The Porsche 911 GTS is the race car designed for suburban roads

There was a time when Bathurst race cars were driven to the track, raced, then driven home – provided they weren't crashed in the process.

These days most of the cars that lap the fast 6.2km Mount Panorama circuit are purpose-built race cars, ineligible to be driven on the road and compromised due to their slick tyres and lack of creature comforts.

But a trip to the Bathurst 12 Hour race was a chance to relive these glory days.

Scaling up

My weapon of choice is Porsche's 911 GTS.

Starting from $282,400 it slots between the roadgoing Carrera models and the track-focused GT3.

Bigger turbos give it more power than the Carrera S (331kW versus 309kW) without the high revving scream of a GT3, while there's a wider body for a more aggressive look and better cornering.

Civic duties

That engine is perfect for tootling around town.

The turbos give it ample oomph at low revs, so you can make brisk progress away without creating a scene. It's a car with punch always on hand, responding superbly to throttle inputs.

It takes as little as 3.7 seconds to hit 100km/h, so the potential to lose demerit points is there.


Ready and waiting

Pressing the sports button elicits a deeper burble, amplifying what is a unique engine sound, although for the cruise to Bathurst I'm content with the regular exhaust sound.

The suspension is also respectably compliant, making for surprisingly comfortably touring.

However, the 20-inch tyres create a constant companion on a freeway, the roar from the rubber noticeable in the otherwise comfy cabin; it's not bad, although it gets worse on second rate bitumen surfaces.

Audiophiles can drown it out with the excellent Bose sound system (few have as much bass!).

Upmarket shift

Bathurst used to be the home-away-from-home of Holden and Ford, the two brands synonymous with the track on the edge of town. The cars cruising the picturesque countryside reflected that.

There's still some of that for the Bathurst 1000 that takes place in October, but it's been diluted as people gravitate to other cars, typically SUVs, utes and luxury cars.

These days you're equally likely to see Lamborghinis, Porsches and McLarens as you are an HSV or Ford Falcon GT.

It's a haven for car enthusiasts of all shapes and sizes.

Home sweet home

Camping on the mountain is still popular, with the occasional twist; Porsche, for example, creates the luxury Camp Carrera experience, complete with top-shelf bathrooms and an open-air hospitality space.

It's part of a package that involves the on-track experience that includes three sessions on the Mount Panorama track.

Access to a tent, pit lane hospitality and the track blasts costs $5990.

Race time

About 30 owners unleash their own cars on the track, from bog standard GT3s and Carreras to the occasional 911 Turbo and Caymans and Boxsters, even an older (993-generation) 911 that's being put through its paces.

While they're designed predominantly for the road, Porsches have always been up to the challenge of a race track thrashing – with minimal preparation.

I'm in a group of five cars behind a couple of GT3s, the lead car driven by an instructor.

With high revving 4.0-litre non-turbo engines the GT3s are a lot louder than my 911 GTS.

But there's not much difference in outright performance in a straight line; they've got more power, I've got more torque.

From road to track

Cresting the top of Mount Panorama, though, is where I notice the limitations of the GTS.

Its 20-inch Pirelli P Zero rubber has loads of grip, but not as much as the track-focused Michelins on the GT3s.

Throw in the GT3s sizeable wings – designed to push the car to the road around high speed corners – and it's a challenge keeping up.

That said, there's plenty of pace, the speedo hovering around 200km/h on the rare occasion I glance down.

Play it safe

The rear-engine layout means there's more weight over the tail, so it naturally wants to run wide at the front, or understeer.

All of which means you can arrive into corners with more speed on, braking gently to balance more weight over the nose.

It's a challenge on Mount Panorama, where walls are ready to bite, as was on display for the 2018 12 Hour race.

In the earlier safety briefing Porsche driving instructor Luke Youlden – a man who knows this track intimately, having won the Bathurst 1000 in 2017 – reminds of the potential consequences.

"This is not the track or the experience or the environment to really be extending yourself."

Speeding up

Throughout the day the pace picks up to the point where we're surpassing 250km/h down the long Conrod Straight and pushing harder through the myriad blind bends.

Few tracks offer the challenges – and rewards – of Mount Panorama.

Sitting in the pit lane after one session one of the officials wanders over to hand me a piece of my car.

Fortunately it's nothing major; the heat in the wheels has popped out one of the Porsche centre caps (it clipped back in).

Home time

Wheeling back on to the road for the trip home is a reminder of the multiple personalities of the 911 GTS.

It's not as sharp on a track as a GT3, but it's a terrific compromise that is as easy to live with as a 911 Carrera.

Suspension that deals beautifully with mid-corner bumps makes the Bells Line of Road all the more enjoyable.

If you don't have the luxury of multiple Porsches in the garage, the GTS is a superb middle ground that makes for a terrific everyday tourer.