This 996 Porsche 911 GT3 RS Is A Different Definition Of ‘Family Car’
Photography by Andrea Casano
Touring the greatest circuits in Europe in a classic racing car is about as dreamy as life can get, but even among the fortunate few that get to participate in such activities there is room for even more happiness. Take for instance Christian and Nick Traber, the father and son team that I recently caught up with at Monza.
Nick is one of the youngest and quickest competitors in the Peter Auto historic racing series, but he’s more than happy to share driving duties with his dear old dad. Christian has been involved in historic motorsport and road rallies for decades at this point, but there’s no jadedness to be found in his character. This duo take their racing very seriously—they are not the type to do fast “parade laps” at three-quarter speed—but it’s easy to see how much pure fun they have in the process.
I first met the pair last year, but at the most recent Monza Historic I was able to spend some quality time with them and their team as they competed with their extra crisp race-prepared Porsche GT3 RS (and on the subject of this car’s “classic” status, let’s just call it a modern classic and move on).
I observe the two in complete coordination, sharp little nods of the head indicating the pace of their rapid fire conversation as they share their impressions of the care and pore over the setup and telemetry notes together in the shadows of the pit box. The Trabers don’t mess around when it comes to getting down on a race track, but their mood is not limited to the dour seriousness of spring rates and braking points. After their class is finished for the day, they are almost immediately watching the other racers and discussing their cars ad infinitum—true enthusiasts for which “cars” is not a singular topic.
Indeed, they are not the first in their family to have such an attitude, as Christian’s father (Nick’s grandfather) was an avid classic road rally enthusiast as well, as Nick tells me, “It all started with my grandpa collecting cars in the 1970s and ’80s. He also participated in many organized oldtimer rallies like the Munich-Paris, or the more famous one of course, the Mille Miglia. When my father was my age, he started to accompany him in these classic car events. I think he’s done the Mille Miglia seven times now, but my grandpa has probably done more than him still. I don’t think it’s possible to get tired of it, so perhaps he will beat his dad’s participation record yet!”
As Nick is talking his eyes are bouncing between mine and the clock on the wall behind me, counting down the minutes before his first qualifying session in the GT3. I leave him to it, and get myself setup for some shots of the car pulling into pit lane as he makes some last-minute reviews before climbing into the cockpit. The car’s been warmed in advance, but even without the typical drama of a cold-start the flat-six is still a righteous chorus of internal combustion goodness. In other words, it’s loud in all the ways a race car should be.
As soon as Nick’s out on track I head over to the first hairpin after the long straight to capture the car in its element, trying my best to ignore the lonely eeriness of the empty bleachers. Before I get to my destination the car has lapped back into the pits for a tire change, and with a speed that one would probably not associate with vintage racing, the mechanics have the Porsche wearing new shoes in a matter of what must have been a few seconds. It’s back to business in no time, and somehow the next 30 minutes of the session is over even sooner. By the end of it Nick managed set a very fine qualifying time, but for the race the following day he will hand the steering wheel to Christian.
I leave the Trabers to talk amongst themselves about the car and the track and the weather forecast, content to move around the car like a bumblebee in a flowerbed. The late is lending its drama to the scene, but I think this car probably doesn’t need any help in that department. It’s funny, when these cars were new and filling GT and Cup categories the world over, people didn’t pay them that much attention. But today it stands as a wonderful relic (though not a particularly old relic, granted) to the early 2000s racing world.
The 996 had an undeserved reputation as an ugly duckling in the 911 lineage, but I think there is a grace to even the base street model’s curves that is aging better than even its naysayers would have guessed two decades ago. This example, a factory-built race car (rather than a converted street car), highlights those curves with the extended wide body, while also introducing a certain meanness from the purposeful front end, as well as its tower of a rear wing.
After Nick and Christian are finished with their data download I ask them how this car came into the collection. Nick started by mentioning that the GT3 was delivered directly from Porsche in this spec, “but it had a different livery back then. Once my father tried the car on track he fell in love with it, and as you can probably guess, I have also fallen for this car. It retains a taste of driving from a different era, an older one. It’s certainly not the oldest car here [at the Monza Historic], but it still has a purity to it that links it to these cars at least as much as it does to the ones that have come after it. It raced a few times in Germany as well as at the 24 Hours of Zolder in Belgium, but overall it has not had a huge racing history in period. Perhaps it will actually race more in its second life.
“It is a beautiful drive. Though it does not help with lap times compared to something new, I love that it has a manual gearbox. Like in road cars, it is just more engaging and rewarding to do the shifting with three pedals and a gearstick. It has just a few electronic controls, so when you drive well, or not, it feels like has come from your own abilities.”
On race day, Christian puts in a great performance and puts the car on the podium in its class, with a number of overtakes and hot laps along the way. Back in the pits there are smiles that can be seen despite the masks—the eyes are windows, after all. We take advantage of the remaining golden daylight to do a few more shots before everything is packed up for the next adventure, and as I sink into the driver’s bucket for some detail shots I take a moment to put the camera down and grab the wheel. It’s a moment that every car-obsessed kid never tires of, reaching out to physically and mentally connect with the machine. I am sure that Nick and his father know exactly what I’m talking about. When it comes to cars and motorsport, we are all just kids in various stages of growing up. We get smarter, we get faster, we get poorer, or we get fatter, but that emotional jolt of wrapping our hands around suede or wood or leather is forever energizing.
I’d like to thank the Trabers for including me in their race weekend, and I hope this story lets some of my happiness become some of yours. We can’t all share a racing car with our loved ones, but that’s not the point. The point is to share what we love with who we love. This is just one example of that from many.