Car enthusiasts often point to sound as the reason they won’t consider an EV for their personal car. Range and/or charging times are likewise often cited to explain EVs’ unsuitability for motorsports. Porsche aims to set the record straight. Its Mission R concept showed fans what an electric race car could look like, while the new GT4 E-Performance—essentially an electric 718 Cayman GT4—aims to showcase electric race car performance. We’ve driven the Mission R, and now we’ve ridden shotgun in the new GT4.
Our GT4 experience came with Formula E and Indy Car driver Simona de Silvestro behind the wheel at Porsche’s Experience center in Franciacorta, Italy. Before we get into what it was like, a brief look at the GT4 E-Performance itself is warranted, because it’s a fascinating piece of tech.
Built upon a 718 Cayman GT4 Clubsport base, the GT4 E-Performance is a bleeding-edge competition machine inspired by Porsche’s road cars, race cars like the 911 RSR, and the company’s new Gen 3 Formula E entry. The GT4 E-Performance swaps out the Cayman’s mid-mounted 420-hp flat-6 in favor of the same two motors that power the Mission R concept. With one each at the front and rear axles for dual-motor all-wheel drive, the powerful pair produces 1,073 hp in Qualifying mode and 603 hp in range-extending Race mode.
The motors are juiced by 82.0 kWhs’ worth of batteries squeezed behind the cabin and in the floor of the passenger area. The battery is a 900-volt unit as in the latest Formula E cars, and it’s capable of charging from 5 to 80 percent in just 15 minutes. In comparison, the 2023 Porsche Taycan has a cutting-edge (for a road car) 800-volt electrical system and can charge from 5 to 80 percent in 22.5 minutes. A custom system that loops oil through the batteries, motors, and power electronics keeps things cool, saves weight versus glycol, and helps the GT4 E-Performance retain peak performance for half-hour sprint races. It all makes for a devilishly fun ride.
Anyone worried that racing or performance cars will become boring as we pivot to electrification ought to fear not. The 718-based GT4 E-Performance proves electric race cars are just as exciting as their gasoline-powered counterparts. Maybe even more so.
Take our safety briefing, for instance. It covered how we should exit quickly from the car in case of emergency, a fairly normal precursor as far as these ridealongs go. Except there were three different possible strategies. In the first, a high-voltage fault might cause some lights on the dash to illuminate, and de Silvestro and I would have to wait for the all clear from the pit team. If the electrical systems are breached, we would have to get out immediately. In that case, we’d pull ourselves out of the race buckets, bend through the roll cage, and get onto the door sill. Then, to avoid completing the circuit and tasting 900 volts of electricity, we’d need to jump off the car without touching it and the ground at the same time. We practiced this twice, never achieving anything close to elegance. The third scenario is a thermal runaway of the battery. At that point, as you would in a gas-powered car when it catches fire, the key is to get out and away. Like, now.
Our ride, as one might expect in a thousand-horsepower race car, was brief, brilliant, and brutal. The GT4 E-Performance exploded out of pit lane, filling the cabin with a high-pitched whine from the motors and straight-cut gears. Without gearshifts, the Porsche is smooth in a sense, even as the g’s it’s capable of under acceleration will peel your lips back into a wide smile.
With all-wheel drive and about 3,500 pounds to manage (versus roughly 3,000 pounds for the gas Cayman GT4 RS Clubsport), we noticed de Silvestro treated the GT4 E-Performance a lot like we might a high-powered AWD supercar. She slowed for corners earlier than she might’ve in a lighter car, trail-braked into the corner, and started feeding on power early, relying on the front motor to defy physics and yank the car down the next straight. De Silvestro was clearly practiced at this method, as she regularly got the GT4 near what sounded like a gear-limited top speed of about 150 mph down each straight.
Despite Porsche’s robust customer motorsports program, the GT4 E-Performance is at this point just a technology demonstrator. The automaker plans on taking it on a world tour over the next year, introducing such cars to potential owners, teams, tracks, and promoters. Although some folks may still view gas-fired speed the same way Charlton Heston did firearms, Porsche isn’t looking at it as an either/or situation. As the company says, it’s had incredible success racing internal combustion vehicles for decades—but it can do this well, too.
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