Road & Track RPM Technik 996 CSR EVO Is RPM Technik’s 996 CSR EVO the definitive bespoke 996? Honed in collaboration with former BTCC and Porsche Carrera Cup GB champion, Tim Harvey, RPM Technik’s 996 CSR EVO is the most track-focused CSR yet. We drive this GT3 alternative on road and track… Story: Simon Jackson. Photography: Malcolm Griffiths.
Independent Porsche specialist RPM Technik has been in the business of creating tailored vehicles for some time now. Though the Hertfordshire specialist can perform a range of services, from a simple oil change to selling you your next Porsche, it is perhaps its CSR range of bespoke, modular, vehicles which is the most interesting facet of its business model. Neatly summarising what ‘CSR’ stands for is a little tricky, but I’ll have a bash all the same. In a nutshell it involves taking a standard Porsche vehicle and pushing its envelope to new realms, essentially unlocking a car’s latent potential in order to create a more honed driving machine. The first CSR was a 986 Boxster – a bit of a toe in the water in some ways – which appeared in our November 2012 issue. Since that time RPM Technik has evolved the CSR concept to reach entirely new levels, it has also taken the premise in a number of different directions. Many CSRs that have come before, both demonstrator and customer vehicles, have admittedly been based on 911s – the 996 being a firm favourite, but these offerings are not strictly limited to Porsche’s rear engined icon. The most recent example, a 981 Cayman CSR featured in our February 2018, being a fine case in point. Despite each having been designed to emphasize its credentials as a performance Porsche first and foremost, not all have been track-focused offerings either.
“You’d want to drive it on the road with the windows down all the time”
In that regard the CSR Retro springs to mind – a 996 tweaked primarily for fast road fun with more of a nod to comfort over circuit priorities. However, the very latest CSR is unashamedly bias towards to track use, in fact without doubt the 996 you see here – the 996 CSR EVO – is the most track-focused CSR yet. This 996 CSR EVO is chassis 22 of 29 CSR cars either built or currently in build to date by the dedicated CSR division of RPM Technik, and it moves the CSR story on a stage. Using as its basis a 2002 second-generation 996 Carrera 2, the new 911 CSR EVO has received a host of tweaks aimed squarely at drivers who regularly visit the track. This contrasts slightly with previous CSRs which, while highly competent on track, struck a certain balance between road and track use.
“It is still a road car but it has the potential to be a lot more hardcore than anything that has come before it, however it still needs to be a daily driver – that’s a box every CSR has to tick,” explained RPM Technik’s Darren Anderson. “You could still use it as your daily driver, but with the strengthened coilover suspension you can run Cup tyres on it – the envelope is bigger with a further range of adjustment on offer to be able to go that little bit harder and faster.”
In a bid to lend this latest CSR a massive injection of further credibility, it has been finessed in partnership with former BTCC and Porsche Carrera Cup GB champion, Tim Harvey – more on that shortly. Although Darren is tentative in drawing the comparison, there’s every reason to see this car as a genuine GT3 alternative – one with more adjustability on offer and benefiting from the fact that a Carrera is not anywhere near as rare as a GT 911 – in short you’d not be scared to drive it on circuit. On paper alone the 996 CSR EVO’s specification is enough to excite, delivering at its heart a free-revving 350hp normally aspirated engine. The Carrera’s original 3.6-litre M96 power unit has been breathed upon in key areas both to ensure durability and to increase performance. Officially termed a ‘CSR Protection & Power Pack’, in essence the engine has been rebuilt and thoroughly refreshed to strengthen it with a large focus on the top end. Bottom end works include an IMS bearing upgrade, the fitment of a deep sump, and there’s also been the introduction of Evans Waterless coolant.
“The EVO benefits from our Stage 1 power pack” Darren explained. “It has seen the engine have its cylinder heads rebuilt, machined, ported and polished and with high lift cams fitted – we’ve done a number of engine preservation tweaks to this car but these modifications also help us with improved power and power delivery,” Furthering that free-flowing cause is a bespoke centre-exit exhaust system, it’s a stunning setup which not only looks superbly engineered, it sounds immense too. Cleverly the system allows for the removal of its tailpipes in order to fit silencers to facilitate track use, though it’s quieter than 105dB even as it stands in our pictures.
In addition to the engine comes a well thought-through chassis arrangement. A clever mechanical limited slip differential is key, this being the first CSR to run such a setup. The differential can be fully adjusted, allowing owners to customise its setup to suit their driving style – with different plates or ramp angles on offer. Darren explains that that’s something you can’t do with rival aftermarket differential solutions, and it highlights the entire build ethos of this car – its adjustability and focus. Further adding to the car’s drivability on track come three-way adjustable KW Clubsport coilovers, they’re set with an exclusive CSR geometry and ride height. The EVO is also fitted with an adjustable lightweight anti-roll bar, adjustable lower arms, together with poly bushes throughout.
In each corner sit lightweight 18-inch OZ wheels shod in this instance with Michelin Pilot Sport tyres (good for a balance between road and track use) though more circuit bias Michelin Cup 2 tyres are also offered. Behind them sit four-piston brake calipers, working with CSR floating discs up front and high-performance pads and brake fluid all round.
Distinctive respray aside (it’s VWG Merlin Purple by the way) the exterior of this 996 CSR EVO might look tame on first inspection, but actually there’s quite a bit going on here. A lightweight carbon bonnet replaces the original nose, a matching lightweight carbon deck lid boasts the now signature CSR ducktail spoiler, the use of weight saving materials contributing to a 45kg saving over the weight of a stock 996 Carrera (1370kg). Underneath the ducktail comes a redesigned rear bumper section wrapping neatly around the twin-exit exhaust tailpipes, around the front a unique CSR bumper features a splitter and a functional central vent directing air to a newly installed third radiator. Bespoke CSR mounts and ducting have been carefully engineered to ensure all air entering the third radiator is directed out through the bumper vent. This creates increased downforce and ensures lower running temperatures which translates to a happier, more powerful engine. Further weight saving has been undertaken in the cabin, which now looks far more purposeful than the inners of most Carreras. Dominating the inside are a pair of Recaro Pole Position fixed back bucket seats with both harnesses for track use, and the original seatbelts for road driving. Where the rear seats once were now sits a harness bar to which the harnesses are attached, another RPM Technik development.
Cleverly this bit of kit can also be fitted to cars which retain their rear seats, affording the option of running harnesses without losing the practicality your 996’s original rear bench. Over and around all this sits a colour-coded rear four-point rollcage. Oh, and if you’ve been staring at the centre console wondering what’s different there’s more than just a spot of colour-coding going on – some of the buttons have been relocated or removed, smoothing and simplifying the overall look of the dash. A taller gear lever has been combined with a short shift kit to ensure that gear changes are as easy and slick as possible, when your hands are not busy on the deep dished steering wheel, of course.
All of these changes have been designed to deliver a car with character, a unique mechanical personality distinct from your common or garden 996 – this thing screams ‘fun’. And that’s a point that was driven home to me when I mentioned it to former BTCC and Porsche Carrera Cup GB champion, Tim Harvey. Tim will need little in the way of introduction to most of you, but it’s worth recalling the ‘voice of the British Touring Car Championship’s’ links with Porsche. A double Carrera Cup GB champion, Tim still holds the record for the most victories since the championship’s inception in 2003, plus he retains the highest number of outright wins (36) and podium finishes (107) too.
His record of fastest laps in the series (29) is trumped only by 2012 / 2013 champion Michael Meadows with 30. So the point is that he knows a thing of two about how track bias 911s should drive, and how to set them up! “Have you driven it? It’s good fun, isn’t it!” Tim smiles when I mention the car. “RPM Technik don’t build a bad car – they’re always good straight out the box” Indeed I have driven it, and fun it most certainly is. I meet Darren and the car at Silverstone on what I (probably naively) presume is a simple track day. What this transpires to be is an open pit lane day on the full Grand Prix circuit hosted by Gold Track, organisers of professional race track events. As I arrive a McLaren P1 trundles in behind me and as we navigate our way to the National pits I can’t help but notice the place is strewn with professional race car transporters, littered with expensive track machines in addition to road-going exotica from GT Porsches and Lamborghinis to Radicals and Caterhams. I have my (motorbike) crash helmet on the back seat but other than that I feel somewhat unprepared and, in terms of driving talent, way out of my depth. The sense of foreboding is exaggerated when I spot Olympian turned endurance driver Chris Hoy in the paddock (he drives a 991 GT3 incidentally) and a bunch of familiar old racers turned tutors or team principals. For now though I don’t need to worry about holding up the pros on track, I’m off to drive the CSR EVO on the road.
For a track-oriented car the 996 CSR EVO is remarkably comfortable from the moment you slide inside its capacious Recaro Pole Position buckets. In advance of our track session the car has been set for circuit use so I’m expecting it to feel a little rough and on-edge on the road. As we leave Silverstone’s main gates behind and get onto the quick rural back roads which surround the famous venue there’s no hint of that expectation being realised. While it’s apparent that the EVO has been designed to offer a stiffer ride than that of a standard Carrera, the car is not shaking me senseless – and it would be far more pliant still in ‘road mode’. As we pick up pace the responsive nature of the car begins to show its face, on idle its gravelly din is reminiscent of a GT car, and in some regards its power delivery is too. Under 3,000rpm there’s little to give the game away other than a slightly more cheeky exhaust note, but as soon as the needle, which sits ahead of special CSR dials, climbs towards 4,000rpm the car comes on song and its character completely changes.
“You’d want to drive it on the road with the windows down all the time,” Tim Harvey commented. He’s right.
As the acceleration takes on a new far more lively purpose, the engine and exhaust notes climb in unison to a crescendo that is like no other 996 Carrera I’ve driven. On the road it feels fast, very fast for a normally aspirated 996, which belies the 350hp I’m told it is producing. The chassis, even with the suspension set in this harder fashion, is confidence inspiring – it is direct and allows you to take the car by the scruff of the neck and throw it through bends without fear of it biting back. In terms of drivability this is an accomplished and addictive 911, begging for you to get back on the power and to fire it out of the corners. The responsive nature of the engine is utterly fantastic, the free-revving unit creamy in its power delivery, the gearshifts beautiful and direct, the brakes boast a depth of feel and bite like few Porsches of this generation – with little persuasion it will simply fly down the road.
“What’s nice about it is the response, it’s often actually going faster than it feels – it’s quick…” confirmed Mr Harvey.
This car is a joy on fast A- and B-roads, and yet not a monster through towns and villages with it, to be frank that’s a real surprise. It’s great fun on the faster routes and yet having said that, all the time it has you wondering what it would be like if pushed that bit harder in the right environment – like on a track.
Back at Silverstone the EVO is rolled straight from the road into the garages that used to be used by the F1 teams (before the advent of the new Wing section), and out onto the full Silverstone Grand Prix circuit. That’s one of the beauties of this car, its usability on road and track without fuss. Here the 996 CSR EVO can really shine, and shine it does.
As we bowl down Silverstone’s fast straights and deceptive, long corners used just a couple of weeks previous by the F1 boys, the CSR feel like an even more exciting prospect. Its howling engine note at the redline is addictive, it never feels underpowered even on the long Hanger Straight where we’re watching out for those aforementioned full-bloodied race cars, in the fast corners you can really lean on the car, far more than you think you should be able to. In the slower stuff its nose tucks in, if you get too hungry on the power on the way out it’ll just send a warning shot with a twitch of its tail felt through the seat of your pants.
Most of the time though it’s apparent that the differential is pushing you through the corners to beautiful effect. I’m no racing driver, far from it, my opportunities to get on track are too sporadic so I always feel like a novice when I do get let loose on a circuit, but the compliant nature of his car is one I feel I could grow in harmony with. The way in which it gently telegraphs its intentions, sending a little signal when you don’t show it enough respect, is truly brilliant – even perfect for a beginner.
It’s a credit to Darren and his team this car, which can clearly be all things to all people. If you’re a proficient track driver, a Tim Harvey of this world, you’ll enjoy pushing the 996 CSR EVO to its absolute limit on track, leaning on it through the corners and playing with its weight transfer (and that clever differential) under braking and through the turns. You’ll derive hours of enjoyment via its adjustable nature, searching for the perfect setup. However, if like me you don’t consider yourself a circuit expert, then there’s plenty of confidence inspiring (and safe) fun to be had in learning how to drive this latest CSR quickly. It will grow with your talents, for it can be driven in more than just one way by more than just experts. Furthermore, and although it is primarily a track tool, as we’ve experienced here it is also proficient on the road too – surprisingly compliant and comfortable in fact, which means you could leave it set in its toughest settings all the time if you wanted to. What it certainly means is that you wouldn’t need to book your EVO in at RPM Technik for hours of fettling before and after you took to the track in it.
This particular car has been designed to showcase the complete 996 CSR EVO package, but as we’ve already mentioned what you see here is entirely modular, so you can pick and choose parts of the package to suit your needs and budget – the RPM Technik team would be more than happy to consult with you in order to arrive at the best options in this regard. The full 996 CSR EVO conversion is priced from £55,000, that doesn’t include the cost of the car, however given all the work that goes into creating an EVO there would be little issue in starting with a cheaper Carrera as your base vehicle, for when it comes to a full conversion everything in sight (or out of it) is reworked or refreshed. That does admittedly put this car in a similar price bracket to that of a 996 GT3 – is this a GT3 beater? You know what, I think it might be. There’s one argument that you might be more inclined to drive a well prepared CSR on track than an increasingly expensive, and rare, GT3, but moreover this car drives like a potential GT3 alternative in its own right. In addition it offers a level of adjustability and a trained focus that would appear to be unique – dare I say that it is potentially better than a 996 GT3 as a driving package in terms of its inherent ‘road meets track’ persona. The ‘ultimate’ 996? You know what? Just maybe…
“There’s every reason to see this car as a genuine GT3 alternative…”