Thinking of making the big step up into the Porsche Motorsport pyramid? Kyle Fortune offers an insight into the world of contemporary Cup car driving. Written by Kyle Fortune Photography by Porsche GB.
Driving a 991 911 Cup car
We take a dive into the world of contemporary Cup car driving as Kyle Fortune takes the wheel of the truly demanding 911 GT3 Cup
Silence. Awful silence. There’s only the sound of my breathing as I sit looking out the windscreen at the track, a track which until a few seconds ago I’d been driving on. There are four black lines, criss-crossing each other, a rubber inscription on the tarmac that highlights my lack of talent. What had Tom Woollen, technical team manager, Motorsport, said? Floor the clutch, re-start the engine and pull the paddle down for neutral. I do that, the flat-six fires but the spitting sound of the pneumatic shifter isn’t accompanied by any change in the digital display in front of me. Third is still being shown, and every, ever more desperate tug at the left shifter is signalled not by that number getting lower, but a warning sound that suggests to me ‘expensive’.
A 2019 718 Cayman GT4 Clubsport 982C nips by, while I’m sat motionless on the tarmac, mercifully free of the gravel trap at the big left off Vale. The mid-engined GT4 is the very car that only a few minutes ago I’d been lapping in, approaching the same big stop with impunity, leaning on the brakes until the ABS was cutting in. It was hilariously good fun, it flattering thanks to its fine balance and, if I’m being honest here, the electronic assistance of that ABS and Traction Control.
“It’s a car that’s very sensitive to driver input, and a lack of driver aids means to get the best from it you need to be very good indeed”
The 911 GT3 Cup car I’m sat in now has no such driver assistance, all of which explains my current predicament. Nothing for it but to switch it all off, hope, and start again. A quick flick of the ignition, a prayer, and re-start the engine with the clutch floored. The digital display in front of me is still showing I’m in third, but my tentative pull of the paddle has it drop to two, then first, then I’m good to go.
Talent: you need a lot of it to drive in the Carrera Cup. I’ve been lucky enough to have driven a lot of racing cars, but none have intimidated as much as the 911 GT3 Cup car I’m in today. I’d been warned, not just before I got into it, but for weeks in advance. The 911 GT3 Cup isn’t like most modern racers, it’s a car that demands the very best from its drivers – if you make a mistake you’ll know about it. And I know about it.
If you’ve not seen the Carrera Cup, then where have you been? The UK’s fastest single-make championship, the 911 GT3 Cup cars are quicker than the British Touring Cars that they follow all around the UK. Almost as quick as a 911 GT3 R depending on the circuit, Woollen saying at Spa, the Cup’s lack of aero, and hence drag, allied to its 485hp mean it’s only a couple of seconds slower than its more hardcore relation. In the right hands, of course.
There are Carrera Cup championships all over the world, providing support races to Touring Cars, GT Championships and F1 as the Supercup. If you’re in Asia, America, Australia, Germany, France, Italy, Japan and Scandinavia you’ll find a championship. Indeed, if you’ve got a Cup car you can pretty much pick your continent, pack your race suit and lid, and go racing. The cars are all identical, Porsche describing it as a Single-seater production-based race car, the focus not on the cars, but the drivers. It’s good business too, Porsche having sold over 4,000 of them, and not just good for its bottom line, but generating a lot of visibility for the 911 globally.
There’s nobody in the stands at Silverstone today, for which I’m eternally grateful. There’s a number of people in the pit garage though, as I run around a full lap before heading in to have the car checked over. Before I’d got in it earlier, Woollen had talked me through my drive in the GT4, looking at the telemetry, pointing at my braking traces and saying that I need to be a little bit more careful with the 911 GT3 Cup car. Trail braking isn’t a no, but you need to be on your ‘A’ game if you’re doing so. Woollen’s quick to point out that it’s a car that’s very sensitive to the driver input, and that lack of driver aids means to get the best from it you need to be very good indeed.
Getting in it in the pit lane after 12 exploratory laps around Silverstone’s International Circuit is little different from the GT4 I’ve just gotten out of. Stripped of the superfluous, the interior is basically a seat, a cage – which takes a bit of negotiating if you’re not typically racing-driver shaped – a simple steering wheel, digital instruments and a few toggle switches where in a Carrera you might more usually find PCM. There’s webbed strapping surrounding me should any off be significant enough to have flailing arms around the interior, the seat and belts clutching me with such purpose to make me feel at one with it. The result is both a comfortingly simple and basically terrifying environment, and that feeling is not really different to other race cars in that regard – the simplicity a necessity of its focus, the connection, and the cocooning effect of the safety equipment around you only serving to heighten that sensation.
Dino Zamparelli is on hand to give a few tips. He’s an old hand at Carrera Cup, having raced in the 2015, ’16, ’17 and ’18 seasons, taking the 2nd spot in the championship from ‘16 though to ’18. He’s fairly unequivocal when he talks to me about the car, saying it’s a lot trickier than the GT4 to drive, echoing Woollen’s sentiments that you just can’t take the liberties with it that you can, and I did, with the Cayman. That and the rankling thought that there really isn’t any help from any driver aids does temper my enthusiasm on the first lap. The first hurdle of actually getting it out of the pits without stalling it is thankfully passed, rising up out of the end of the pit lane and joining Farm Curve just after Abbey.
The engine sounds familiar, the 4.0-litre flat six unhindered by any sound deadening or carpeting, filling the stripped interior with a purposeful sound that’s rippling with intent. Today it’s using an international specification exhaust, which is a touch louder than the UK Cup car’s usual specification exhaust. If it were running in Supercup it’d be different again, Supercup cars being identical to those running in national series with the exception of its pipes, which are straight through and a few kilos lighter as a result.
Even with all the sound resonating around the interior and the lack of inertia that the 4.0-litre’s shifting, the eagerness of it to rev and the addictive, corresponding increase in pace when it does, it’s the steering that is the stand-out feature. The wheel itself is virtually round, something that’s unusual in race cars these days, though there’s the usual smattering of buttons around its centre, allowing quick access to the wipers, high beam, radio, pit lane speed limiter and to toggle between the various displays for the Cosworth colour display ahead of the wheel. I’ll not be using any of those today, and in particular I’m praying that the wiper switch isn’t required, as the clouds above look a bit ominous. A 911 GT3 Cup on a dry track is one thing, but on a wet one… thankfully not today.
Silverstone International Circuit is an oddly truncated track: taking the tight right after Farm through Village has quickly seen The Link approach, it the section of track that’s very obviously a compromise to shorten the circuit to join the Hanger Straight. There’s a hell of a ridge as you enter the short connecting stretch of tarmac, it being harsh enough that it unsettles the 911 Cup as it runs over it, which is worrying as there’s a fairly heavy prod of the wonderful brakes required to take the speed off before joining what is the fastest part of the circuit.
There’s plenty of space on the exit of the corner, though without Becketts before it you feel like you’re always pushing for more speed down Hanger, rather than running out of it. Even so, a quick glimpse at the dash shows 250km/h (155mph) on that Cosworth display before I’m again on the brakes, modulating them so as not to lock up, careful not to be too digital with my foot. I have to remember to be patient, not turn in too early at Stowe, because doing so will see me quickly run out of space on the exit. Deep in, fast out here, the 911 GT3 Cup turning in with real precision, the steering so rich in detail and beautifully weighted. The speed the Cup can carry through the long bend is huge, its mighty traction meaning that it builds on that carried speed with devastating effectiveness.
The intimidation is lessening with every lap; after a couple of tentative ones, I’m feeling far more confident, though I’m still sectioning areas of the circuit rather than stringing it all together in one big flowing action. It’s a steep learning curve, the Cup so immediate, so faithful in its responses there’s real incentive to explore what it, and more rightfully I, am capable of. There’s greater speed to be had everywhere, the elation of getting one corner right resulting in increased speed arriving at the next one, that requiring a quick recalibration of braking points and force, where to turn in, apex and exit speeds. It’s all beginning to flow, then that spin happens.
It came seemingly from nowhere, everything fine before my lack of ability is revealed and the Cup swaps ends and heads backwards off the track. It takes seconds, but it might as well be minutes. I’ve no hope of correcting it, even though I try; the only thing I can do is keep the brake pedal floored and hope that it’s enough to keep it from beaching on gravel, or worse, hitting a wall. Neither are troubled today, but it’s knocked me down a peg or two, and underlined that to really get the best from the Cup you need to be a better driver than I am. After that awful silence, the increasingly frantic attempts to start it again, and it eventually doing so, I drive slowly to the pits, prudence dictating that I have it checked out, and probably get chucked out, myself.
Woollen’s quick to open the door, asking first if I’m okay, and what happened. I start to tell him, and he smiles, having seen it all before. I’m not alone in doing so, Porsche’s PR man admits having seen one driver spin three times on three laps, each time wrecking a set of Michelin tyres in the process. I’m sat up on the air jacks, the tyres checked, and I hear from the techs that they’re flat-spotted down to carcass, so they’re absolutely rooted. Woollen’s team roll out a new set, the affable manager says I’ve time for eight more laps, and explains that I might want to build up to them, as the new tyres will need some heat through them.
Incredulous that I’m still in the driving seat, the Cup drops onto the fresh Michelins and I’m back out again. Woollen wasn’t wrong: the new tyres feel like I’m driving on ice, the first downshift when approaching the corner enough to have the back step out, though this time I’m not going so fast that it’s not easily collected. I gingerly run five laps before I’m confident there’s enough heat in the rubber to up the pace, and the last three laps are as fast as I was going prior to my spin, the temptation to wring the 4.0-litre flat-six to its redline too much to resist – there’s huge satisfaction seeing those red lights glowing and flashing on the instruments when the next gear is needed. Yes, there’s a nagging doubt that I could get it wrong again, the lack of real downforce not helping, but the Cup’s just so damned immersive and exciting that it’s impossible to resist the urge to push it even harder. To do so in a race, with 20 to 30 other eager, talented racers alongside me (and let’s be honest here, in front of me) is something I can only imagine, but to have sampled it gives me a greater comprehension of the talent required, talent which, I’m not unwilling to admit, is beyond my skillset. What a car, though – it’s the very essence of 911, pure, engaging and, in the wrong hands, a bit tricky. But get it right, and it’s like nothing else I’ve ever driven.
- Pure, fast, engaging, inexpensive (relatively).
- Demanding, reveals I’ll never be a racing driver (at least not a good one).
Carrera Cup: what are the costs?
Motorsport isn’t cheap at any level, but the Carrera Cup is popular for a reason being, relatively speaking, it’s affordable. The car itself costs £137,100 plus VAT, that including a spares package that comprises the usual necessities like wheel sets. Tyres are controlled; there’s two choices, slicks or wets, Michelins (these being the same compound in the UK Championship as the Supercup uses) and costing around £350 plus VAT each. That’s around £1,600 if you wreck a set like I did. For a Pro driver hiring a car you, or more rightly, your sponsors, will need to spend around £225,000 (it could be as low as £180,000), the budget for an Am (amateur) driver likely to be closer to £300,000 as they’re allowed unlimited testing – and most do a lot of it.
Registration fees are between £13,350-£18,350, depending on your driver classification (Pro, Pro-Am or Am), with early registration discounts pre 2 Dec 2019 of £4,000, and 20 Jan, £2,500. Teams running two or more cars get the use of a Cayenne for the season. There’s a Junior programme, where a young driver gets £85,000 per annum over two years towards their racing. In addition, the Junior driver has access to Porsche’s Human Performance Centre, receives media training, and attends high-profile events like Goodwood Festival of Speed and the F1 Supercup support race. Dan Harper benefitted from this in 2018/2019, claiming the championship in 2019, winning eight of the sixteen UK rounds in the process.
In addition to the support for young drivers there’s also prize money for places 1st through to 5th, with the championship winner in all categories getting the use of a Porsche for a year too. Big numbers all round, but in the world of motorsport it’s actually quite modest, surprisingly so for such competitive, spectacular cars and racing that’s globally recognised.
Model 2020 Porsche 911 GT3 Cup 991
Compression ratio 12.0:1
Maximum power 485hp @ 7,500rpm
Maximum torque 480Nm @ 6,250rpm
Transmission 6-speed sequential pneumatically activated
Front McPherson suspension strut, adjustable for height, camber and toe; Forged and adjustable top mounts; Electrohydraulic power steering with external control function for easy car manoeuvring
Rear Multi-link rear suspension, adjustable for height, camber and toe; Forged top mounts
Wheels & tyres
Front Single-piece centre-lock alloy wheels conforming to Porsche specification and design, 10.5×18-inch, ET 28
Rear Single-piece centre-lock alloy wheels conforming to Porsche specification and design, 12×18-inch, ET 53
Weight 1,200kg (approx.)
Top speed 170mph
ABOVE Cup cars are loyal to the 911’s original layout in being rear-engined, unlike the RSR, which is rear-mid engined.
ABOVE With no driver aids, in a Cup car your only safety net is talent