DAYTONA BEACH - It's sobering to think as we rip around Daytona International Speedway's road course -- the same circuit used for the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona sports-car race -- at speeds above 135 mph, that this 2008 Porsche 911 GT2 isn't even breathing hard. With a top speed of 204 mph, you don't even need fourth gear to hit 100, much less sixth gear.
This is the fastest Porsche 911 ever, which is saying something: The company introduced the 911 in 1966, and it has been the staple since, not only for Porsche, but for the sports car world in general. Park a 1966 model next to a 2008 model, and anyone can tell that the new car is an evolution of the old one, a sense of history and heritage no other single model can match. Aside from this new 911 GT2, Porsche has a startling 14 versions of the 911 for sale, ranging from the base 911 Carrera ($73,500, 325 horsepower) to the 911 Turbo Cabriolet ($136,500, 480 horsepower). The 911 GT2 trumps the Turbo Cabriolet's price considerably, starting at $191,700, assuming you are one of the 200 or so people allowed to buy one in North America.
If the GT2 sounds like a street-legal race car, that's exactly what it is. Mechanically, it isn't that different from other 911 models, but Porsche engineers took great pains, and went to considerable expense, to save weight: The ultra-thin carbon fiber seats, for example, look as though they'd be profoundly uncomfortable, but just the opposite is true. The exhaust system is made from titanium. The 19-inch alloy wheels are ultra-light. There is no spare tire -- just a can of tire sealant and a little electric air compressor.
The result is a 911 that weighs just 3,175 pounds, 319 pounds lighter than a 911 Turbo.
And under the hood -- which is, of course, in the rear -- the GT2's engine, a twin-turbo 3.6-liter six-cylinder, pumps out 530 horsepower and 505 pound-feet of torque. The transmission is a six-speed manual, which snicks into gear with short, rigid throws, and requires a heavy left foot for the very stiff clutch.
And speaking of the clutch: The GT2 has a unique "launch" mechanism, called the Porsche Acceleration Performance System, or PAPS, that test driver Hurley Haywood, the winningest Porsche race driver ever, loved to demonstrate at the Daytona test drive event. Says Porsche: "The driver holds down the clutch and accelerator pedals simultaneously. The engine automatically races to, and stays at, about 5,000 rpm. Then the driver just releases the clutch to guarantee as fast a start as possible."
This is especially impressive to watch, as the GT2 is rear-wheel-drive. The 911 Turbo is all-wheel-drive, and with all four wheels grabbing for traction, it's no problem to launch even without PAPS. With only rear-drive, the GT2 needs a launch control system.
In fact, despite the search for ways to lighten the car, Porsche did not skimp on safety features. The GT2 has six air bags, electronic stability control, traction control, enormous disc brakes made from a ceramic material (that saves 40 pounds with antilock. Most of these electronic nanny systems can be completely or partially deactivated for race track use -- sometimes you want to slide around corners a little.
I didn't particularly; our time was so limited in the GT2 -- limited even further by a rainstorm -- that I never got particularly brave on the race track. I learned enough to know that the GT2 is not particularly forgiving when pushed into a corner too quickly, that the brakes are astoundingly good, that the engine makes power in a very linear fashion right up to the redline of 6,750 rpm, and that the Daytona International Speedway oval, particularly over the old tunnel in turn 4, is getting so rough that management will have to quit putting off repaving the track eventually.
This is the third-generation GT2: The last model ended production in 2005 after 1,300 were built. Porsche will build 1,500 of these new GT2s for the global market, and when they're gone, they're gone. In fact, despite the fact that they won't be available until after the first of the year, most are already spoken for. If you intend to win the lottery, then, do it quickly.
Otherwise, there are still 14 other Porsche 911 models available, and there isn't a dog in the whole kennel.
Sentinel Automotive Editor Steven Cole Smithcan be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.