The Isle of Man plays host to the fastest on two wheels – and four
The Isle of Man TT is the annual testament to the courage of riders on two wheels who balance in that place not between tenths of a second, or between gear ratios, but between life and death itself. The 37-mile course claims lives every year, often at horrendous speeds, yet still the riders return, drawn to this iconic race on this most mystical of islands.
And we were there before the spectators on their bikes, before the gladiators themselves arrived. We’re not making any comparison with the bike racers, but we were there on four wheels, but not just any old four. We were in one of the most extreme, mental road cars ever made, which is strange when you consider it’s made by one of the biggest car groups in the world.
The Porsche 911 GT3 RS has, glory of glories, the naturally aspirated flat six, feeding all its 513bhp through a manual gearbox. Is it really extreme though? Put it this way, the previous GT3 RS was a fearsome beast, but this version has had the front spring rates doubled. That gives you a clue as to the level of brutality on offer.
But if you’re going to drive fast in the Isle of Man you need all the control your car can muster as you hurtle down bumpy narrow lanes and try to thread your way along the twisting, bumpy, undulating road over the Mountain. But the most control is required not by your car but by your brain.
We’re not going to attempt to string a whole lap together as the towns are busy and of course speed-restricted. But out of the towns you can go as fast as you like so long as you’re not being dangerous or stupid – and the authorities get to decide if you are or aren’t. So, although you could go flat out in theory, in practice there’s a bit of common sense telling you not to commit too hard or you’ll get nicked.
But perhaps that little voice of caution is necessary. This is such a demanding place, with sun in one part and rain in another, and cloud when you’re least expecting it. You’re going through microclimates at high speed with little warning. Then there are the blind crests, the unseen dips, the manhole covers, the way the fastest corners suck you in then change camber or radius. How the bike racers manage is almost beyond my imagination. I wish it was completely beyond my imagination.
At first it just wasn’t working for the GT3 RS. The cold Dunlop Sport Maxx Race 2 tyres weren’t switching on and it all felt a bit moody. Then they warmed up and we started to make it all come together. Eventually we managed to combine warm tyres, miles of open dry roads and no limits. It’s then that you start to struggle with the knowledge that you’re in a road-legal car, a road car, on public roads. It’s all so, yes, extreme.
The noise, the violence, yet the control are all so absolute that it passes in a blur of held breath. The levels of grip go beyond anything I’ve ever experienced on the road and I realise with a slightly nervous smile that I’m experiencing downforce in big doses on the open road.
The acceleration is instant yet that’s not really the thing. The thing is the high-speed control, the way you can curl round seriously fast curves, even with bumps and weird cambers wandering in. Steering is instant, precise, loaded with feedback and helpful information. Handling is simply beyond anything you can imagine unless you’ve experienced something like this approaching the edge.
And it’s even comfortable, with a decent ride quality and the ability to twiddle with various non-essential controls like air con. How Porsche can do this remains one of the great mysteries.
The GT3 RS made us feel pretty special, and in a good way. As we bumbled back towards the streets of Douglas, past the whitewashed houses, we felt mildly god-like. Then we remembered.
Riders over the years here have finished the race with white dust on their shoulders – because their leathers had brushed one of the whitewashed houses as they banked round, travelling at the sort of speed we didn’t even want to think about. Okay, we didn’t feel god-like any more, but we felt pretty good, and that was thanks to the Porsche 911 GT3 RS.