Veteran club racer Steve Floyd didn't hold back when he showed me the lines through Chuckwalla Valley Raceway's 17 turns. There wouldn't be a warm-up lap or turn-by-turn descriptions of braking, turn-in, and track-out points, aside from one warning about a blind off-camber right-hander. Floyd had the Yokohama Neovas sliding by the second corner, making small corrections to the steering angles as the tires danced back and forth over their limits on the broiling desert asphalt.
Given the speed and the ease in which he tossed around the car we were in, you'd think Floyd knew the car inside out. The reality, though, was that was the first time he'd been on a track in the heavily fortified Cayman S with a 3.8-liter Carrera S engine he built for owner Dave Petty.
There wasn't anything particularly wrong with Petty's '09 Cayman S, nor was there anything wrong with Petty himself. But like many others before him, he couldn't help but wonder what his car would feel like with some serious power, the kind of power to scare off the 911, the kind of car even Porsche admitted it couldn't build without upending the pecking order.
So when Petty met Floyd, whom, in addition to racing his '68 911 in POC events, is also the owner of Desert Performance Motorsports in Palm Desert, California, and a Porsche technician since '71, it didn't take long for them to decide to build what they like to call a Cayman "RS."
They first considered having the stock 3.4-liter bored to make it a 4.0 liter, but Floyd didn't believe the cylinder walls were thick enough. After they nixed that idea, they began the search for a Carrera engine, eventually finding a 2011 factory re-built, Carrera S 3.8-liter with zero miles from Los Angeles Dismantlers in Sun Valley, California.
Floyd said the engine bolted right in without modifications to the engine mounts, but it wasn't as straightforward as that. The 3.8's intake plenum extends straight out and bumps up against the upper edge of the Cayman's engine bay.
To avoid cutting, Floyd and Petty contacted IPD about supplying them with a curved intake plenum. IPD, who makes higher-flowing Y-pipes and intake plenums for a long list of water-cooled engines, sent Floyd several different plenums to check for clearance.
Eventually, two different plenums were used, both of which needed to be cut, welded, and reshaped to make the throttle body clear the transmission's bell housing. The welding and powdercoating were performed by B&J Powder Coating. As you can see from the photo, the top section of the intake plenum butts up against the engine cover's seal.
Attached to the 3.8's throttle body is a Fabspeed Stage 1 cold-air intake. Floyd and Petty had the pipe wrapped in a hand-stitched, heat-shielding blanket to keep it from absorbing the heat in the engine bay. On the exhaust side, FVD Brombacher sport headers and 200 cell cats connect to a Fabspeed exhaust system. Softronics then wrote ECU code, taking into consideration all of the upgrades. Petty estimates the engine now produces 420-430 hp and 350-380 lb-ft of torque compared to the stock engine's 385 hp and 330 lb-ft. The extra power eventually ate through the stock clutch, so Floyd and Petty installed a stronger Aasco full-race flywheel/clutch with a six-button flat-drive plate. It chatters a bit on idle, which is a trade-off Petty was more than willing to live with.
It also requires extra revs to get off the line, as I found out when I pulled out of the pits. The throws in the stock Cayman S gearbox have been reduced with a B&M short-throw shifter, so grabbing the next gear required just a flick of the wrist.
If you have to learn a track and get a feel for a car at the same time, there are few better cars to do so than a 987 chassis because it communicates so well and forgives your small mistakes. While I took it relatively easy on the first lap, Petty's Cayman "RS" let me know there was plenty of grip left unexploited.
The aforementioned Yokohama Neovas measure 235/35-19 in front and 295/30-19 in back, which gives it the same width of tire in front and an extra 30 mm in back when compared to a Cayman S. They're mounted on 19x9-inch and 19x10.5-inch three-piece BBS race wheels with the forged centers painted black. The car sits a little lower on a set of Bilstein PSS9 coilovers, set at the 5 position. GT3 front control arms and tie-rod ends were supplied by Tarret Engineering, as were the rear adjustable toe links and thicker sway bars. The shock towers are tied together with an FVD Brombacher strut brace, and FVD's Clubsport rollcage lets you know the car has serious intentions. Once all the new suspension parts were in place, Floyd and Petty corner-balanced the car to optimize handling.
After the warm-up lap, I started to probe the limits with a little extra speed into the corners, a touch more throttle on the exit, and near-redline shifts on the two long straights. The engine responded to the increased demands by taking deeper breaths through the Fabspeed intake, emitting unfiltered, feral screams as it went through the rev range, tingling my spine and daring me to go faster.
Increasing speed is easy because the chassis lets you know exactly what you're doing right or wrong. Small mistakes are easily corrected with a little brake, throttle, or steering, and the chassis stays stable throughout. It feels flat through the corners, with just a smidgen of lean to let you know you're getting close to the limit. Every corner is a quest to feel that magical neutral feeling where both front and rear tires are working equally hard at hanging on.
The tires held up well even though the track temperature was easily more than 130 degrees, but they did start to feel greasy after five laps. Floyd and Petty installed an OS Giken limited-slip differential to maximize grip and it locks in immediately and helps guide the rear through the turn when asked for power.
And there is never a lack of propulsion. The 3.8 never feels restrained as it shoots the car from corner to corner and down the straights. The power curve feels progressive and linear, building continuously to redline. The car accelerates without resistance, like a speed skater with cartoonish quads powering toward the finish line, an ideal fusion of velocity and fluidity.
To rein it in from the triple digits I touched on the straights, Floyd and Petty replaced the stock brakes with front Brembo calipers and rotors from a GT3. They were so effective that I never had to ask for all they had to give, nor did they fade after many laps in high desert heat.
Shortcomings were hard to find in Floyd and Petty's "RS." It took everything without feeling sloppy or overwhelmed, beautifully tuned to handle the extra power and high-cornering loads. On the fastest of Chuckwalla's sweeping turns, there is enough grip and speed to make you question your sanity and skills.
Prior to driving Petty's Cayman, I had suggested finding a Cayman R to compare it to. Petty said it would be no contest and thought a GT3 would be a better comparison. After just a handful of laps, I realized he was spot on.
2009 Porsche Cayman S
Mid-engine, rear-drive, coupe
3.8-liter Carrera S flat-six, IPD custom intake plenum, Fabspeed Cold Air Intake, Softronics ECU tuning, FVD Bromacher sport headers, 200 cell cats, Fabspeed exhaust, Est. power 430 hp and 380 lb-ft torque
Stock six-speed manual, B&M short shifter, Aasco clutch, OS Giken limited-slip differential
GT3 Brembo front calipers and rotors, stock rear brakes
Bilstein PSS9 coilovers, GT3 front control arms and tie rods, rear adjustable toe links, track sway bars, corner balanced
Wheels & Tires
BBS, three-piece race wheels 19x9-inch front, 19x10.5-inch rear, Yokohama Neova 235/35-19-inch front, 295/30-19-inch rear
Cayman R front lip spoiler