While it never dominates motorsport headlines, modern GT4 racing is a real treat for sportscar fans. As other formulae apparently seek only to reduce diversity and embrace homogeneous, becoming almost silhouette racing in some cases, global GT4 is chock full of different layouts, powertrains and dimensions, levelled out for competitive racing - sort of - by Balance of Performance.
Take a look at last year's British GT line up: in GT4 there were five different cars on the top step of the podium during the year, from mid-engined - V10 Audi R8 LMS GT4 and McLaren 570S GT4 - to front-engined - V8 Mustang and Aston Martin Vantage. For those who want noise, drama and excitement from their motorsport, plus a tangible link back to the production cars they may yearn to own, GT4 is a must-see.
Many will be aware that Porsche made a recent foray into GT4 racing with the, er, old Cayman GT4 Clubsport, the car that Dan drove three years ago. His verdict? "It's clear there's class and composure there to reward all abilities, the natural balance of the Cayman package clearly a very sound basis on which to build a confidence-inspiring race car for any racer."
A very encouraging opening gambit, then, but Porsche has gone about its replacement in a far more serious fashion. Most obviously that was displayed through showing racer ahead of road car, with more power from the 3.8-litre flat-six, a sliver more torque and a chunky price hike to reflect its possession of "significantly more racing genes".
More than that, however, this new 718 GT4 CS represents the completion of Porsche's revised motorsport strategy for the UK. Where the upper echelons of track days and motorsport have been well served for a while by various GT3 derivatives, the new GT2 RS Clubsport and the 935, it would be a fairly extraordinary jump up the Motorsport pyramid from a Porsche Club championship in a 997 or similar - leave alone just a track day enthusiast - to something like those. Hence the introduction of the Porsche Classic Boxster Cup (which was Restoracing) and now the Porsche Sprint Challenge GB, which races exclusively with the 718 Clubsport - and should cost half as much per season as a Carrera Cup campaign.
While, of course, it's still a pastime for the monied - £130k + VAT for the car, £12k registration fee, £7k for the most basic of spares packages - the Sprint Challenge does look a mighty tempting proposition. It's a Porsche Motorsport series, boasting technical assistance from Manthey Racing, with both Pro and Am championships, prize money and TV coverage. The 2020 calendar will see the Sprint Challenge support British GT and BTCC across 12 rounds, which sounds like a pretty cool opportunity for a series "likely" to be graded at National B level. Which means this could be someone's very first championship, racing a Porsche with live TV coverage. Moreover, should the bug bite hard - there's every reason it might - customers can upgrade their cars through a package from Manthey to make it eligible for international GT4 racing. Interesting...
So that's some context, and why Porsche invited media to drive the pinnacle (Carrera Cup) and the base (Restoracing Boxster) of the UK pyramid, with 718 nicely occupying the middle ground. Silverstone at this time of year is a cold and bleak place, though there's nothing like racing Porsches to brighten the mood.
In a way that 'proper' race cars always seem to - through some naughty negative camber on surprisingly small (18-inch) wheels, lizard-like ride height and spoilers that you know are actually doing something - the GT4 looks superb. There's attitude without it seeming gratuitous, a perfect stance, the sort of impeccable finish that only factory race cars seem to have.
It also has that uniquely race car trait of being fiendishly difficult to get into, clambering through a roll cage to sit on the harnesses no less embarrassing however much it's practised. The Clubsport isn't far from perfect once in, though, the combination of control positioning, seat location and visibility putting the driver immediately at ease. That GT3 R-derived wheel does an excellent job of convincing the person behind it they're a far more serious racer, too...
Starting the GT4 could hardly be simpler: flick the ignition switch, foot on the brake, turn the key. It idles purposefully but contently, moving away with no more drama than the road car thanks to the PDK transmission - note even the road car-donated lever.
Which isn't to say the Clubsport is anything less than intimidating on the first couple of laps. While it comes equipped with a full suite of assists - ABS, TC, ESC - there's still steering response, brake feel and power, traction and outright speed to figure out. Last thing anybody would want is an amateurish incident just a few laps in...
But as has always been the way with these mid-engined Porsches, both on track and road, there's a dynamic transparency, approachability and user friendliness that means the confidence to push doesn't take long to materialise. It was something noted by Dan in the drive of the 981 - "it's clear the car benefits from the Cayman's inherent balance and is very easy to drive straight out of the box" - and has clearly transferred to the 718 as well. It's predictable, for want of a better phrase; considerable accelerative and braking forces can be applied with unerring accuracy thanks to the pedal response and the damping permits kerb bites as big as you dare, while the assists remain politely tolerant of cack-handedness.
It's a relatively easy car to drive, then, the GT4, but don't mistake that for something that lacks reward or engagement. That engine of course contributes a good chunk to that, the 3.8 ferociously howling to nearly 8,000rpm as more and more shift lights illuminate. It really rewards that commitment, too; peak torque may have risen 3lb ft from before, but the 718 is 20kg heavier than 981 and needs more revs - 6,600rpm against 4,750rpm - for that maximum. So rev the nuts out of it basically, revel in that sweet flat-six and don't change up until all the lights flash. The PDK actually complements the package, too, shift speed more than good enough for the performance on offer - if anything the only let down is that the lights can be a bit slow to react on the way back down.
Stringing together what feels like a reasonable lap is a joy in the GT4, making the prospect of competing in a grid of them even more tantalising. It's a precise and accurate race car, one to be measured with rather than utilise brute force, yet don't mistake that for something that feels neutered or prescriptive. The Silverstone set up has a tad of safety understeer in, which seems wise, well communicated and easily quelled, a trait that could surely be altered to taste through the chassis adjustability.
There's huge challenge and reward in eking out maximum momentum from the chassis' innate ability, the driver of course aided in that by the expertly calibrated controls. Crucially, given the premise of the series, the Clubsport feels like a race car shot through with engineering rigour, mechanical stamina and precocious ability (for the pros), while alfor those less experienced. Both will feel like they're deriving an authentic, gratifying experience from the racing, a laudable achievement and one that's surely much harder to create than to conjure up as ambition.
So yeah, in one of the smaller journalistic revelations of the year, racers of all stripes will find a lot to like about this 718 GT4 Clubsport. It looks great, it sounds great, it drives quite superbly. A one-make race championships in the UK, sounds like the perfect way to advertise those facts. It also sounds like the perfect way to show off your talents, tscrutineered one-make series in front of thousands of spectators. There's prize money, too, as an added incentive, as well as a tyre raffle each race weekend of the Sprint Challenge. Put simply, the car and the championship look pretty hard to argue with, given the vehicle's patent quality and the appeal of competing in a Porsche-backed series. Should anybody require a GT4 test driver, someone to hold a pit board or even just a tea boy, anything to be close to the Sprint Challenge, there's one more very willing body right here.