Porsche Mission R First Drive Review: Proof Electric GT Race Cars Won’t Suck

A week before Porsche let us behind the wheel of its Mission R race car concept, it mandated we partake in “high-voltage” training via video conference with the company’s engineering team in Germany. The gist of the 40-minute call: green lights good, red lights bad. If the relevant red lights illuminate inside the cockpit, stay in the seat and wait for help. If you’re outside the car and see red glowing from the steering wheel or the roof-mounted module, hang back and don’t touch the Mission R. The exception: In the “unlikely event” (the team’s words) the steering-wheel display goes full DEFCON red to indicate a disastrous thermal meltdown occurring in the battery pack, stop immediately, undo your safety harness, get out, and run away, hopefully before the car is reduced to a spectacular multimillion-dollar fireball. (Porsche values the Mission R at something like $10 million, because this is a one-off concept, and automaker bean counters tend to assign astronomical figures to such things, just like they do production-development mules.)

Receiving these instructions reminded me of a time more than a decade ago when I took a back-seat ride in an aerobatic plane as part of a Red Bull Air Race promotion. As a stranger strapped a parachute to my body, the pilot said something like, “This is never going to happen, but if it does and you hear me say, ‘Eject!’ three times, undo your belts, stand up, jump out, wait five seconds, and pull that ripcord. If you’re still in the plane after the third ‘eject,’ don’t look for me, because I won’t be.”

Reviewing safety protocols is SOP whenever you’re about to drive a race car for the first time. Taking care to avoid coming out looking like Freddy Kruger, however, is for most people a new experience about as familiar as hearing tips on how to best execute a parachute punch-out at 5,000 feet. Likely sooner than later, though, it will be more common in racing series this side of already-hybridized Formula 1 cars and the all-electric machines campaigned by professional drivers in the Formula E and Extreme E racing categories.

What Is It?

Porsche isn’t beyond building concept cars it has zero intention of bringing to fruition in some form or another, and you shouldn’t expect to see a field of Mission Rs on racetracks any time soon, if even by decade’s end, at least not in this exact form. (More on that in a bit.) The company’s first intention with the car was to present a compelling vehicle during September’s Munich auto show. You could say, “Mission R-complished,” if you’ve wanted to see an eye-grabbing example of what electrically propelled GT racing might one day look like. A team of about 30 people—a mixture from Porsche’s concepts group, styling department, and motorsports operation—turned the concept into a running prototype on a relatively short timeline of about nine months.

If you’re unfamiliar with GT racing and need a little context here, it’s important to know Porsche is the world’s most prolific supplier of customer race cars, with 30 different one-make (Porsche-only) series operating around the world, in addition to the customer-run teams that campaign various 911 competition models in every big-time global sports car racing series. In the bigger picture, Stuttgart plans to be carbon neutral by 2030, with 80 percent or more of its production cars featuring some type of electric motor. It naturally has at least one eye on where, when, and how it will plot a similar course within the motorsports realm that is so important to its brand identity. And don’t downplay the fact the customer racing business contributes more than a few bucks to Porsche’s bottom line, making the operation relevant well beyond brand image and on-track wins.

Main Hardware

The Porsche Mission R concept is intended to equal the performance of the 992-series 911 GT3 Cup, the car used in the well-known Porsche Supercup and Carrera Cup series. It features 900-volt fast-charging architecture, an 82.0-kWh battery pack, and modularly integrated front and rear motors with single-speed transmissions featuring straight-cut gears (typical in racing) and mechanical differential locks. The front and rear motors thus provide all-wheel drive and are identical; in “qualifying mode,” they produce a total output of 1,073 horsepower, whereas “race mode” delivers 671 total horsepower. In race mode, the front motor produces up to 429 horses, the rear 644. The Porsche Mission R is theoretically capable of a best 0-60-mph time of about 2.5 seconds and a top speed of 186 mph or so.

More notable is the power unit’s in-house-developed cooling system. Rather than using a jacket wrapped around the motors’ stator that allows cooling fluid to flow through it, the Mission R boasts direct oil cooling of the motors and also the battery, which Porsche says provides “very high peak and continuous power output levels … in addition to delivering a very high level of efficiency.” With oil flowing directly across the stator’s copper windings and the battery’s cells, more heat is carried away than would be by the jacket solution.

Porsche also says its direct oil-cooling means its “concept battery”—located behind the driver and incorporating an evolution of some of the technology the company developed in its Le Mans-winning 919 Hybrid—can last for 30 to 40 minutes of hard racing without suffering performance degradation. (That duration is in line with a lot of GT racing series’ typical sprint format.) Thanks to its 900-volt architecture, DC fast chargers can juice the Mission R from 5 to 80 percent state of charge in about 15 minutes, providing drivers just enough time for a bathroom break and a drink before heading out for another session. (Maximum charging capacity is 350 kW.)

What’s It Like to Drive?

Easy, really. Granted, the Mission R’s top speed was restricted to about 80 mph during our two four-lap stints around the Porsche Experience Center Los Angeles’ 1.3-mile handling circuit, and we were required to follow an instructor-driven car. But the top-speed restriction was of little consequence as we only hit the limiter on short straights that would’ve allowed perhaps another 20 mph, give or take, of top end. The lead car drove through the corners with enough pace so we could get a decent feel for the Mission R.

The steering is surprisingly light; you might call it delicate, even, but it transmits a useful amount of information about the front tires’ behavior. That was crucial on this day, as renowned Porsche development driver and racer, Lars Kern, told us he dictated a setup for the car with more torque from the front electric motor. This gave the Mission R understeer-biased handling, just to better the odds none of the journalists allowed to drive it would get into trouble with an edgy rear end, and it explained why we felt the front Michelin slicks sliding a few times as we got on the power. But even with the instant-on torque (something in the neighborhood of 740-plus lb-ft) generated by the motors, the pick-up behavior from the “throttle” was predictably, surprisingly linear. So much so, after only a few laps of the tight circuit we wished we could dial more mojo to the rear end and really let it rip. Put another way, the lack of a steep learning curve or any intimidating dynamic characteristics came as a welcome surprise.

Other than the intentional understeer, the Mission R felt alive and eager to respond to commands. Porsche claims a curb weight of 3,300 pounds and change, with the battery pack accounting for approximately 1,100 pounds of that mass. A larger battery pack might yield more laps between recharges, of course, but it would also carry a further weight penalty. As it is, this race car changes direction quickly without drama, puts its significant torque to the road easily, and quickly causes you to forget what type of energy source it uses.

In terms of the chassis, the development team said it began with a 718 Cayman, but by the end of the build the car evolved into a mostly custom piece. With that in mind, it’s impossible to draw any real parallels with an existing production model or to give such a car credit for the concept’s handling characteristics. Indeed, the Mission R uses a combination of 911 RSR and 911 GT3 R suspension parts, along with pieces from the 718 Cayman GT4 and a bespoke rear-suspension subframe. It also features the RSR’s steering wheel because the concept wheel shown on the car in Munich doesn’t function and would’ve required more money and time to make work.

With that RSR wheel in our hands, the Mission R’s overall composure around the track was notable, only getting a bit out of shape when braking over or accelerating through the circuit’s bumpy sections. However, the accelerator’s linear tuning made a nearly thoughtless enterprise of manipulating the power delivery to account for the imperfect sections of road, making for a smooth driving line into and out of corners.

The brakes feel remarkably natural, especially when you learn they do much of their work through energy regen. We couldn’t feel such an effect, though, nor could we tell when the braking system switched from actual pad-on-disc mechanical braking to regen mode. The pedal feels reasonably firm except for the initial range of slightly squishy travel; it reminded us of some of the load-cell braking setups we’ve experienced when using racing simulators. For the record, we never used the Mission R’s brakes hard enough to experience their feedback during lockup, so we can’t comment on how natural it might or might not feel to control the tires’ rotation at the ragged edge of longitudinal grip. (The Mission R features neither ABS nor traction control.) One cool item of note: In theory, a driver could change the regen level front to rear on the fly, effectively serving as the brake-balance adjustment commonly seen in all manner of race cars.

One other thing: It’s loud inside this car. Like, stunningly loud, and most of the noise you hear is gear whine from the drive system. Conventional race cars make these types of sounds, too, but usually their combustion engines and exhausts mitigate how obvious it is. Not here. (Or if, for one example, you’re racing a 911 GT3 R around the streets of Macau. Listen to this, and you’ll get the point.) Without ear plugs and helmet, we would’ve gone migraine-mad within minutes. Mind you, this isn’t really a complaint, and after a few laps, you simply feel like you’re driving a race car—you don’t think for long about what type of race car it is. Were the Mission R essentially silent like some people might expect all EVs to be, we’d be telling a different story in this regard.

What’s the “So What?”

This is where the Mission R’s future gets a little murky. As Kern and Porsche GT race car boss Matthias Sholz told us, the concept car features many things in addition to the concept’s steering wheel that probably wouldn’t be put into practice on a real Porsche Motorsport offering. Examples include the integrated carbon-fiber roll cage (FIA rules don’t allow for carbon fiber cages), external lighting solutions, polycarbonate roof panels, and a flashy interior that’s far nicer than it needs to be in a race car.

On the other hand, customers and drivers would no doubt love solutions like the monocoque-style racing seat—one of the most comfortable we’ve experienced—and the drag-reduction-system-equipped rear wing, along with the concept of featuring OTA updates and real-time trackside data transfer to Porsche Motorsport in Germany. Is there a problem with the car? Plug in and see what the factory can help you with.

Regardless, Porsche insisted any future “real” electric GT racing model is likely five or six or more years away. The company also said it is far more likely to evolve what the Mission R has put in motion here, as opposed to turning up at racetracks with a car that looks like a true rendition of it. Oh, and Porsche also insisted this is not the next 718 hiding in plain sight, though it’s certainly possible the next Cayman/Boxster could share some styling elements with it. Or not.

The only thing we know for certain right now is, we’d be thrilled to have a seat in a field of Mission Rs, or something like it, for a race tomorrow. Despite the fact we’d miss the sounds of a high-performance combustion engine and of a multi-speed gearbox downshifting in braking zones, our drive of Porsche’s electric concept revealed one thing for sure: Despite all its electric whizbangery, the Mission R was about 100 times less jarring to experience than the thought of jumping out of a plane, pulling a ripcord, and hoping for the best. It’s simply a race car that any competitive driver would relish taking to the limit, and it seems Kern at some point will get such an enviable opportunity: Keep an eye out for the Mission R to tackle the Nürburgring Nordschleife, date TBD.

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