Back in July 2018, I participated in Renn Drive: Malaysia Expedition. The itinerary was spread over four days and my ride was a Porsche 991.1 911 GT3. The Malaysian contingent was set to consist of 11 cars, while our friends from Thailand would make 38 cars, plus two support vehicles. Mathematically, the drive promised to be of epic proportions.
Such an arduous drive requires careful planning and my earlier recce mapped our route below:
Day 1: Thailand border to Cameron Highlands, pitstop in Ipoh for lunch
Day 2: Cameron Highlands to Belum Rainforest via Gua Musang/Gerik
Day 3: Belum Rainforest to Penang Island
Day 4: Penang Island back to Kuala Lumpur
On the first day, two host cars set off on a trek up north in the wee hours of the morning to greet our Thai counterparts at the border. As we arrived at the checkpoint, the GT3 proved to be surprisingly efficient with the fuel gauge showing a quarter tank left after a long 473 km. It was the first time I’d driven a modern GT3 and early impressions remained positive and comfortable at highways speeds. No tiresome droning too, unlike its 997 model GT3 predecessor.
As the Thai cars passed into Malaysian land, we were greeted with a light smattering of rain. Breaking up into two groups, we set off for Ipoh first, for lunch. I glanced towards the carpark mid-slurp through my noodles and couldn’t help but be impressed by the sight of the carpark — filled with Porsches of similar shapes and many colours.
The glum weather showed no signs of abating over lunch, so our progress to Cameron Highlands was both wet and slow, marred by some pockets of traffic. We remained hopeful that the clouds would completely empty themselves, leaving us with good driving weather the next few days. Before long, we set off for dinner and the quiet roads were filled with burbling sounds from flat-six Porsches and, perhaps it was a placebo effect, but the GT3 felt smoother, more sonorous in the cooler climate.
Over dinner, introductions were made, handshakes were dispensed and everyone got to know other participants a little better. We pulled into the only Shell station in the vicinity that thankfully had supply of RON 97 and fulled up, before settling in for the night.
Total mileage: 473 km + 278 km + 88 km = 839 km
The next morning was an early one as well, but to the glorious tune of 49 flat-sixes (ok, there were several flat-fours) firing up. We quickly noticed that 4 cars needed attending to and the support team was quick to rectify the problems with fluid top-ups and inspections where necessary. This was crucial to prep the cars for the next leg of the journey which, as it turned out, would be an energizing stretch.
Renn Drive BKK is a very tightly knit group of car lovers and drivers and every year, they travel thousands of kilometres together and through all kinds of terrain. These gents have even gone as far as transporting their cars on wooden barges (ala Top Gear, in Botswana, crossing rivers) and their sense of camaraderie was evident when driving with them. The appointed leader for this leg of the drive, affectionately known as Cinderella, over took me — the local host and trip planner — to scout ahead and calling out every bump, road hazard and surface change, over the radio to the rest of the convoy.
It was exciting times for me as rarely does one get to experience the thrill of giving chase to not one, but two RWB Porsche 993s — one piloted by a PCCA driver! It was a joy to watch a 993 running at speed through twist bits of tarmac, shooting the occasional bolt of flames. Our prayers the day before was answered; blue skies and strong sunshine kept us company throughout the day.
Looking into the rear-view mirror, I realized I had never traveled with such a large, disciplined group of drivers. There were no kamikazes through apexes, no tailgating activity, and the whole rainbow line of cars snaked past any obstacles fuss free. Any overtaking was consulted first, with driver inputs via their walkies; “May I pass you, right side?” and to the common response of “Yes, please enjoy safely“.
Our convoy stopped in Gua Musang for a quick pit-stop to refuel and as we continued our journey, we came up to a bridge crossing at Pulau Setulu which cause elevated heart rates. Almost every car had to dispense the crisscross manoeuvre while both descending and ascending this bridge. At time of writing, the flyover should have been completed and should be ripe for another drive.
For our readers who love driving, Malaysia has some truly spectacular driving roads. From the Jeli turnoff, we were met with some 80 km of smooth, twisty asphalt. This stretch was dispensed with rapidly; our Thai friends smelling blood in water, gunned their throttles, leaving the Malaysian contingent behind!
It is difficult to describe what a touring car like the GT3 can accomplish on a road like this, and how these types of roads can help you appreciate the level of engineering that goes into cars like the GT3. Behind me was a friend (let’s call him Mr. Orange) who was egging me on and as I stretched the legs of the GT3, I began to understand the car better.
I’ve had the incredible privilege of driving several Porsche GT cars, including a 997.1 GT3 RS and 997.2 GT3 RS. Porsche themselves have always maintained that technically, every new Porsche is the better Porsche. The 991 model 911 certainly lives up to these claims. In my experience, the difference between the 997 GT3 RS and 991 GT3 was the communicative-ness of the hydraulic versus EPS steering. For drives like this and on these roads, I was glad to be in the modern 911; it helped to insulate imperfections on the road that would otherwise be picked up by the 997.
But don’t get me wrong — the 997 did after-all set the benchmark in terms of feel and handling, but varying road conditions in Malaysia can quickly tire the driver out, especially so in the 997 GT3 RS. In my personal opinion, cars with manual transmission are better suited for shorter touring driver or track use, whereas PDK equipped cars can accomplish all that and more, yet without fatiguing the driver.
Approaching every subsequent corner, my confidence increased and I pushed the GT3 a little harder, carrying more speed each time. In the GT3, you have to learn to trust the front axle as it feels better when you allow it to carry more speed. The 997.1 GT3 RS is more sensitive to corner entry; get it wrong and you end up with dollops of understeer. Porsche rectified this in the 997.2 GT3 RS with a front track that was 20 mm wider, but the 991 generation of cars moved the bar further forward. In that sense, modern Porsches are more tolerant to misjudged corner entries, allowing the driver to make corrections via careful combination of steering and throttle.
My 991.1 GT3 is also equipped with rear-wheel steer and I can validate that this gives the car an enhanced agility that magazines and YouTube videos rave about. Compared to a 997 GT3 RS, the car felt ‘shorter’ as advertised in its design brief. The 80+ km stretch of road proved critical with allowing me to sync with the GT3; with so many consecutive corners strung together and on relatively consistent surface, I was focused on experimenting just how far I could push the fun pedal.
Motive force is the last ingredient with loading the chassis around corners, and the motor in the GT3 does this effectively. This is the reason why naturally aspirated engines are prized for this type of driving. The linearity of power delivery, again, means that going around corners quickly is down to driver smoothness and accuracy — get it right and you can’t help smirking like a champion.
During the occasional glance into my rear-view mirror, I could see Mr. Orange in his 997.1 GT3 RS tracing my lines, clearly working harder than I was to maintain the same speeds. At the end of every sequence, the GT3 would open up a gap over the GT3 RS — 425 hp versus 475 hp is no contest really — but Mr. Orange was the better driver and closed in on every corner entry. At the end of the day, his clutch foot was buzzing in anticipation for next morning’s drive.
Another salient, perhaps slightly contrasting point, is that the GT3 feels more comfortable than the GT3 RS through any and all road conditions. Comfortable enough for my girlfriend to doze off for 60 km worth of twisty road and bumps. The bucket seats did a great job of holding meat in place, while the car’s PASM suspension gifted me with confidence to keep distance from Mr. Orange. This further serves to reinforce my opinion that modern Porsches with PDK and EPS is superior over manual and hydraulic Porsches of old, at least for long touring drives.
There was a section of our route which was peppered by Elephant Crossing signs and here, we encountered a well driven and empty 12-seater Toyota Hiace van. Whoever you are, good sir, we want to shake your hand for hooning your van so rapidly that we chose to remain behind to watch you hustle for a good 10 clicks, before finally deciding to pass through.
We arrived at Belum Rainforest and relaxed on a guided boat trip into Temenggor Lake, home to the world’s oldest rain-forest. This is home to a variety of animals, including elephants and the Malayan Tiger. There are eco-tourism efforts being made here to fund wildlife protection efforts, as the entire reserve is covered by an elite team of fewer than 20 park rangers. Our precious animals are under constant threat of poaching and raising awareness now can help to safeguard their well-being.
Our guide led us into one of one of the sections of the lake to view a Rafflesia and although it was not blooming season, we did manage to see an expired bud. This was a nice way to decompress the mind after quite some intense driving, since leaving Cameron Highlands. We turned in for dinner at Belum Rainforest Resort’s coffeehouse by the lake, heading to bed early to prepare for the next morning.
Total mileage: 839 km + 309 km = 1,148 km
Waking up to the third day of our expedition, there was an obvious tingling in the atmosphere as there was more petrol-head paradise for the route from Belum to Penang. The roads that led from Belum to Kupang would be the final twisty bit of tarmac, before the convoy would re-join the main highway to cross into Penang island. This was a 90 km stretch of black-top and every car in the convoy made sure to utilize the opportunity properly.
Strangely, I had not covered this area during my recce drive, which made it such a revelation. This section was even smoother than yesterday, with flowing, cambered corners that allowed me to maintain over 5,000 rpm on my approaches. Sadly, I was approaching bingo fuel from not fuelling up the night before so had to, err, drive more efficiently. At Gerik, we found a petrol station which carried RON 97 and all 48 cars stopped to literally brighten the day of the station operator — with several Viper Green, Miami Blue and Racing Yellow cars in the pack.
We pulled into Penang via the island’s second bridge and decided to head to Straits Quay Marina Mall for lunch. It was simply coincidence there was a yacht and classic car show on-going and our group decided to head for the multi-storey carpark, out of sight. This turned out to be quite fun when all the cars needed to leave Straits Quay; 20 cars in a closed carpark structure, but thankfully no alarms set off during this exercise.
It was a slow drive next, through Batu Ferringhi’s coastal roads towards our hotel, where more Porsches filled the parking lot. A further 8 Malaysian cars from Air Cool Gruppe had joined us for our last meal of the day. I am happy to report that everyone made it safe and sound and many of us adjourned to the pool and poolside bar for a well-deserved beer. That night, some of the car’s amphibious capabilities were tested due to a heavy downpour and flooding in some areas of the parking lot.
Total mileage: 1,148 km + 220 km = 1,368 km
Our final day started with a lazy buffet breakfast at the hotel before we bid goodbye to our Thai friends. As they set off on their journey towards Hatyai, the Malaysian contingent rolled back to their respective homes. Naturally, any epic drive of this scale would be incomplete without at least one breakdown — one of the 993s had to ride a flat-bed home; the torrential downpour the night before had seeped into the gearbox electronics. Nothing a quick trip to the doctor couldn’t fix.
In the blink of an eye, I had traversed one thousand, seven hundred and thirty kilometres, seemingly like magic. The GT3 was faultless through the entire journey and it was a phenomenal experience, allowing me the opportunity to drive through some of Malaysia’s best roads and teaching me to set the car up to my preference — when PASM Sport should be used, when PDK Sport should be engaged, when to let the car do its own shifting and when to take over completely. I had hundreds of kilometres to get used to the car’s speed thresholds, to discover which speeds would ‘work’ for me and for me to enjoy driving the GT3 within this range.
Total mileage: 1,368 km + 362 km = 1,730 km
For me, the 991.1 911 GT3 is a thoroughly capable grand tourer, worthy of its name — leading me to believe the RS would possibly have been too hard edged for this long drive. But I cannot just make an empty claim like this because validation is necessary… anyone want to loan me a 991 GT3 RS?