Car of the Week | Week 65: Kaz–Approved (Porsche 911 GT3 (996) '01) (2024)

I never thought I'd be doing this whole "racing driver" thing again.

The money is good. Especially when you win. I went from the high life of fine dining, fast cars, crazy parties, interviews, seeing the best of each country, to sipping canned coffee all by my lonesome here at the lookout point of Haven Mountain in the black of a chilly night. Don't get me wrong, all those racing driver things I listed are just chores for an introvert like me, but there is one thing that the glitzy life has afforded me that was so incomprehensibly brilliant and mind blowing, the addiction, that sensation, stayed with me through retirement, and didn't stop hurting me for a minute without it. It changed the way I look at things. Reset every yard stick and standard I had in my mind. It almost makes everything else life can offer seem trivial and trite. Is that a blessing or a curse? I can't really answer that. All I can tell you for certain is that I finally feel like I've gotten back a piece of my soul, now that I'm once again holding onto this Porsche key fob.

I guess, I'm effectively an addict now, and I'm being dragged back into the game to sate that addiction. It feels like I'm just being bounced around two lives, and not being entirely happy with either.

The distant V8 growl that had initially snapped me out of my trance is now almost here, and soon enough, a set of headlights slashes through the maze of darkness and trees to arrive at the small parking lot of this lookout point. I can't quite make out what it is from the glare of its headlights, but whatever it is does a 180 burnout to face away from me, stopping right at the exit of the car park. The left side door opens, and a familiar sounding voice calls out into the darkness, familiar enough to make me feel like I ought to know it, yet filled with so much hatred that I can't help but feel a fresh sense of apprehension and dread: "How much of that 600k did you spend on that car?"

Out steps a female silhouette, about the same height and build as Sarah. Not getting an answer from me, she continues, "100k? 120?"

"...Sarah? That you?"

"Answer the question!", she barks, slamming the door of her car shut. Judging by the tail lights, I want to say it's a... C8 Corvette? Hard to make out details on black cars even in broad daylight.

"130k, why?"

She scoffs with a bladed sharpness I have never felt sheathed by a scoff before. "Figures. All you do is throw money at problems, including your personal ones, it seems."

"HEY!"

"How much power that thing's got?"

"379? Hell if I know."

"HAH! WEAK! You wanna know what I paid for Fade? 85k! And she's got 494HP! You spent 130k on a car with less than 400HP? What next? An old fashioned stick shifter and cloth strap door handles?"

"I love this car a lot, okay? What's your problem?!"

"Then maybe you should get your head out your ass and see that it's a **** car and you've pissed away good money for it!"

"Sarah what's gotten into you?! I thought you were ridiculed for your taste in cars as a kid! How could you—"

"I just thought it was high time for a change, is all."

"What's this all about, then?"

"I didn't even recognise my car when I got home! Is that what it takes to be successful in motorsport? A large sum of money?"

"The prize money was more than worth it, isn't it?"

"What if I hadn't met you? What if you didn't have that money? Was I just... supposed to live like that for the rest of my life?! Does my passion, my pain, my talent, my sacrifices, not mean anything?!"

I really didn't want to answer that. I know I got incredibly lucky to have even gotten off the ground.

"Race me down the mountain!", she suddenly demanded.

"Hell no."

"Prove to me that it was your skill and not your money that won that race, pro driver."

"Pro drivers don't race for free."

"I'm going to sit here until you decide to drive back down, then. Unless you decide to leave your spanking new money pit and walk."

"You...!"

She turns her back to me and slides back into her car, firmly closing the door. She's actually serious about this.

I unlock the door to my 981 Porsche Cayman GT4, and the crowning achievement of the internal combustion engine roars to life with a furor just a few moments later, shattering the few fleeting moments of tranquil peace I had originally come up here to seek. The Corvette of Sarah soon joins in to create a duet of battle cries. She lets me go ahead of her out of the car park, but once out, her Corvette tailgates me so closely that I can't even see her headlights in my cabin mirror, only the clear coated carbon panels of the Stingray dully reflecting the red of my tail lights. I refused to respond to her honking and flashing of the high beam, all the way until she gives my car a light rear end tap, suddenly raising the revs of my NA Flat 6 engine and making it sound as though yelping in surprise and pain.

"That bitch...!"

Dropping into 2nd in one fell swoop of the manual gearbox, I awaken the full furor of the baby Porsche with barely anything atop its factory break–in mileage, and, while a little slow to react, the hulking 6.2L V8 in Sarah's Corvette had no trouble at all closing right back up to the tailpipes she just hit. I know she's right about my car. That it's overpriced and underpowered. But there's no way in hell my Cayman is losing to some lumpy V8 stuffed in an awkward first attempt at a mid engine chassis. On these nefariously narrow and torturously twisty mountain roads, the Stingray is almost literally a fish out of water. We might have something that appears a close match for a short while, but after a few corners getting some heat into the factory carbon ceramic brakes and Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres, that 'Vette is just going to be lost to the shadows.

Hard on the brakes for the first corner, and the angry, angular face of a rapidly approaching Corvette in my mirrors, illuminated only by the red glow of my brake lights, was the last thing I saw before everything went to black for what I'm told is eight days.

********************​

It's never easy walking away from one's comfort zone, and that holds doubly true if you're making a publicly consumed product, like the engineers at Chevrolet. It started with a Lotus V8. Then, fixed headlights. Followed by the omission of four round tail lights and the greenhouse rear glass. Just when things couldn't seem more sacrilegious, the entire architecture of the Corvette was rearranged with the eighth generation Corvette, the C8.

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In fact, aside from a naturally aspirated 6.2L V8, there is just about nothing on the C8 Corvette that would've tipped industry spies off a few years ago that this rear mid–engined monstrosity was to be the next iteration of America's premier sports car; no manual gearbox, no shoddy interior, not even semi decent styling, and you'd actually have to rudely ask the car to kill you before it would consider doing so. But the car is here, and it's wearing unmistakable Corvette badges to let everybody know that America is finally getting serious not just about giving its snobby European rivals a bloody, broken nose up front, but now also about leaving a stinging sensation in the rear to remember them by.

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Me personally, I've always liked Corvettes. Not to the extent that I can give you an extensive history lesson of the 70 year strong journey of the Corvette, name every body colour and head engineer, or even know the reasons why Corvette owners have the stigmas that they do. They just look cool, sound amazing, and drive terrifyingly in a terrific way. In other words, I'm a casual fan: I like Corvettes, but I'm not super invested in them. And oddly enough, I think it's fringe fans like me that can best appreciate the C8 Corvette—in my eyes, a car I liked has gotten better. I don't know why Americans are so obsessively fixated on an FR layout. I don't care how many cylinders it has. On–track, I don't even care that it doesn't have a manual gearb–oh, sorry, transmission. All I know is that the C8 is the first ever 'Vette to be legal in my home country of Singapore, and seeing one in the flesh here was just surreal.

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Unfortunately, one area which I'm with the critics is the styling of the car: The Corvette's usual front–heavy aggression has been cut up, rearranged, and sprinkled over a mid–engine chassis, which is almost literally putting the carriage in front of the horse. I prefer my mid–engine supercars to look sleek, elegant, poised, and confident, but the C8 looks almost like an alien AI generated caricature of what a fast mid–engined supercar ought to look like, with a cartoonish, hard to take seriously aggression facilitated by its endless creases that all fight each other for dominance and attention, making the body of the car feel more like a war–torn territory than a purposeful, cohesive statement of intent. This being the first Corvette to ever be made available as a Right Hand Drive model and sold in export markets, I had really hoped that the Corvette would finally come with sensible, bespoke amber turn signals, but it still uses the same brake lights in the same red colour in the same hazardous cost cutting fashion. Even Vipers came with sensible amber turn signals, c'mon now, GM. Opening up the front bumper of the car reveals a bent, downward facing squarish plate, making it a nightmare for livery creation, and slapping a rectangular inline European plate on the car requires the Stingray to grow a pig stout. The whole car is just awkward and inelegant to look at. A Pontiac Fiero with a rocket strapped to its back looks better than this!

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A mid–engined supercar not looking good is certainly a shame, but a mid–engined supercar is primarily built for driving, yes? So how does it drive?

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Unlike some other mid engine car makes who imbue their showy creations with crippling understeer, utterly defeating the point of a mid engine supercar to begin with, the C8 'Vette handles extremely neutrally, with neither under nor oversteer dominating the driving experience. They're certainly there, but you'll have to really abuse the car for any of it to show. The oversteer part of that is particularly pleasant, as the chassis doesn't normally want to slide out the rear end, being rock solid and on–rails at all times, so the only way to get any oversteer out of the car is to turn off TCS and gun it like a goon; the 494HP capable NA LT2 V8 is as immediate and proportionate as a light dimmer hard wired to your right foot—ask it for torque at nearly any rev range from nearly any gear, and it's there in exactly the requested amount faster than you can even think. Even with chunky 305mm Michelin Pilot Sport ALS Sports Hard tyres in the rear without the Z51 Performance Package, the LT2 engine will break grip and start smoking tyres at the drop of a shoe. And when the rear end lets go, it lets go with plenty of buildup and warning, giving drivers ample time to either correct it, or encourage it. You could pull off some big smokescreen shows with relatively little effort in this thing.

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The other end of that equation, understeer, is a lot more nuanced to find. When driving the car on my own, I didn't notice any understeer; I just thought the car handled extremely neutrally. Instead, that understeer only appears when going wheel to wheel when racing others in equal machinery like we do in our weekly meets, despite the car being bone stock on fresh tyres and a full tank both times. Why the difference, then?

You see, the reason why I love having to race someone in equal machinery, especially someone who always faster than me, but always makes themselves an attainable goal, like Vic, is that it helps me undo a sort of subconscious limiter in my brain. I think I always drive the car at 90–95% of my capabilities when testing alone, because there's quite simply no reason to push it past that. I think I have a good idea of how a car behaves and what to do to get the most of it just like that. I could probably write a full length review just based off running it by my lonesome. But our weekly meets gives me a reason to try to push the car beyond its and my own limits, to perhaps try riskier, less consistent, slightly "cheatier" lines through corners, etc.. It forces me to re–evaluate my braking points and lines through corners. It makes me press the throttle pedal earlier and earlier and the brakes later and later, oftentimes with slower results, but it's only by repeatedly undershooting and overshooting that theoretical "100%" of the car's limits can one slowly get to know where that "100%" truly is, and more consistently stick close to it. And that "push" to risk it and experiment isn't present when testing alone, hence why I like to write only after our weekly meets: I feel like I get dragged by the ear to do things I normally wouldn't do to a car, in doing so getting to know the car more than I'd otherwise be able to.

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Unfortunately, that ear pulling has soured my opinion on the C8 after really liking my initial drive with it. The C8 Corvette feels like it was set up to be a 9 tenths car. It felt amazing when I ran it by my lonesome, but when subject to that subconscious limit break to find that last tenth of performance during race day, the car completely came apart at the bonded seams and tapped out the moment I put some pressure on it. It was just understeer, understeer, understeer. I think a lot of that neutrality I praised the car for comes via deliberately making sure the front end always goes before the rear by limiting front tyre grip, thereby ensuring that no driver can turn the car hard enough to even mildly challenge the rear end. For reference, the front tyres are only 245mm wide in comparison to the rears' 305. What I had thought was my and the car's 9 tenths was, in fact, the car's 10 tenths, and what that unfortunately results in is a car that doesn't engage or enthrall like a mid engined sports car should, because the car feels slower than me as a driver. To be clear, this has NOTHING to do with the car's speed; I love slow cars. The C8 just feels dead and done past its front tyres' grip, and offers no drama or alternatives. "Come on, just shave off that extra two centimetres from your turning radius, you can do it! Come on!" "Just rotate a bit more at the apex, oh why won't you?! Urgh! God!" It doesn't tease, it doesn't play, it doesn't bite, it doesn't give ultimatums, it doesn't threaten, it doesn't scare; it just gives up. And that's no fun.

To add insult to injury, cutting corners by taking a bit too much kerb or going into the grass, as a desperate man is wont to do, seems to give the E–Differential of the C8 Corvette an E–aneurysm. In fact, even taking some fairly innocuous, barely raised rumble strips on the inside of turns tends to cause the C8 to suddenly spin towards the inside barrier, and even if you do manage to save it and get it back on the paved stuff, the car seems to need a slight pause before it can sort itself out and start putting down power; force the issue by administering power in this state and the rear end just goes anywhere but straight.

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In spite of my misadventures pushing the C8 though, I have absolutely zero doubt whatsoever that the shift to rear mid engine is a much needed, highly beneficial one. I can say this with absolute certainty because I brought the C7 Stingray to the track against the C8, and, aside from the C7 being a slightly^ lighter car, there is nearly nothing on it I prefer to the C8.

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Not that the C7 is an incapable lunk in its own right; it's just that, when pit against the C8, the C7 feels... an incapable lunk. I cannot overstate how big a cheat being rear mid engine is on a racetrack; the C7 in direct comparison feels more lethargic in finding and biting apexes, and it has a harder time putting down less power. I even brought the C7 to Mount Panorama, the only track in the world I think that flips the script and gives the advantage to FR cars by being deeply upsetting to RMRs, and what I found there was that, the C7, despite being FR with less power, was no easier to drive than the more powerful RMR C8. The C8 was just a lot more stable, a lot better sorted, and of course, with the extra 41HP going through the 8 Speed Chevrolet Doppelkupplung gearbox, completely destrolished the C7 in a very unsportsmanlike and unfamilial showing. The only slight thing I preferred on the C7 is that, because most of its mass is concentrated up front, the driver is always made cognizant of the understeer in the car, which builds up a lot more gradually and predictably, as opposed to the C8 being great at 9.9 tenths and then immediately going limp at 10.1 tenths.

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I also brought a 981 Cayman GT4 to race the C8 Stingray at Deep Forest. I'll save you the read on what has already been an incredibly long piece: there was nothing I could do in my top trim, much more expensive Porsche to fend off the much more powerful, lightened^ "base model" Corvettes. But I found myself being indifferent when winning in the C8, while smiling ear to ear losing in a Cayman. And that to me justifies almost any price hike Stuttgart can extort from me.

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It's just such a shame that modern mid engine supercars have to protect their drivers from spins and manufacturers from lawsuits like this. I had hoped that, if anyone were to break this trend, it'd be balls to the wall, fearless America. Instead, it seems like it's the Germans of all people that's showing the world how to have fun. It's an American performance car, isn't it? It's America's premier sports car, right? Isn't half the fun of them is to be panicking? Aren't other people are supposed to see me in one and get sucked in by the gravitational pull of my titanium balls? But there's nothing to be afraid of in the C8 Stingray aside from falling asleep behind the wheel and braking too late because of it. That is to say, America's premier sports car isn't 'MURICA enough, and even someone living on the other side of the globe can see and feel that. It feels to me like GM is finally trying to make something for general consumption people over the world can get into, and it's a lovely, lovely car when driven on its own. I just don't like it when I have to push it hard to find those extra tenths of a second on a racetrack bone stock. It's a very, very exacting use case scenario, yes. One that most people will never experience. And to that vast majority, the C8 ought to be a fantastic car.

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But for me personally, I'm a bit of an 95/5 rule kind of guy: 95% of my appreciation for a sports car lie in how it behaves in that last 5% of its handling envelope, because that's where the purpose of a sports car lie, and where most of the work has to go to. If driven on its own, the Cayman feels like a soulless, boring car devoid of personality. I daresay one doesn't "get" the car if they don't push themselves in it; it's like a tour guide of the unknown, scary, and exciting. It felt more natural and consistent. I could play with it. It would play with me. It pushes me to become a better, faster driver. It duly threatens me when I do something stupid, and deservedly bites me back if I take things too far. It lets me make mistakes. It doesn't ever give me BS about dry weights. You don't ever need a stopwatch in the car; if you set a blazing lap in it, you'll know it in your head and heart. THAT, is what I'm looking for from a rear mid–engined, rear drive sports car. The fact that I wouldn't be embarrassed to be seen in one is also a very, very big plus.

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Overall, I deeply respect the balls of GM to have made the switch to a mid–engine platform. It was a move they didn't have to make; Corvettes will sell regardless, GM could've just rested on their laurels. But yet, they did it, knowing it will turn off many people. They haven't gotten many things right in their first try, in my estimation, some of it easier to fix than others, but hey, no one gets it perfect on their first try, right? As I said, being rear mid–engined is such a cheat on the track. I just wish they loosened the leash on the car a bit for future editions of the car, give it a bit of personality, let it scare drivers a bit, be more of a plaything. With the C8 possibly being the last internal combustion Corvette, it'd be such a shame to close that chapter with such a wet fart of a car.

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^I found out post race while writing that Chevy gave us specially lightened versions of the C8 Stingray for racing and review. We were given cars that weighed in at 1,530kg (3,373lbs), which is the dry weight of the car. Kerb, we're looking at something more like 1,654kg (3,647lbs). All driving impressions were done with the lightened cars. Yes, Chevy has gone full Italian supercar on me, and yes, I take offence to that. What next? Are they going to tell me I can't get ahold of this bargain world beater without a 20% dealer markup? Is that 494HP merely the gross power of the LT2? Hey, I weigh 30 kilos without all my bodily fluids! I'm sure that's useful and interesting information to someone out there, right?

Why the hell do manufacturers keep doing this nonsense? They do realise it makes them look like vain schoolchildren, right? And the cars still didn't impress in spite of it all.

********************​

"Es... Esther?"

"Sarah..."

"I'm sorry! I didn't... I wasn't..."

"It's okay. You've apologised enough. I called to say... I'm sorry too. For all the awful, awful things I said to you the other day. I feel I owe you an explanation."

"You don't have to, Es. I know I did something incredibly stupid, and it's obvious Square is someone hugely important to you, and I almost..."

"It's... um... obvious?"

"Yeah? I think so. It looks normal enough on the outside, but anyone who knows you knows you don't put up with that nonsense and incompetence from just anybody."

"H-hey, don't get the wrong idea about us! He just... He.. helps me feel the closest I've ever been to understanding my brother, is all..."

"You have a brother?!"

"I hope and pray with all my heart that I still do. He's... been in a coma for years. From a crash."

"Oh my god!"

"When I heard about the accident... I felt like I had lost my brother all over again. I-I...!"

"It's okay to cry, Es. You must've been holding it in for so long, right? I can tell."

"I've always wondered... what would possess a man to do these stupid things. It's why I... took this hic this job."

"I'm so sorry. I never knew..."

"I feel like I'm so stuck in the past, I can't see what's ahead of me at all. Sometimes I stop and wonder if I too, am in a coma."

"I... I can't even imagine..."

"I've spent my whole life supporting my brother and his expensive hobby. I've never had any direction or talent my whole life. Without him, I've been so lost for so long, it feels like darkness is all there is left to find in the world."

"It isn't like that, Es. I'm sure—"

"I hate you sometimes, Rahrah! I hate how jovial you can be. I envy your optimism. It disgusts me how everyone loves you. I begrudge the fact that you have hopes and dreams. I hate myself for not being able to be more like you. I'm the worst person alive you could call a friend!"

"It's not... that easy, Es. I wish I could be as honest as you too, all the time."

"But then when I saw Lee win that race in your Copen... I genuinely felt happy for you. It was such a painful, nostalgic rush. And I hate that all the happiness I can feel is for others, but never for myself."

"You're doing great, Es. We all love you for who you are and what you do, regardless of what happened in your past we can't see, or how it's been affecting you. It doesn't change the fact that we met after all that had happened to you, and I'm willing to call you my best friend in the world, and will be no matter what happens."

"Even after I said all that? How could you be so... you?"

"It's... not really the real me that you hate. But you're still my bestest best friend. Maybe we'll get to know each other again over some affogato like last time."

"Mm! Just... don't... leave me alone like that again, please. I don't know what I'd do if you or Lee..."

"I won't! I promise!"

"Take good care of him for me, please. He's... a deeply damaged soul, too."

"Heehee, now I know why you always felt like a big sis."

"S-stop it! You're embarrassing me!"

"How do they say it in Japan? Esu–nee chan?"

"Don't you DARE call me that in front of Lee—or anyone else—or I swear!"

********************​

"You know, I never thought the day would come where I would have my own car."

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Esther walks up slowly to the reborn alien almost as though in a dream, making sure to take it all in with excruciating detail in case she ever wakes. She runs her fingers through the right profile of the car as she walks around it. It's surreal to see Esther so interested in a car for the first time. She usually just throws me the keys and then disappears back into the office.

"Remember, it's only half yours", I jokingly quip.

"Still half a car more than I thought I'd ever have, and that other half is only yours on paper because they needed someone with a driving licence. And... I do need it in your garage. I plan to pay you back fully for your investment in this partnership when the time comes. I trust I won't have to draw up a contract to bind you to that."

"Wanna tell me why you're doing this?"

"I don't want that incident to scar Sarah. Park this here, let her aspire to it. I know she'll want this back one day. Give her the spare keys only when you feel she's worked her way up sufficiently to a car of its performance, understand?"

"What are you, her mom?"

"And you, holding onto the car with half the lease? Her dad?"

Ooh. The turnabout. Damn, my burns are good.

"Amazing how you can say that about Sarah without having seen her that night. She's willing to do anything to herself and question everything to win. Whether she realises it or not, she has a real racing driver's mentality. She just needs to pace herself a bit more."

"Do racing drivers... crash? A lot? Would that be like an editor making lots of grammar errors and spelling mistakes?"

"Not at all. All the fastest drivers have had to walk away from prolific crashes. It's not in the JD for the job, but it's almost a requirement. I guess it'd be like the printer jamming for you. Not your JD to get it unstuck, but you'll have to learn to do it one day. Let's just be glad Sarah walked away from her first crash relatively unscathed, off camera. She'll only get better from here."

"What if... that printer has been stuck for a very, very long time? And no one can get it unstuck?"

"Then... get a new printer?" The hell kinda question was that?

She stands there head down and hands clasped together at her waist, not saying anything for a good while. But just as I was about to leave, she speaks up again: "Seeing as this is our car and all, can you pick me up in this next time I have to visit?"

"Haaaah? Why don't you just get Jack o' Intern to ferry you? He'll probably learn more in a car ride with you than his whole tenure in the office."

"Hey, don't make me get my legal team to chop this car into half to ship into my custody... preferably without plasma cutters... oh god." She takes a brief pause to bury her face in her palms, slicking back her untied hair when coming up for air. With her eyes closed and head in the clouds still, she murmurs: "I'm... actually really terrified of being in a motor vehicle... driven by strangers." She lowers her head back down to level and opens an earnest set of eyes, almost tearful, to look at me as she continues: "Please. Could you please ferry me next time? In our car?"

Esther, expressing emotion? Wow. It must be serious. "Urgh, I GUESS I'll have to set aside some prime real estate for a 6.2L mid engine carbon body supercar so that some pretty editor without a driving licence can boss me around!"

Esther half pushes, half punches me in the forearm in response.

"OOOOUUUUCH! Oh! That broke something! I'm going to need to be hospitalised for another week!"

Esther pulls the arm she punched into her gentle, almost unsure embrace, resting her forehead where she hit me, using my arm almost like a rolled–up towel.

"Esther?"

She hangs onto me quietly for a while, only to quickly let go and scurry to the passenger side door of the C8 Corvette, all without letting me see her face. Pausing to collect herself before she opens the door, she folds herself away into the co*ckpit with a systematic display of prim usually reserved for origami, shutting the door with a dignified, yet satisfying thump.

Car of the Week | Week 65: Kaz–Approved (Porsche 911 GT3 (996) '01) (2024)
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