For me, the car of the show in LA last week was the 911 RSR. A 911 with its engine in the middle? Yep, it’s happened, and in both pictures and in the metal, it’s quite a machine to behold.
Wanting to find out more ahead of the car’s Daytona 24 Hours debut in January, we sought out Dr Frank-Steffen Walliser, Porsche AG’s Vice President of Motorsport, and started firing over some questions. Here’s what we discovered…
Let’s get this out of the way now. Yes, a road-going mid-engine 911, even if it’s a short-lived special edition, simply isn’t on the agenda.
“Never say never, but we have no plans at the moment,” Dr Frank-Steffen Walliser says, adding: “With the street car, this 2+2 seater, the spacey feeling you have - that’s a 911; it makes a lot of the feeling of the car. I’m fully convinced for the street car this is the right solution. And it makes the car unique, no other car has this layout.”
Of course, it hasn’t been ruled out either, so you never know. We never thought the Cayman GT4 would happen, after all…
When asked how long ago the project started, Walliser says: “If I was joking I say it started in 2005! We had some interruptions, some protests. We made the final decision in March 2015.”
Speaking about whether or not there was any internal resistance to the plan, Walliser recalls: “There was some discussion, and something like ‘we prefer [a rear-engined car]’, my answer is always ‘I prefer winning races. If you prefer having the engine somewhere… maybe you do my job and I ask!’”
In the world of motorsport, performance is all that matters. “Inside the racing department, it was not a long decision,” he notes.
It had been rumoured that Porsche needed special FIA dispensation for this radical change, but that’s not the case. “It’s within the rules in GTE, as long as you stay in your platform it’s fine. There’s no waiver,” Walliser says.
This fundamental change meant the Porsche motorsport team had to start pretty much from scratch. “Setting it up is completely different to the old car. That’s something we had to learn - aero settings, spring/damper settings, the rake of the car, how it behaves….It’s not so easy,” Walliser explains.
While the platform is the same, almost everything else is new. We’re talking new bodywork with new aero, entirely new suspension, and even a new engine, with the legendary Mezger unit retired and replaced with the same flax-six found in the 911 Cup.
Oh and on the subject of aero, that wing is derived from the 919 Hybrid’s. The top mount structure is all about giving a smoother surface on the underside of the wing, which Walliser tells us is the more sensitive side of the aero piece.
Despite the engine now being in front of the rear axle, weight distribution hasn’t improved by a dramatic amount. “We’re talking about two to three per cent difference,” Walliser says, but while that may not sound like a huge amount to you or I, in the precise world of motorsport that’s a considerably improvement.
Crucially, weight distribution only tells part of the story. Having the engine’s mass more centralised will make the car easier to control, and there are packaging advantages too - the 2017 RSR is able to have a much larger and more effective diffuser than the old car since there isn’t a ruddy great flat-six in the way.
The 2017 RSR technically isn’t the first 911 to be mid-engined. That honour goes to the 911 GT1 prototype racer of the 1990s, which was a 911 in name and little else.
But here’s a fun little pub fact for you: the new RSR’s lengthened wheelbase (increased by 60mm compared to the old car) is actually longer than the GT1’s. That’s progress for you.
Any rich GT1 owners out there fancy staging a little race…?