“There was some custom cutting and modification needed to get the GT3 Cup pieces to fit,” says DeMan. “The substructure on a Cayman from the front to the back of the doors is the same as the 911 with the exception of the rocker panel ends. If you look at a 911 next to a Cayman, you’ll notice the Cayman has a wider gap between the wheel and the back of the fender. When you put a 911 fender on a Cayman, it kind of sticks out, so we custom-fit them with parts that we have manufactured.” The pair of Caymans looks more similar from the rear, as both use a substantial rear wing made exclusively by DeMan Motorsport that’s the same shape as the GT3 RS wing and is adapted to fit the Cayman with a custom base and uprights. Both cars are also fitted with Forgeline race wheels wearing Hoosier racing slicks.
Driving a mid-engine track-prepared Porsche with 403 hp is exactly as you would imagine—it’s fantastic. The balance of these cars is impeccable, and having all that power on tap with the 911 engine adds a completely new realm to the Cayman driving experience. With the low polar moment of inertia from the Cayman’s mid-engine layout and loads of grip, you can carry a very high level of speed into corners and put more power down on the exit without the car ever feeling like it’s going to bite you. Both of these cars, manual or automatic, give the driver a high level of trust in their capabilities that goads you to drive it harder and faster with each lap. I was getting around Monticello’s full circuit pretty quickly for me, but riding with Rick DeMan showed how fast these cars really can be in the right hands, as we were hitting top speeds of well over 150 mph on the circuit’s longest straight and were going incredibly deep into corners before braking.
Nick Longhi won the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge driver’s championship this year along with co-driver Matt Plumb in a 911 and also drove the DeMan-built 911 that won the team championship in the series in 2012, so he’s very familiar with the shop and their work on the 911. He also finds the DeMan-built Cayman to be a very effective track car.
“In terms of the balance, setup and handling, it’s incredibly good,” he says. “It’s very fast but is also very easy to drive. You can put a novice driver into the most advanced version of this car that DeMan builds, and it’s not going to do anything nasty. On the flip side of that, you can take the basic car that they’ve built without the carbon-fiber body pieces and all that, and even the most experienced driver will never feel like he’s being held back or limited. The right parts are in the right places, and everything was done correctly on the technical side.”
The Cayman’s manual transmission is precise, but the PDK dual-clutch tranny is magic in this car, as it executes shifts with incredible speed. The benefits of PDK are especially evident for amateur drivers, as the shifts are not only faster but will be much smoother as well, which helps to keep the car better balanced.
“PDK gives you incremental gains on upshifts, but on the downshifts it gives significant gains,” says Longhi. “Braking and downshifting using heel and toe is fun, but PDK eliminates the question of completing a proper downshift on the approach to corners, so you can focus 100 percent on going faster. Amateur drivers usually lose the most time compared to pros in that phase where you roll off the brake, balance the car and roll speed through the first and middle of the corner and then pick the throttle up coming off the corner. That phase is a night and day difference with PDF versus a manual.”
Rick DeMan is also a pilot and can relate the advantages of PDK on the track to flying an airplane. “As a pilot, you have to focus on so many things, but you also have to think ahead with things like the navigation, which is called the workload of the pilot,” he says. “There’s a tremendous amount to do, and if you ever get behind on your workload, that’s when things become dangerous, so any kind of automated system in a plane puts you in a better position to do your workload. On the race track, anything that lightens the workload of the driver will make him more effective. Let’s say heel-toe downshifting takes 30 percent of a driver’s mental capacity to get right every time. If you remove that, the driver has 30 percent more mental capacity to get his line right and focus on steering and braking.”
As DeMan also points out, it’s not an uncommon occurrence for amateur drivers to miss a downshift and ruin a motor with a manual transmission, which is another thing you never have to worry about with PDK.
The benefits of PDK are greater for less experienced drivers, but as Nick Longhi showed in back-to-back laps in these Caymans, the faster shift times will make even a pro driver capable of turning quicker laps.
Longhi went out in the black manual transmission car first and after a couple of warm-up laps set a fast time of 2:28.9. Before going out in the white PDK-equipped car, weight was added to the car to equalize it with the 2,732-lb weight of the black car (the white car weighs around 100 lb less with its carbon-fiber bodywork). Once tires got up to temperature, Longhi stopped the clock with a fast lap of 2:27.4 in the PDK car, a full 1.5 sec. faster than the manual transmission Cayman. The PDK car may have had a slight advantage with seven gears versus the six in the manual car, but the gap in lap times was large enough that it was very evident the PDK was significantly faster.
Reliability of the PDK transmission has also not been a problem with the track cars DeMan has built so far. Track-day and race cars are still pretty rare to find with PDK (the 911 GT3 Cup uses a sequential dog-type gearbox), but DeMan has found that the transmission has held up very well when driven in more strenuous conditions at the track. “We’ve had great success with the PDK transmission in track cars so far,” he says. “They’re strong and still shift great after many miles of track use, and we haven’t had one failure yet.”
Our day with the DeMan Motorsport Caymans at Monticello may have proved emphatically that PDK will get you around a track faster than a manual transmission car, but the real eye-opener was how stunningly good the Cayman is with major mechanicals from the 911. Porsche has continuously improved the 911 over the decades, and it’s one of the world’s great cars, but driving a Cayman with a 911 engine makes you think this is the kind of car that Porsche should have as its flagship performance model and one that they should put some racing support behind.
DeMan’s customers are believers, as the Cayman has become the primary car that he turns into track-day cars for his clients. DeMan had three more 911-powered Caymans being built at the time of this writing and has also been able to fit the taller X51 engine from the 911 GTS into the Cayman, which makes around 450 hp. After spending a day on the track driving and riding in these cars, we’re believers, too. We can’t think of a better all-around car to go fast in.