Should the Porsche 991 GT3 Be PDK-Only?

An almost audible gasp from the automotive world was heard when Porsche announced – unapologetically – that the newly revealed 991 GT3 will come equipped with Porsche Doppelkupplung (PDK) only. It will be the first time ever in the GT3’s history that a manual gearbox will not be offered. Apart from the change of the Mezger engine to the new, completely unrelated direct fuel injection (DFI) engine of the lesser 911 models, Porsche’s decision on PDK has got to be the single most talked about controversy surrounding the 991 GT3.

As a stout believer of the tactility and emotional attachment that comes with operating a manual gearbox, this news immediately left a bitter aftertaste in my mouth. What sort of Porsche Motorsport road car can ever be as engaging with a PDK as opposed to a manual? Ever prepared, Porsche has given the answers with near perfect-pitch conviction.

Gearchanges at less than 100 milliseconds. Shorter gear ratios than PDK applications in other Porsches. Manual declutching so that you can still keep your sideways moments. And, of course, a massive drop in the 0-62 MPH sprint from 4.2 seconds previously to only 3.5 seconds now. As a fellow enthusiast pointed out, there exists even an element of chiding to purists when Porsche made its pitch, implying an attitude of ‘drive the car first, then come back to me’.

As far as numbers and tangible aspects go, Porsche has but sold the idea well to most critics. But let’s just go back to the basics of why the GT3 exists in the first place.

For FIA homologation, Porsche produced the first road-going 911 GT3 to qualify to race in the GT3 category. The roots of the GT3 clearly lie within motorsport; every GT3 that ever existed had a focus on saving weight and featured parts that came straight off the race car. For example the very first GT3 iteration in the form of the 996 had dry-sump lubrication, titanium connecting rods, a differential lock and an endurance race-beating 89-litre fuel tank. The GT3 is produced to represent Porsche’s highest expression of a road-going race car.

So it really is quite understandable that when lap times are involved, machine usually always trumps man. A gearbox changing gears with an electronic brain will always do it faster than a human – for the GT3’s mandate, PDK seems to make a lot of sense. It’s not just quicker either; it will allow the car to be more useable daily, including sitting in traffic. There is no shadow of a doubt that because of PDK, the GT3 will now be more accessible to the majority of drivers on the road (the ones with the money to buy one anyway). There is no labour in driving the car to work, to the restaurant for dinner, or even to the supermarket for groceries. It becomes a more complete car.

But at the same time, it wants to be focused as well. The great thing about modern technology is that cars can be two things at once – a sports car and a GT car. While purists would long for the intensity of driving a sports car all of the time, with 100% commitment, the sad truth is that such a car would not be used a whole lot, or would be used but with compromise as a daily driver. So there is this struggle of wanting to make the GT3 more accessible, and yet more extreme – that is where technology bridges the divide.

Now, the only argument for a manual gearbox for the GT3 that can hold water is intangible: driver pleasure.

And it is so easy to attack something intangible, isn’t it? You cannot define it, you cannot quantify it and measure it. So you could say that the 997.2 GT3 was fun to drive, but is not the 991 GT3 fun to drive too? It is this intangible aspect that would ultimately answer the question of whether the GT3 should be PDK-only. Granted, some (or most) would agree that PDK is the right way forward. I accept that and I am very glad that Porsche would be able to make a better car and make more drivers happy because of this. But at the same time, there exists a minority number of us – the ones who believe in the value of the intangible – who still derive their motoring satisfaction from a manual gearbox. We believe in the challenge of driving a GT3 and the joy reaped from doing it perfectly. Unfortunately, for us, there is not even going to be a manual option available any more. I can understand offering PDK, but why throw away manual and the following, heritage and mystic that comes from taming a beast like a manual GT3?

Now, taming the 991 GT3 beast is made so much easier and it is probably very fun at the same time too. But it’s like playing a computer game at the Hard setting and then applying Medium. It’s still fun, and might even be more fun because now you need less effort in winning. But don’t you want to play in Hard once you are better, only to challenge yourself to be a better gamer? I want to play in Hard when I drive a GT3, and now that option is gone forever.

Author: James Wong

The only writer to be based in Asia, James provides a refreshingly different perspective to the automotive industry with his unique experience of living in the Far East. He is a prolific journalist who has written for several leading automotive publications in Singapore, including Torque Singapore and REV Magazine Singapore. He believes in the thrill of driving and champions for an appreciation of driving pleasure above the horsepower race. In September 2010, James relocated to the United Kingdom, London, bringing him to a whole new environment from which to start a new chapter in automotive journalism.

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