Yes, you read that correctly: this is the first 911 to carry its engine in front of the rear axle since the 911 GT1 race and road car of the mid-1990s.
The change has been made possible by the new-for-2016 regulations for the LM GTE racing category, used in the World Endurance Championship, the US-based IMSA series and, of course, the Le Mans 24 Hours. The rules offered Porsche the opportunity to reassess every nut and bolt, an evaluation process that started 18 months ago. They allow scope for the engine to be relocated, provided the car’s platform isn’t altered, so Porsche flipped the engine and gearbox.
Accounting for the aggressive looks, the rules also permit so-called ‘free volumes’ where the car can be changed, such as the overall width, although other dimensions have to remain the same as the production car’s. Moving the engine forward has enabled Porsche to install a large rear diffuser, enhancing the aerodynamics.
The change wasn’t a decision taken lightly by the guardians of Weissach’s most iconic model. Frank Walliser, Porsche’s head of motorsport, says: “There are always sensitive discussions [within Porsche] when the motorsport guys turn up and say: ‘We’ve had a good idea’. But look at the car. Is it a 911? I say, yes, it is.”
It’s hard to argue with Walliser – there’s definitely a 911 under there – but the repositioned powertrain has required wholesale redevelopment. The suspension, body structure, aero package and six-speed sequential gearbox have all been designed from scratch. Walliser says the only parts carried over are the door handles.
All of this was motivated by the intense competition erupting within GTE racing, stirred by Ford’s successful return to Le Mans with the GT in June. Although the cars competing within the category all have their power levels regulated via air restrictors and fuel restrictions, Porsche felt there was untapped potential within its car’s aerodynamics and balance.
One of the key benefits of the repositioning of the engine is to make the tyre wear of the 911 RSR more consistent, says Walliser. “Tyre wear is definitely one of the most important factors,” he says. “This was definitely something we could improve from the old car. We had a close look at the weight distribution, because this has a big influence on the tyres and how the car handles.”