putting two wheels off was likely a trip to the emergency room, because I would have ended up coming back across the track directly into the wall.
Therefore, I tapped the brakes coming out of 15 and put myself comfortably in the middle of the track out of 16. No, I wasn’t going to win any races that way — but there’s nothing to win at a track day, and especially not in somebody else’s car. Even so, I was redlining the GT3 in fourth gear very early in the straightaway. Later in the day, I found myself upshifting into fifth before downshifting all the way down to second when braking for Turn 1.
My first impressions of the GT3 after Session One:
· This car is almost dangerously easy to drive. You feel like you can do just about anything in it.
· Lateral grip is at speed is incredibly confidence-inspiring.
· The car fixes most of your mistakes without you even knowing you made them.
· PSM was entirely non-invasive, even when I got fairly sideways.
· I didn’t hate the PDK shifter nearly as much as I thought I would (although I tried to “upshift” from second to third a couple of times by pushing the shifter forward rather than pulling it back).
In comparison to the 996 and 997 generations of the GT3 that I’ve driven — I hate to be that guy, but there really IS no comparison. The 991 is prepared to be as great a car as you are a driver. Where the 997 was a rough-and-tumble racer that made your spine feel every bump on the track, the 991 is a kinder, gentler GT3. It’s no slower as a result, though. If anything, it allows you to settle in and be lighter with your steering inputs.
Next up, David and I sat next to the car and talked through the laps. I told him that I estimated that I was driving at about 80-85 percent of my possible speed in the car, and that he should aim for about the same —not 85 percent of my speed, but 85 percent of his.
My rules for him were simple:
· Do exactly as I say in the car.
· Use the automatic transmission only, don’t worry about shifting yet.
· If you feel yourself getting angry or “red misty” in the car, slow down, and then exit the course via pit lane on the next lap.
· Try to get all of your braking done in a straight line.
· Adhere to all of the session rules (passing only in passing areas with a point-by, etc.)
· If you go into a spin or lose control, just apply the brakes fully and bring the car to a stop. Don’t try to save it.
· Too slow is better than too fast. It’s like a haircut—-we can always increase our speed as we go, but going too fast can be dangerous.
Sitting in the right seat is never easy, but my nerves were somewhat assuaged by the fact that I knew that David had no desire whatsoever to crunch his brand new car.
As we entered the track for the Novice session, David started exhibiting the typical characteristics of novice drivers. He was treating the brake and accelerator pedals like On/Off switches, which unsettled the car in and out of each corner. He had a tendency to overcook “easy” corners and to early apex “difficult” corners. He struggled with using the whole track and tended to drive right down the middle.
However, that magnificent car saved him every time. It reminded me of a girl who lived in my college dorm—-she was a completely badass chick with spiky hair and tattoos, but she was remarkably gentle with me under the covers of my bunk bed. The GT3, despite its reputation as a track-focused scalpel, was equally kind to David. A car with lesser brakes probably would have resulted in David going off in either One or Twelve. Not our supercar. PSM straightened him out in Turn 12 after one particularly hot blind exit.
Overall, though, he did a magnificent job for his first time driving at speed on a racetrack. He was everything one would want as a student: attentive, open to coaching, and able to put coaching to use on the very next session.
I took David out for the Intermediate session and began to drive at 90-95 percent speed. The marvelous thing about the GT3 is that it rewards you for driving harder. The more speed you give it into a corner, the more downforce and grip you get. The onboard computer registered a mind-boggling 1.57 lateral Gs and over 1 G in acceleration when we checked it after the session. Despite each session being completely sold out and filled with some dedicated race cars, the GT3 was never even close to being threatened by another car on track.
I could immediately tell that David was paying closer attention to the line I had taken in the second session when he took his second crack at the wheel — he basically drove my line at about 70-75 percent of my speed, which was spectacularly impressive. He did get slightly misty at some Novice drivers who weren’t giving the appropriate passbys, so I shouted at him,“RELAX, DUDE!” However, after the second session, I was completely prepared to let him go out alone for the final session.
Unfortunately, after only one lap in my third session, the oil life indicator came on, at which point I shut the car down for the day. However, if you think about it, we tracked the car for nearly 80 minutes without brake fade or loss of grip. Simply unbelievable for a street-legal car.
Also unfortunately, my Sony Action Cam managed to turn itself on in my helmet bag on the drive from Atlanta to Dawsonville, draining its entire battery in the process, so we got exactly no in-car footage. But David’s impressions of his first SCCA Track Night in America were much like mine: it’s the best way to get seat time for a low price. However, David did say that he would not have felt comfortable without an instructor like me in the right seat.
Should you take a No-Holds-Barred, Holy Mother of Jesus supercar to your first track day? After all, everybody knows that the answer to that question is MIATA, but, seriously, is that really the answer? After all, an NA Miata doesn’t have traction control. Lots of them don’t even have ABS. A novice driver can find himself in hot water fairly quickly without some electronic nannies to keep his front wheels in front of his back ones. Sure, you’ll learn more about actual race craft by driving a Miata, but how many of us are planning to go from track day driver to SCCA Runoffs champion?
The answer is: absolutely you can bring a supercar to that first track day, but be prepared to keep your ego in check. There’s a seriously good chance that you’ll be giving a point by or two to an MR2, or BRZ, or especially the aforementioned NA Miata (to David’s credit, he didn’t have to point anybody by the whole session). You can’t get angry when that happens, or you’ll exponentially increase your chances of stuffing your $200K+ car into a wall.
Also, you’d be better off doing it with a friendly instructor in the passenger seat. The GT3, or really any car with more than 400 horsepower at its disposal, can get you in trouble in a hurry. Having a calm, rational voice in the right-hand seat will make sure that you don’t get yourself into anything that you can’t get out of. But, make sure that you’re willing to listen and completely follow his instruction. Whoever your friend is, you’re taking his life in your hands.
But, all that being said, you don’t HAVE to have a supercar to have a freaking blast at Track Night. I can honestly say that I had no more fun in the 991 than I did in my own Fiesta ST (where I actually lapped a Cayman) earlier in the summer. The program is designed for anybody and everybody to come out and drive as fast or as slow as they feel comfortable going.
So my recommendation? Take your car, go to the Track Night in America website and find an event near you. If you’ve got a hot shoe driver or instructor who’s willing to get along with you, that’s even better—-but realize that he’s putting himself in harm’s way to help you out and follow each and every direction to the letter, like David did. For $150, you’ll have a safe, fun, and thrilling way to spend your weeknight.
And if you know somebody who’s got a supercar but only knows how fast the forums say his car goes and what waxes work best on the finish, then invite him or her to go with you. You’ll make a friend for life, and you’ll be introducing him to the best possible way to enjoy his investment.
Or, you could just have him take me.
The Sports Car Club of America provided one free entry to the Track Night in America at Atlanta Motorsports Park.
Bark M. has taken the green and checkered flags in the American Endurance Racing and 24 Hours of Lemons racing series, has raced and driven on over a dozen different tracks across America, and has several SCCA National Solo and Pro Solo trophies to his credit. He is the proud owner of 2013 Boss 302 #0868 and a Fiesta ST. His writing can be found at The Truth About Cars and other sites, including this one.
Photos credit Jon Krolewicz