December 22, 2020
Road Legends That Changed the World: The Porsche Carrera GT in Project CARS 3
What makes the Porsche Carrera GT such an icon? One-part handling and performance, and one-part genesis. The origin story reads like this: built from the remains of an endurance racing prototype that ran out of funding and fired by an evolution of a Formula 1-derived Porsche V10 engine that never-raced. And as cool as that may be, to motorsport enthusiasts, this will forever be remembered as the car that scared the bravest driver of them all—Group B rally legend Walther Röhrl …
The Myth of the Carrera
So where does the Carrera name actually come from? It’s anchored to the early 1950s, precisely six years after Porsche rolled out “Number 1” in 1948, and an epic 3,000-plus kilometre driver journey known as the Carrera Panamericana.
Porsche, with the lucrative post-war American markets very much in mind, sent two “factory” 550 Spyders to the 1954 event that ran from Mexico’s southern tip all the way up to the US border. With thrills and spills and after 19 hours of racing, the ’54 Carrera saw those two little 1.5-litre Porsche 550s scream home to a class win and an incredible third and fourth overall. The Porsche legend was sealed: the everyman sportscar that could—and did—win anywhere and everywhere.
The Carrera name would go on to be inscribed on a few iconic Porsches through the years―1973’s 911 Carrera RS 2.8, for instance, which is in Project CARS 3 and which remained for many enthusiasts the ultimate Carrera … until 2003, that is, when Porsche unveiled the Carrera GT.
How an SUV Made the Porsche Carrera GT
The year is 1999. Porsche has just rolled out its new endurance prototype for its first shake-down using an engine developed in secret back in 1992—a V10 engine that’d been commissioned by the Footwork Formula One Team, and then shelved without seeing any action. On-track, they are still racing the Porsche 911 GT1 (you can race it in Project CARS 3).
Two days into the test, the call comes from HQ. The new prototype is to be abandoned immediately, and Porsche is also withdrawing from all its motorsport activities. The reason? The company is in dire straits and all efforts and resources are now to be directed onto nothing less than … an SUV called the Cayenne.
An incredible decision made by new CEO Wendelin Wiedeking. But then he’d been drafted in to save the company and had quickly come to two important conclusions. One, Mercedes-Benz (with its M-class) and BMW (with its X5) had entered the highly lucrative SUV market in the US with enormous success. And two: A quick glance at the typical Porsche owner revealed an interesting statistic: they owned another two vehicles aside from their Porsche—and one was a 4-wheel-drive utility vehicle.
So Wiedeking decided that, going forward, that SUV would be a Porsche. And as anathema to Porsche enthusiasts around the world as it may have been, that decision―to invest hundreds of millions on the Cayenne SUV (including a whole new factory in Leipzig) and to pull out of motorsports―not only saved the company, it quickly made Porsche into one of the richest car manufacturers in the world.
The Carrera GT
In the background, meanwhile, a few engineers continued to work on the shelved prototype project which―over the winter of ’99―evolved into something rather special. So special, in fact, that Porsche decided to showcase it at the Paris Auto Show as a Carrera GT in the early spring of 2000 to generate some buzz for the all-new Cayenne SUV.
Two years later, in 2003, with the Cayenne a massive success and Porsche flush with cash, it was time to return to company’s roots: sportscars. And that’s when thoughts returned to that concept car.
The Carrera GT was pushed into production with an initial 1,500 projected run. As it turned out, only 1,270 were ever built because, halfway through, the US swapped over to new safety regulations (almost 50 percent of the Carrera GTs were sold in the US) and to meet them would have required a massive overhaul.
So what was so special about the Porsche Carrera GT? Carbon-fibre and silicon-carbide ceramic composite brakes, staggered 19-inch front and 20-inch rear wheels, a rear-wing that deployed at over 70mph, a beechwood gearknob as an homage to the all-winning Porsche 917s, and that 600hp V10 for starters. And then there was the performance and handling. With no Stability Control or ABS, and Traction Control that was either fully-on or -off, the Carrera GT was a serious driver’s car.
Which leads back to the bravest driver that ever was, Group B legend Walther Röhrl, telling the press that the Porsche Carrera GT was “…the first car in my life that I drive and I feel scared.”
Part of the mystique that built up around the Carrera GT was its reputation for biting drivers. Encouraged by the sublime handling, they would begin to push harder and further, getting it all out of shape and then realising, often too late, that without nannies, coming back from the dark side was sometimes a slide too far.
It’s the type of knife-edge performance and handling that you’ll find echoed in the Project CARS 3 Carrera GT.
Inside a Legend and Why it Scared the Bravest of Them All
Start with the engine—that infamous V10 which began life for the 3.5-litre era of Formula 1 but never did a lap in anger until it was resurrected for the LMP900 project, now in a 612hp 5.7L variant. That project too was soon shelved, and it seemed as if that V10 had some bad juju about it until it was yet again resurrected for the Carrera GT as a 600hp banshee-wailing 8,400RPM monster.
Then there is that now infamous and aggressive clutch (with no flywheel) that often terminated heroic off-the-lights launches into a stalled Carrera GT stumbling in full view of amused spectators. It got so infamous that, in 2005, Porsche decided to spare customers’ blushes by installing new anti-stall software.
The Carrera GT was also only available only as a 6-speed manual and rear-wheel drive, and with its big torque, performance was quick even by today’s standards: 0–100kmh in 3.5 seconds, 0–200kmh in 9.25 seconds, and a top speed: 334kmh.
All of it made the Porsche Carrera GT a truly special sportscar, but none of that answers the question—why did it scare Walther Röhrl?
The answer to that lies all the way back to when the Carrera GT was being tested and developed. The car had a strong reputation for oversteer as it rolled out from the factory―both in general cornering and lift-off oversteer. That’s because it had an adjustable rear anti-roll bar, and Porsche’s test drivers liked it in the firmest position. And the reason for that is because the test drivers were mostly a bunch of kids who grew up winning races by adopting a “pitch sideways and catch” driving style; heavy emphasis on oversteer in the baseline setup. All well and fine for karts, and all well and fine for the refined skills and reflexes of young racing drivers. But with 600hp and on the streets, the Carrera GT was a serious handful. Porsche eventually set the rear bar in the middle of three settings, and pretty much every owner has subsequently moved it to the softest setting for very slight understeer and increased confidence in the car. But for the ace drivers out there, get that rear anti-roll-bar down firm and enjoy the Carrera GT as it was intended—big sideways action that will thrill anyone with a heartbeat.