The 911 GT3R Hybrid isn't the killer a 961 is

01st July 2022
andrew_frankel_headshot.jpg Andrew Frankel

Last weekend I drove a couple of Porsche 911s up the Goodwood Hill. To be fair one wasn’t called a 911, but that’s where its origins lay. Both were technological pioneers, albeit from rather different eras. And while one provided me with one of the best experiences I’ve had on the Hill in any car, the other did not. Putting it mildly.


The first I tried was the Porsche 961. You may remember this car, which came seventh at Le Mans in 1986 and won the IMSA GTX category. And it was a 911 insofar as it was a race version of the 959 which was itself of course a highly evolved 911. It was, so far as I am aware, the first car with all-wheel-drive to race at Le Mans.

So imagine a Porsche 959, at the time the fastest road car in the world. Now remove literally over half a tonne of weight – about one third of its total mass, and while you’re about it, boost its engine from 456PS (335kW) for road use to 689PW (507kW) for racing. But still leave that engine slung out the back and don’t bother trying to add a meaningful amount of downforce. You might imagine the result could be something of a handful. You have no idea how much.


Just getting it off the line required every ounce of concentration I could muster. I should probably have spun the motor up to 8,500rpm and dropped the clutch, but I couldn’t do that to someone else’s priceless museum piece. But use too few and I knew I’d stall it in front of around 70,000 people. Somehow I found the balance between the two approaches, and trickled off the line. Foot hard down in first gear and nothing happened. The gear is so long and the engine so overwhelmed by low rev lethargy, a fit cyclist could have beaten me over the first 100 yards. Seriously.

Then, just as I was both approaching the first turn and concluding there must be something terminally wrong this car, the boost gauge flicked right over and I was clinging to the wheel to stop being shot out the back of the car. From there on in it was a complete animal. On boost it was as savage as its power to weight ratio suggests: one way its engine differs from that of the 959 road car is that instead of its turbos acting sequentially where a small one hands over to a large one, here two the size of medicine balls act in unison. Which would be fine if I trusted the chassis one little bit. But I didn’t.


Unlike most Porsche racers I’ve driven – and that very morning I’d already been up in the 1982 Le Mans winning 956 and loved every microsecond of it – this one did a very good impression of wanting to mug me at a moment’s notice. It was so skittish, so sensitive the only way to get it to the top was to wrestle it there. Which I duly did.

The 961 turned out to be one of those rare cars you’re only glad you’ve driven once you’ve driven it. At no time in that wild ride was I sitting there thinking I want this to go forever; au contraire, I just wanted to get up and get out.


So the contrast to the other racing 911, the 2010 GT3R Hybrid could not have been more stark. This similarly unique car’s claim to fame is that it ran with a flywheel spinning in a vacuum in a sealed carbon box on the floor of the passenger compartment, directing harvested electricity to the front wheels to create what remains the only hybrid 911 ever made. Today the box is still there, but all the hybrid gubbins has been removed, leaving a nice, simple, rear drive GT3R for me to drive.

And given the choice, I’d still be driving it now. The clutch is sharp but once you’re rolling you don’t need it again, so you just listen to the bellow of an unsilenced racing flat-six as you chuck gear after gear at it via column mounted paddles. The noise alone would have made the trip to West Sussex worth it. But actually the real fun came in the corners, which it attacked with maniacal zeal but none of the jeopardy that came with the 961. On the contrary, it flicked into the apex with total authority, its steering providing a constant appraisal of conditions under foot. By the time I got to the flint wall and some heat in the tyres I was having the time of my life. Two more corners. I flung it at both because it’s what it seemed to want and in an instant was over the line. It felt as at home here as the 961 had felt at sea. The older car was undoubtedly far more valuable and special in its engineering, but given the choice of one more run and I’d walk straight past it to have one more crack at that gorgeous GT3R.

Photography by Joe Harding and Porsche.

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