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It’s not the kind of road you would use for a top speed test, if you had a choice. No more than twenty-two feet across, soft shoulder, heavy crown, corrugated in the visual distance with a rise and fall that follows the rural Ohio land. I know that there is an S-curve a couple of miles down, but I don’t know the speed at which it may be safely taken. The only blessing: there’s no traffic. For now.
In the middle of the road we sit, this Polar Silver 2009 Porsche GT2 and I, waiting. I’m collecting my thoughts. In the right seat, Tym Switzer, the man who has tuned this GT2 to seven hundred and seven horsepower measured at the rear wheels, fidgets. We could die on this empty road, in the next twenty seconds. Tym cracks a joke to that effect. I roll the car forward lightly on the carbon-fiber clutch, and press the accelerator pedal into the carpet.
The initial launch is mild, but almost immediately the PSM light begins flashing, there’s an unearthly “whoosh” behind us, and the road flings itself through the windshield at superbike speed. Second gear brings the same vicious pull. Third. The PSM light still blinking with Morse-code ferocity. The Porsche’s nose begins to sniff around the camber to be had on both sides of the centerline, left, then right. Fourth. One hundred and fifty miles per hour, reached in well under eleven seconds. Make the shift to fifth. Each mailbox appears as a dot, then a swell, then an amorphous black blur in my peripheral vision. Twelve seconds. Thirteen. Fourteen. One hundred and seventy miles per hour. Wait.
There’s motion ahead, dot becomes smudge becomes shape becomes a man walking out to his mailbox. A mile out. Which is to say, twenty seconds out. The GT2 is now slipping up and down the road’s crown. If I stay in the throttle, I will break two hundred miles per hour by the time this person reaches the end of his driveway. We will appear almost before the sound, unearthly fast and oscillating left and right in a manner that could sweep him dead off his feet before the thought enters his mind. Have to stop the car. Have to stop the car. Stop the car.
We pass the man, lolling at the legal limit. He waves. It’s that kind of town. Furious to have lost my chance at the fabled double-ton, I floor the P800 again and blow through the upcoming S-curve at one-thirty-plus, sliding lightly and fighting the steering through before braking yet again, this time for traffic that never lets up long enough for us to try the run a second time. Later that evening, still star-struck by the experience and searching for hard data, I review our video for timing. Rolling start to one hundred and seventy miles per hour in fourteen point seven seconds. Remember the McLaren F1? Against this car, it wouldn’t stand a chance.
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Tym Switzer is nervous. Not about our repeated forays into hyperspace — he’s done the same, and more, too many times to count, in venues from Ohio to Bonneville — but about my impressions of the car. “The performance doesn’t seem that impressive, because it comes so easily,” he worries. “We could have made it seem more tuner-ish, you know, but I wanted driveability. Did we go too far?” To answer the question, I floor this eight-hundred-plus-horsepower car in sixth gear, at 40mph. There isn’t so much as a stumble and the GT2 smoothly pulls to eighty. In terms of tractability, this is just like a Porsche (997 Carrera 2) but in terms of power, it’s just like a Porsche (917K). Yes, it’s easy to drive, but make no mistake: nothing that runs this hard will ever be anything but fundamentally impressive.
The standard 2009 Porsche GT2 is, itself, a very impressive car, capable of running an low-eleven-second quarter-mile and warping time and distance like very few other production automobiles in history. It’s also horribly expensive. Plan on spending around $220,000 for a moderately-equipped example. Another $39,995 will get you the full Switzer P800 upgrade package. What’s in it? I have no idea. Tym and his PR maestro, Jo Borras, tried to explain it to me, but given that my mechanical expertise is limited to performing trackside service on Plymouth Neon race cars, it’s no surprise that I didn’t understand a word they said. There is a really shiny intake pipe thingy that looks like it might be worth a lot of money, so make sure you get one of those on your P800 GT2.
A project as ambitious as the P800 requires more than a tuner with a bright idea. It requires someone who is willing to buy a quarter-million-dollar car and treat it like a guinea pig. Enter David Kim. If you ask my long-suffering hairdresser, Julie, she will tell you that David Kim’s company, FHI Heat, “makes the most bad-ass flatiron ever.” Kind of the Switzer P800 of flatirons, you see. Mr. Kim’s resume stretches way beyond professional salon equipment, however, all the way to energy companies, semiconductors, and, finally, automotive tuning. Consider the P800 GT2, which is the first fruit of his partnership with Switzer, a preview of things to come.
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Still, let’s face the facts: almost anybody can build a tuner car that will hold together for a couple of high-speed street passes. My next encounter with the P800 took place at a much more demanding environment: the infamous Nelson Ledges Road Course. Tym and David suggested I try the car there, perhaps not realizing that I know Ledges like the back of my hand. I’ve done more than a thousand laps on the course and could probably draw every pothole and wave in the pavement from memory. If the P800 had a weak spot — and don’t all the “tuner specials”? — I’d draw it out at closed-casket speeds, pronto.
To my immense surprise and amusement, David Kim was there himself at the track the morning of our test, looking dapper as he leaned nonchalantly against his brand-new 599 Fiorano. Quiet, confident, and friendly in a way that shames the prissy PCA-type Boxster and used-996 owners who litter these open trackdays, David indicated that he planned to ride in the car while I obtained my on-track impressions. I handed him a “Flip” camera and offered a few brief words about carsickness before we donned our helmets and set out to drive this most super of super-Porsches.
Nelson Ledges is the “fastest road course on the East Coast”, which is another way of saying it has very few slow corners. I suspected that David’s GT2, which is entirely stock aside from the engine modifications, would find itself a little short on tire — and I was right. The standard-equipment Michelin Pilot Sport Cup tires are sized a bit on the, shall we say, liability-conscious size: 235-width in front and 325-width in back. I run 245 front and 285 tires on my Boxster, and that’s just about right to keep the car neutral. As supplied from the factory, the GT2 is woefully short on front tire. 285-width would be about right, and 305-width would make the car fun.
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For the next three sessions, we diced with ITE- and AI-level race cars, reeled-in a fully-prepped Z06 track rat without too much drama, and easily dominated the rest of the field, many of which were sporting various SCCA class designations, but those narrow front tires came back to haunt us again and again. In perhaps the most hilarious “battle” of the day, I found myself unable to keep pace with an ITC-classed Renault Encore in the famous Carousel turn. The old hatchback squatted down on its Hoosiers and wandered off while I fought the rather expensive-feeling slip from the front end… but as the Carousel opened up to the back straight, I let the P800 stretch its legs and the Encore flashed by, disappearing from sight in the mirrors before we reached the “Kink”. Nothing can live with this Porsche on Ledges’ back straight. Period. Nor can any numbers-on-the-door racer outbrake the carbon-rotor GT2 in the bumpy zone after the Kink. Time and again, I delayed the braking until it seemed we were going to exit the track nose-first, only to have the yellow binders pull the Porsche down with room to spare.
At David’s rather courageous urging, I upped the pace until we were the fastest car on the track, numbers on the door or no. Lap after lap passed by, the turbos spinning hard and the speeds increasing, but the temp needle never moved. At some point I realized that David had surreptitiously turned on the climate control, presumably because it was getting awfully hot outside. Credit Porsche for making a bulletproof car, or Switzer for tuning it reasonably, but make no mistake: it’s ready to be tracked to your heart’s content.
The famed tail-happy behavior of Porsche Turbos gone by is simply no longer an issue in the GT2. Leave the electronics in limited-intervention-mode, which I’d suggest you do unless you have an extra $260,000 to burn, and it’s simply impossible to get the car out of shape. It can be four-wheel-drifted through the Kink without drama, and the wide rear tires make most corner exits relatively straight. Only in the fast, camber-challenged Turn One does the heavy lump behind the back axle want a quick word with the driver, so keep your accelerator foot planted, let the steering out, and everything will work fine.
Drivers familiar with lesser members of Porsche’s watercooled 911 family will find this model a little strange. The slop’s been taken out, and all the controls have an unusual, almost aircooled honesty to them. Despite the added aero, the full list of convenience features, and the heavy turbo engine, the GT2 weighs about what you’d expect from a bare-bones Carrera 2. The suspension, although still a bit soft for track duty, communicates road conditions to the driver in a relatively uncompromising manner. There’s plenty of noise, plenty of mechanical NVH, plenty of bump-and-grind from underneath. It’s a serious car, for serious drivers. Compared to the rather disconnected and distant Switzer-prepped P800 Nissan GT-R, it’s a revelation of mechanical and aesthetic character. If you want to know how the buyers of those first 1975 Porsche Turbo Carreras felt back in the day, sit in a GT2. That’s how they felt: on top of the world, in a car that could be a bit dangerous in the right conditions.
I could have driven the P800 until the sun came down. On a road course, it’s very far from a tuner special or gimmick car. It’s simply the fastest 911 in production history — plus three hundred horsepower. It performs identically to a stock Porsche, with the view through the windshield set to “fast-forward”. Is it worth the money? What do I know? I drive an old Porsche 993. But I will say this: David pronounced the testing “complete” and took his GT2 home the next day. If he’s on the road, driving it, you can bet he’s smiling. I know I would be.
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