Being a Porsche enthusiast has gotten a lot more interesting since the Cayman was introduced in 2006 and the PDK transmission became an option in 2009, as debates over rear-engine vs. mid-engine and manual versus dual-clutch have led to animated discussions at gatherings of the Porsche faithful. Though one can make good arguments for either side of these debates, even the most dedicated 911 purists have to admit the mid-engine layout is more ideal in a sports car, and there’s no denying that a dual-clutch transmission will shift faster than any of us ever would with a manual. With the advantage the 911 still has in outright horsepower, it makes sense that an ideal Porsche track or club racing car would combine the best components of the 911 with the Cayman’s mid-engine layout and that it would be fastest with a PDK transmission.
DeMan Motorsport has been turning both 911s and Caymans into potent track weapons for years, including the 911s that won the Grand Sport class team and driver’s championships in the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge series in 2012. Shop owner Rick DeMan, a racer himself, understood the benefit of installing 911 components into the Cayman chassis and has become a specialist at building them at his shop in Blauvelt, New York. To show just how good these crossbred Porsches are, DeMan brought a pair of them, one with PDK and one with a manual, to Monticello Motor Club for a day of driving along with championship-winning pro driver Nick Longhi. Longhi was there not only to show how truly capable these cars are, but also to see how much faster a pro can lap with a PDK-equipped Porsche than one with a manual.
DeMan’s pair of Cayman track cars are both built from street cars that came off the showroom floor, with the white car based on a 2009 Cayman S with a PDK transmission and the black car starting life as a 2012 Cayman R with a manual (both Type 987 cars after the first generation midlife facelift).
DeMan likes the Cayman S model as a starting point for building a track car, especially those that involve engine swaps. “The Cayman S is a great donor car to build a race car, because the chassis, drive-train and transmission were all the same from 2009 to 2012,” says DeMan. “The Cayman R comes with some lightweight components and a little extra power and is a great car to start with if you want to just add proper safety equipment and some race prep, but in the engine swap projects we take out most of that stuff anyway, including the 3.4-liter engine.”
Complete disassembly is the first step in turning these road cars into track cars, followed by the welding in of a safety cage with eight points of contact and installation of all the safety components, along with custom-trimmed door panels and center console pieces. It’s then that the serious performance work begins and the lines start to blur between Cayman and 911.
The platform and electronics on these cars is pure Cayman, but most of the go-fast parts come from the 911. At the heart of both is the 3.8-liter engine from the 997 Carrera S, which makes around 387 hp in stock form but with additional tuning from DeMan puts out 403 hp. Getting the 911 engine into the Cayman is basically an easy fit, though DeMan says it requires some minor fabrication to switch some components over from the Cayman engine, mainly the intake manifold and the oil filter and cooler. Both cars also use a suspension based on the setup from the 997 GT3 Cup with Moton dampers, which requires custom fabrication at the rear for fitment, and brakes are from the 997 GT3 with custom ABS calibration. The manual transmission Cayman gets a lightweight flywheel and race clutch, while the PDK car gets additional cooling to keep transmission temperatures down. Spent gases are sent through stainless long-tube headers and a race exhaust.
This pair of Caymans may be nearly identical mechanically except for their transmissions, but there are some major differences in their bodywork. The black car sticks with its stock Cayman R body, but the white car is fitted with the carbon-fiber nose, fenders and doors from the 997 GT3 Cup, which reduces weight by around 100 lb and improves cooling and front downforce. The GT3 Cup nose also gives this Cayman a striking appearance, as it mixes 911 and Cayman design elements and gives the car a much more aggressive appearance than the stock Cayman. You can’t really tell by looking, but the GT3 Cup body pieces require some special tweaks to get them fitted correctly.
“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.