Payne: Flying low around Thermal Raceway in the winged Porsche 911 GT3 RS

Posted by Talbot Payne on March 9, 2023

Palm Springs, California — The quiet desert around this small, California resort town would seem an unlikely place to showcase the ferocious cutting edge of automotive performance. In early February, I was an hour north of Palm Springs at the King of the Hammers off-road festival testing something entirely novel: a competition-focused, sand-slinging Ford Bronco DR.

A week later, I was an hour southeast of Palm Springs on Thermal Raceway. But this time, I was testing a familiar formula: the latest Porsche 911 GT3 RS. While the Bronco DR is intent on conquering a new desert frontier, the GT3 RS is already the supercar standard for on-track performance.

With its 2023 model, Porsche has raised the bar again.

Incorporating state-of-the-art aerodynamics and digital wizardry, the GT3 RS is a significant leap from the last-gen car that I tested at Road America three years ago. While the $225K cyborg will be enjoyed by a few (some of whom came out to watch our test with mouths agape) at exclusive tracks like Thermal, its technology will ultimately trickle down to more affordable performance cars. Consider the 911-inspired, push-to-pass button on the steering wheel of the $33K Hyundai Elantra N that I tested recently.

For this generation, Porsche has innovated the ability for drivers to adjust suspension settings on the fly with four “satellite buttons” on the steering wheel. Kinda like my own Lola race car.

I dialed in shock rebound on my yellow GT3 RS tester to allow for more feedback on Thermal’s fast, flat North-Desert Circuit, and dove into a 19-turn lap.

The GT3 RS is instantly familiar as a 911. Neutral and easy to drive, its predictability allows you to focus on learning the track. I was up to speed quickly — chasing Porsche endurance ace and RS development driver Jorg Bergmeister lap after lap.

Race car. The 2023 Porsche 911 GT3 RS offers multiple chassis settings - all accessed via steering wheel "satellite" buttons.

But where the ‘23 RS transcends its predecessor is in prodigious downforce. With a gobsmacking 1,897 pounds of maximum downforce — double that of the 2019 model and nearly 50% of what a modern IndyCar possesses — the GT3 offers neck-straining capability at high speeds. At 135 mph into a sharp 90-degree Turn 4, I left my braking waaaay later than in a standard 911 — my eyeballs bouncing off the front windshield — before rotating into the corner apex.

Credit massive 16-inch front brake rotors — and a dual-element, swan-neck rear wing the size of a Boeing 737 that snaps shut under braking, effectively throwing a parachute behind the car.

Through high-speed sections, the wing works in tandem with a rear diffuser, nose cavity, sub-nose winglets and an array of wheel-well barge boards — the RS looks like a 911 and a Formula One car had a baby — to suck the car to the pavement.

That’s where the massive 12-inch-side rear and 10.8-inch front Michelin Sport Cup 2 gummies can really do their work. Through the Turn 12-13 esses, the RS changes direction as if on rails. Yet all this fighter-jet tech doesn’t compromise the Porsche’s solidity, and I flatten curbs like balloons at 105 mph. It wasn’t long ago that I was on Thermal in the 2017 Ford GT, which sported the supercar segment’s most-advanced chassis with carbon-fiber tub and F1-inspired keel-wing nose. Yet that car generates just 450 pound-feet of downforce compared to the RS’s Herculean 1,897 pounds.

Between sessions, we rolled back into the pits to awestruck Thermal race club members who own prior-gen RSs that are already the alpha males of a club awash in McLarens and Lambos.

The rear wing on the 2023 Porsche 911 GT3 RS has two active elements, which would be illegal in pro motorsports.

“These cars are really desirable out here,” said Don Cusick, 66, who tracks a pair of previous-gen RSs and covets the ‘23 model. “This generation’s changes are significant. The Porsches are fast, easy to maintain, bulletproof.”

A big part of that reliability is the tried-and-true 4.0-liter flat-6 out back that is little changed (518 horses) over the 503-horse GT3 that I tested at Road Atlanta in April. As I dealt with the relentless G-forces and curb-jumping heroics of the aero-package, the engine was almost an afterthought — even at a stratospheric 9,000 rpm redline — so instant is the throttle response, so quick is the 7-speed dual-clutch gearbox. Unlike the GT3, the GT3 RS is not offered in a manual since the latter would slow a beast optimized for lap times.

Helping stick the 2023 Porsche 911 GT3 RS are fat Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires.

It’s still important to note that, unlike that Bronco DR I flogged in the desert, this thoroughbred is street-legal. Track it Sunday, drive it to work Monday.

In contrast to the 9,000-rpm Porsche sports cars I’ve raced, the 911 GT3 RS didn’t require I wear plugs (lest my ears be shattered), stuff my knees into the dash or brace my back for a washboard ride. The RS cockpit is equipped with interior sound-deadening, Alcantara-wrapped luxury seats and exhaust mufflers that isolate the shrieking flat-6 behind me.

And you don’t need a race track to feel its thrust. Porsche says it will go 0-60 mph out of a stoplight in just 3 seconds. Zero-100 blows by in 10.9 seconds.

Still, this is a track-focused car. Rear seats are deleted whether you opt for a rollbar or not, the frunk has been replaced by a huge radiator (replacing three units in the GT3 model) that sucks air through the nose then spits it out over the fenders and greenhouse for maximum downforce. Needless to say, there is no adaptive cruise control.

The comfortable cockpit of the 2023 Porsche 911 GT3 RS.

The stereo? I never touched it. Like the Bronco DR’s V-8, the best soundtrack is that glorious Porsche flat-6.

The 2023 GT3 RS’s dramatic evolution is necessary to stay in front of the supercar segment’s relentless competition. The aforementioned Ford GT got a Mk II upgrade in 2019 with similar swan-neck, big-wing aero improvements for 1,900 pounds of downforce. Cost? $1.3 million. The GT3 RS delivers the same capability for a quarter of the price.

For half the price of the Porsche, here comes the mid-engine, 670-horse, 8,700-rpm Chevy Corvette Z06 that just shredded the last-gen GT3 RS’s Car and Driver Lightning Lap record for a normally-aspirated car at Virginia International Raceway by, ahem, three seconds.

The 2023 Porsche 911 GT3 RS reduces the three front radiators to one which replaces the frunk and creates a downforce cavity in the front hood.

Your turn, RS. Bergmeister has already shattered the normally-aspirated record at Germany’s legendary Nurbugring race track with a 6:49 minute lap — seven seconds under the last-gen RS.

Said Bergmeister afterward: “In the fast sections in particular, the 911 GT3 RS is in a league of its own.”

High wing, high bar.

Jorg Bergmeister, development driver for the 2023 Porsche 911 GT3 RS, set a new lap record at the Nurburgring for a naturally-aspirated, production sports car.

Next week: 2023 Hyundai Elantra N

2023 Porsche 911 GT3 RS

Vehicle type: Rear-wheel-drive, two-passenger supercar

Price: $225,250, including $1,450 destination charge ($274,890 as tested)

Powerplant: 4.0-liter flat-6 cylinder

Power: 518 horsepower, 342 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 7-speed, dual-clutch automatic (PDK)

Performance: 0-60 mph, 3.0 seconds (mfr.); top speed, 184 mph

Weight: 3,268 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA 14 city/18 highway/16 combined

Report card

Highs: Tenacious handling, flat-6 from the gods

Lows: No backseat, no frunk; a track toy, mostly

Overall: 4 stars

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at or Twitter @HenryEPayne.

Comments are closed.