Automobiles

Porsche GT4 ePerformance First Drive Review: The Future of Racing

Porsche built a 1,000-horsepower, all electric racer. It won't be ready until 2026, but we got to drive it today.

Electrification is sweeping across the automotive industry at ludicrous speed, but only a few manufacturers have even thought about how to apply this to motorsports. If what wins on Sunday sells on Monday, lots of brands have some work to do to stay relevant. 

Porsche, on the other hand, is pushing the curve. Involvement in Formula E since 2019 taught the company's engineers what works and what doesn't when it comes to electrified racing. However, to really draw that line back to the dealership floor, Porsche needs to electrify its GT racing program. That starts here, with the GT4 ePerformance.

Where the stunning Mission R is a visual statement of what the future of Porsche Motorsports will look like, the GT4 ePerformance is more like a rolling testbed. Porsche's engineers, designers and factory drivers will use this to refine and shape the technologies to make it all work. This is a 1,000-horsepower, dual-motor look into the future.

That's 1,072 horsepower to be exact, or 800 kW of power in qualifying mode. That's just for quick bursts. In race mode, the car develops somewhere closer to 600 horsepower, still well more than the 425-hp 718 Cayman GT4 Clubsport with which this car shares a chassis.

It's a chassis that wasn't designed to house 82 kilowatt-hours worth of batteries, which is why that capacity is split across three separate packs. The biggest -- approximately half of the total capacity -- sits behind the driver where the engine would normally go. The second pack, around 20 kWh, rides shotgun on the passenger floor, while the third pack is up front where the fuel cell should be. 

Those packs power a pair of electric motors, one situated down low between the front wheels and a second between the rear. Yes, it has all-wheel drive, but Porsche engineers told me that front motor isn't really needed for acceleration. It's mostly there to enable more-efficient regenerative braking.

Since the weight of a car shifts forward under braking, the front stoppers wind up doing most of the work. In the GT4 ePerformance, that translates to the front motor doing most of the regeneration. How much? Porsche expects that, over a 30-minute sprint race, the car could regenerate as much as 30 kWh of electricity, so it can get away with a smaller pack.

Smaller brakes, too. Though the GT4 ePerformance is both faster and heavier than the gas-powered 718 Cayman GT4 Clubsport, it makes do with smaller Brembos at all four corners. The two systems are seamlessly combined through a brake-by-wire system -- one that I was a little dismayed to learn lacks ABS.

2022 Porsche GT4 ePerformance with smoke coming from the tires.
Porsche

It's got no traction control, either, as I was informed right before I was strapped into the cockpit of the prototype electric racer at the Circuit Ricardo Tormo in Valencia, Spain. That's a fact I would go on to check. While filming, I stopped on the front straight to get some distance between myself and the camera car. When it was time to go I stepped on the gas and was confused for a moment when the car didn't move. A moment later, I realized it was because I was doing an epic, four-wheel burnout. A cloud of tire smoke soon enveloped the car.

Other than that grin-inducing moment, I found the grip of the GT4 to be prodigious, and the overall experience to be a real joy. Lots of power? Oh yes, even in the lower-spec race mode, the car leaps out of the corners, but the throttle curve is surprisingly docile, so it was no problem digging a little deeper to add more speed when I realized I was too slow into one of the circuit's many long, off-camber corners.

The brake pedal, too, has a good amount of travel as well as excellent feel. Since the system is brake-by-wire, there's absolutely no difference in feel when you reach the threshold of the regenerative braking and transition into the physical brakes. It always just feels consistent and encouraging, lap after lap.

2022 Porsche GT4 ePerformance

Just a prototype? This thing felt ready to race.

Porsche

The steering is light as well, and that distribution of batteries means the car is really nicely balanced, far more so than your average 911. Too much speed in the corner means the GT4 usually just pushes out wide. I managed to lock all four brakes into the first turn on one lap and the car didn't try to swap ends on me. I just lifted off the left pedal and carried on. I even made the apex.

And how fast was I going into that first turn? Though Porsche says the car has a theoretical max speed of 300 kph, or 186 mph, the gearing it used here meant the top speed was a rather more conservative 272 kph, or 169 mph. At that speed, I could feel the downforce pushing the car into every crease and wrinkle in the asphalt. 

The front straight at Valencia isn't particularly long, so it wasn't until I got up into the full, 1,072-hp qualifying mode that I found the limiter. With the car fully turned up it really is a bit of a different creature, vicious out of the corners and requiring that I ease all my braking points back. After all, though the car had some 30% more power than before, it still had the same brakes and tires. 

Between stints on the track, I backed the car up to a Level 3 charger and let it do its thing. Usually by the time I'd had myself a drink and a think, it was ready to roll again. In the future, Porsche expects 350-kW chargers at race tracks will bring the car from 5% to 85% in just 15 minutes -- probably dimming every light in the county when you have a full paddock of these things charging simultaneously. 

2022 Porsche GT4 ePerformance

Is this what racing will look like in 2026?

Porsche

Today, there are very few circuits with that kind of charging capacity. Even this one did not, necessitating Porsche bringing in its own charger for the event. But track owners have some time to figure it out. Porsche hopes to have this car ready to put in customers' race bays in 2026. While I expect some clients will be skeptical, there are so many reasons to be excited about this. Race cars are often gauged by how expensive they are to run per hour. With few fluids to change and far fewer moving parts than a traditional track-bred Porsche, the GT4 ePerformance might not only be a fun and engaging way into top-tier racing but a (relatively) accessible one, too.

Only time will tell on that front, but I can say the Porsche GT4 ePerformance is a remarkable machine, a capable and confidence-inspiring prototype that makes me ever more optimistic about the future of motorsport, even in an emissions-free world. And what about a street version of an electric 718 Cayman? Porsche still isn't talking, but if this thing will be winning on Sundays in 2026, surely Porsche will want something in dealerships for the following Mondays.


Editors' note: Travel costs related to this story were covered by the manufacturer, which is common in the auto industry. The judgments and opinions of CNET's staff are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.