Toronto is blessed with an excellent racetrack, but it's a little misleading to say that Mosport is part of the Greater Toronto Area. It sits about an hour outside of the city, so far you can't even see the CN Tower or even get the slightest whiff of imperialist America and its thousands of Starbucks looming in the distance.
It's green all around Mosport, but today, the bucolic hills aren't quite enough to dispel a sense of imminent doom. Two things are threatening: ample, angry clouds are dragging a dark tarp over the track at midday, spitting thunderbolts in the distance and shutting down airports. Will we ever get track time - or make the last flight back to the U.S. ?
We stay, because the other menacing figure is Porsche's Carrera GT, a 605-hp, $440,00 supercar already in the hands of Porschephiles like Jerry Seinfeld, Jay Leno, and Tim Allen. Shown in Paris in 2000 as a concept and now assembled in Leipzig next to the Cayenne SUV, the GT is a sort of Le Mans on the cheap. Buy one of these, rent a track for a day, and you're saving tens of millions versus mounting a real racing effort (or even a sham one).
Barbara Ehrenreich would be pleased at your parsimony. We'll remain jealous if you can swing one, because the GT's a thrilling prospect from the first spin of its tires.
Before we dive into the automotive porn that is driving a supercar (some exhibitionism, a brief thrill, usually followed by a cigarette), it's important to note that the GT actually is descended from a Le Mans car - the one that Porsche cooked to perfection for the 1998 race. The chassis and the suspension of the GT are directly related to that GT1 racer.
Given a radical race-ectomy and morphed into a vaguely 911 shape, the Carrera GT is forged from exotic body composites into an explicit link between Porsche street cars and track machines. Exotic cars don't get more exotic bodies than the GT's: formed from carbon-reinforced plastic and appended with some aluminum and steel crossmembers, the structure's a 220-pound titan that deals with the GT's massive power without so much as a creak or groan. Even the engine is a stressed member.
The monocoque is clad in more carbon-plastic panels to make it actually look like a Porsche. Beautiful as it is, what's underneath is more important to the GT's stability and handling. Fittingly, the GT has the airflow management of a Le Mans racer - three air intakes below the bi-xenon headlamps feed air beneath the car to cool the brakes and lend stability. The center intake swallows 75 percent of the airflow, those on the side split the remainder, but all three rejoin beneath the front end and are guided beneath the GT and through the brakes and the engine bay. Domed over the powerplant are twin stainless-steel, cross-drilled panels to vent more air around the engine. Finally, a retractable rear wing deploys at 75 mph to add downforce, automatically retracting as the car slows below 50 mph.
The GT's V-10 engine doesn't sound Porsche - in layout or engine note - but who's going to argue with 605 hp and 435 pound-feet of torque? Mounted midship, it's a normally-aspirated, 40-valve V-10 with VarioCam variable valve control, titanium connecting rods, Nikasil-coated cylinders, and an aluminum twin-flow intake manifold. Crafted of carbon-reinforced plastic too, the engine's crankshaft sits only 3.9 inches from the ground and it weighs just 472 pounds, less than the TCC median between Christmas and the Detroit auto show.
One unexpected detail in the powertrain is the conventional six-speed manual gearbox - no sequential paddle-shifter here. However, the clutch is composed of ceramic composites, which helps reduce its weight and allows the clutch diameter to be half its usual size.
Ceramics make their way into the composite brakes too, in a big way: the brake discs are nearly 15 inches across and are clamped on by six-piston calipers at each wheel. Anti-lock brakes and traction control are standard, as is a tire-pressure warning system that can be calibrated for the track. (The traction control also has an off switch for racing or shredding tires, whatever your budget may allow.) And for the ultimate in precision, the GT uses a lever-type suspension connected directly to the chassis and mounted without rubber isolators - for more direct feel, light weight and precision, Porsche says. The GT makes contact with the road on five-spoke 19-inch wheels shod with 265/35-19s in the front and 335/30-20s in the back, and the tires are crafted from two compounds, one on the inside area of the tread and another on the outside for more cornering precision.
All told, the Carrera GT's hardware produces eye-squishing, awe-inducing cuts and thrusting. Sixty miles per hour arrives in less than 3.9 seconds, 125 mph comes in fewer than 10 seconds, and the GT will hit a top-end limit of 205 mph.
There's no way to attain that limit at Mosport, but Porsche racers Walter Rorhl and Hurley Haywood did their best before the rain came to stretch the GT's legs and approach 150 mph on the longest straightaways. But before that, we guided the GT around the Mosport area's slow, straight roads, effortlessly executing 50-100 mph passes in fourth gear and trying hard to avoid police attention.
Hop in the GT's seats and you too will experience shock of being comfortable in a supercar. The cockpit's more than the standard nacelle - the racing seats are carbon-fiber and narrow at the hip, but the faintly luxuriant interior has its own fitted luggage (in odd places, like between the seats and the door sills), a no-cost-option navi system and Bose stereo, even wood trim on the shift knob. Twin lift-out panels (you must lift out the right panel first) lend the GT open-air appeal, too. Three-point seatbelts and front and side airbags are standard.
Then slide the GT into gear and lift off the clutch - c-a-r-e-f-u-l-l-y - because with its low tolerance for clutch slipping, you may stall it out repeatedly. The GT trundles off with a low growl, like a Rottweiler patrolling its turf, and snaps into a fearsome howl at even a feathery blip on the gas.
Mosport itself is less daunting - no peds or police, though the constellation of black rubs on the track walls is its own warning about driving above your head. But the track experience is humbling. Launching for the first time without stalling, I point the GT at the first corner and light into it - and I'm right there, instantly appearing before my warped mind's been able to snap back into shape. Even though it's coned down on the fast stretches, the track is open and dry enough for us to hit 120 mph and accelerate deep into a second-gear hairpin, pushing into the brakes late and skittering around the edge and into the woodsy back stretch of the track.
Three laps of racing the rain and our pulses and its pretty clear that the GT is among the easier supercars to use. It's deceptively easy to shift, with neural steering and suspension movements. A short stint behind the wheel, and all of the sudden you pull out heel-and-toe shifting and all the tricks to get into the racing moment. It could be the car, or the track - or maybe just putting on a microphone does something weird to civilians. The GT's stunning grip only gets shown off when I move the passenger side, Hurley Haywood takes the wheel and double my speeds through every corner on the first lap, running left of the cones to hit 140 mph or more, pulling NASA-like deceleration into esses. I try to gently convince myself that Tim Allen can't drive any faster than I did.
So far, Allen, Leno and Seinfeld are among the nearly 1200 to order their GTs and some of the 500 or so to take possession. Porsche says the limit will be a total of 1500 copies of this 605-hp testament to technology. That's probably 1400 too many for the people on earth who can handle the speed - but not nearly enough for the history books.
2004 Porsche Carrera GT
Base price: $440,000
Engine: 5.7-liter V-10, 605 hp/435 lb-ft
Drivetrain: Six-speed manual with two-plate ceramic dry clutch, rear-wheel drive
Length x width x height: 181.6 x 75.6 x 45.9 in
Wheelbase: 107.5 in
Curb weight: 3043 lb
EPA City/Hwy: N/A
Safety equipment: Anti-lock brakes, traction control, dual front and side airbags, tire-pressure warning system
Major standard equipment: Bi-xenon headlamps, five-piece travel set, power windows; A/C, Bose audio and navigation systems are no-cost options
Warranty: Four years/50,000 miles