Porsche’s 996 GT2 might have earned a nasty reputation over the last two decades, but with the right driver, it can trade blows with a Caterham R500. The English kit car is by no means as powerful as the rear-engined monster from the Fatherland, but because the incredible power-to-weight ratio of the little Caterham comes to 500 horsepower-per-ton, it has no problem keeping the Porsche’s driver humble.
Of course, there’s no getting away from the immense torque on offer from the 3.6-liter flat six. There’s no reason why the 996 GT2, as unruly as it’s known to be, can’t run from the little open-topped R500 when the straights open up. There should be no reason the Caterham would make a mockery out of the Porsche in the tight, technical sections at the Nordschliefe. However, it turns out to be more complicated than that.
It helps that the two seem to get along; they’re probably friends. But more importantly, each driver is skilled and knows the behavior of their cars well. In the case of the GT2’s driver, he’s able to transition weight without upsetting the car. In fact, he drives textbook smooth, almost like Alain Prost. Only in high-speed sections, when the boost hits and a camber change is encountered does the GT2’s rear step out. Because the limit’s so high and there’s quite a bit of weight at the rear, it lets go in a hurry. It’s almost a shame the Porsche is so planted; it would be nice to see him drift the car more – he’s definitely capable of it.
He gets the car to turn gently into the corner and yet with some precision, which allows him to get on the throttle early to take advantage of the incredible thrust of the turbocharged motor. It seems that all that power on hand, the driver needs to focus on the apex-to-exit portion of the corner; maximizing their straight-line performance as much as possible.
In the case of the Caterham’s driver, he’s all over the front axle. Light, nimble, and using a short wheelbase, the Caterham is happy to rotate, and handles much more like a single-seater than a heavy GT car. Getting the car to turn is easy – almost too easy. Over camber changes and while approaching the apex, the driver needs to exercise a little restraint to keep the car from chewing up its rear tires or spitting him into the guardrails. When it does inevitably step sideways, his hands must be quick to catch the slide; that little sashay at 2:10 would make milder drivers hang up their helmet.
For the viewer’s benefit, both drivers filmed the shared lap from their own cockpits, and it might appear the Caterham driver has his hands full with the nervous, skittish, and tiring behavior of the kit car, whereas the GT2 is on more of a Sunday cruise. In reality, it’s the quieting effect turbochargers have on their engine and the compliant suspension of the Porsche which make the experience look comparatively dulled. It only takes one look at the scenery going by to realize this is no Sunday jaunt.