When reviewing sports cars, automotive writers love to talk about the visceral connection between car and driver -- waxing poetic about how much it "drives like a race car" and makes us feel like Sabine Schmitz. But when it comes to Porsches, those metaphors are apt. No other automaker has the same breadth of customer race cars as Porsche, and most of Porsche's offerings are extraordinarily similar to the sports cars you can drive on the road.
To learn more about the close connection between Porsche's race cars and road cars, I sat down with Owen Hayes during last year's Petit Le Mans, where both the Carrera Cup and IMSA series held season finale races. Hayes, an experienced race engineer who's worked with Porsche for 20 years, helped develop race cars like the 911 GT3 R Hybrid and LMP1 RS Spyder and worked as Porsche Motorsport's director of operations for over five years.
Since the 996 Cup race car came out, Porsche has sold around 4,500 customer race cars -- of which about 1,000 have been based on the Cayman GT4 that's been around since 2016. Porsche offers different levels of race cars, from the more casual GT4 Clubsport to the race-ready 911 GT3 R and RSR. Each one across the board is fairly easy to drive and maintain, especially compared to offerings from other companies.
No other brand offers as much manufacturer support to customers as Porsche, either.
Out of all the race series that Porsche makes cars for, perhaps the most exciting and accessible is the Porsche Carrera Cup. This one-make series has been around since 1986; the 911 GT3 Cup has been the featured car since 1998. It launched in North America for the first time in 2021 as part of a partnership with IMSA, and over 30 racers competed across three different skill divisions. The latest Cup car is based on the 992 GT3, but the differences between road-going GT3 and the race car are minimal. Therein lies the appeal.
Porsche's race car development directly influences its road cars, and vice versa. The two teams work closely with each other at the R&D headquarters in Weissach, Germany, where around 4,000 people are employed. When development of a new road car begins, the racing division will give suggestions and requirements for features and specs they want the road car to have, which are then integrated into product planning. This system makes eventual homologation and race car development much easier, since everything that's needed is baked into the road car from the beginning.
That means Porsche's road-going GT cars often get advanced racing-derived features that typically wouldn't be found on a production car. Two of the most radical parts of the production 992 GT3 are its double-wishbone front suspension and the swan-neck rear wing, both of which are longtime race car staples. The 991 GT3 RS' side scoop was also nabbed from the race car, as were its center-lock wheels. Conversely, there are many features found on Porsche road cars that are influenced by racing but aren't allowed in certain series -- like active aerodynamics, adjustable dampers and rear-axle steering. Another example is carbon-ceramic brakes, which aren't allowed on Carrera Cup cars but are optional on the regular GT3.
The 992 GT3 Cup has a handful of aerodynamic differences, like wider front fenders and a side scoop, but it largely looks identical to the road car from the outside. The stripped-out interior looks like a regular 992's, with the biggest changes being the steering wheel, bucket seat and roll cage. There's only an 8-horsepower difference in output from the flat-6 engines, which have super tight tolerances and identical internals, and the road car is only about 250 pounds heavier when loaded with fluids. Even the compound between the GT3's Cup 2 R tires and the Cup's racing slicks is the same; the only difference there is the tread pattern. Because the Cup's mechanicals are all nabbed from the road car, it makes the Cup simple to work on and repair.
That makes a series like Carrera Cup far less daunting for amateur drivers, especially those with experience driving 911s. A large number of Porsche GT owners take their cars to the track, but it can get annoying and expensive to run through tires and take the risk of driving your regular car on track. Hopping from a regular GT3 to a GT3 Cup will feel familiar, and at $250,000 it's a cheaper entry point than other turnkey race cars. Once you're used to driving an actual race car on track, it's enticing to jump into actual racing with Porsche's support. On the flip side, there are people who only have experience with the race cars that go on to buy a GT3 road car to get that same feeling on the street. Getting experience in a Cup series also makes it easier to jump into higher tiers of racing, which Porsche also supports. Having the Cayman GT4 Clubsport is an easier entry point into real race cars for more inexperienced drivers, too.
And while I love watching a race like the Petit Le Mans headliner where you have multiple racing classes containing all kinds of different cars with different engine configurations on track at the same time, one-make series have inherently more exciting racing because all the cars are exactly the same. In other IMSA series, each team will have advantages on specific tracks because the cars have varying strengths and weaknesses, but in the Carrera Cup it all comes down to finely tuned specifics and driver skill -- teams aren't allowed to touch the powertrain or aerodynamics at all. It's an awesome series to watch, and it certainly helps that the GT3 sounds incredible.
Hayes tells me a story about going to another team's pit garage to borrow a tire pressure gauge, but before he could grab it the race engineer ran over screaming because their tire pressures were written on the gauge.
"When every single car is the exact same theoretically, you start doing these very small adjustments to the car that make a big difference," he says. "The surprise about developing a car like this would be that there is no magic, it's about doing it properly and correctly every single time."
The slightest change to the camber or ride height could result in a 1-second difference in lap times, and in one-make racing that second is an eternity. That also makes teamwork between drivers, engineers and pit crew even more critical, as everything has to be done perfectly: "It's all about getting in the right headspace as a whole, it's how the whole team is working."
The personal benefits of Porsche's holistic approach to its motorsport efforts and GT division is apparent from how the people involved talk about their race experiences. "It makes a big difference if the Porsche name is behind something," Hayes says. "You can feel it when you're walking through the paddock, it just feels different."
When I ask what part of his job is the most exciting, Hayes says it's basically everything: "Every day that you go to work is exhilarating. It doesn't matter where you are on the grid, it's about the possibility of what could be and just trying to do the best you can."
The 2022 Carrera Cup season kicks off at Sebring International Raceway on March 17, with races at six other tracks across the country to follow. The season finale will be at Road Atlanta in November.