Lapping le Circuit de Spa Francorchamps


Have you ever wondered what it would be like to lap one of the great European racing circuits at speed? That opportunity came up recently as part of an auto-themed tour organized by a good friend so I jumped at it. The famed Belgian road course Spa Francorchamps is 150 km from Düsseldorf, Germany and the route there includes long stretches of unrestricted autobahn. The plan was to do “Hot Taxi Laps” as part of a Premium Track Day put on by the organization, RSR Spa. My driver, Gabriele Piana, turned out to be RSR Spa’s Chief Instructor and a real hot shoe, as you will soon find out.

“My name is Gabriele,” said the young, genial Italian as he reached over to shake my hand from the driver’s seat of the 2015 Cayman GTS with which we would be lapping the legendary Circuit de Spa Francorchamps. “What’s yours?”

I introduce myself and as we idle down the paddock Gabriele says, “This car doesn’t have much power, but we do our best.” There had been a last-minute switch from a track-spec Lotus Roadster called the 2-Eleven to this PDK-equipped Cayman GTS when the Lotus refused to start. “Well, it’s a Porsche,” I offer.

“They will want to see your wrist band, yes?” Gabriele reminds me as we approach Pit Out. We get the thumbs up and, as he turns hard right out of the paddock says, “Let’s look at the bright side, this car is much more comfortable.” Then he punches it and we head down the hill towards Eau Rouge carving over the red and yellow rumble strips that border the corner apexes.

Carving through Eau Rouge at speed.

Gabriele is quickly up to speed, passing between an Ultima GTR sports racer and a production Renault Mégane that may not be being driven by the equal of this RSR Spa instructor and racer who, by now, is flat-out flying.

Les Combes looms ahead and at the last moment I’m thrown forward against the shoulder belt as the brakes are brutally applied, then I’m whipped back and forth like a rag doll—left, right, left. “Okay?” says Gabriele—turning slightly in my direction. “Good, good!” I reply with a grin.

Full throttle and headed downhill, Gabriele dabs the brakes hard then carves around the 180-degree, right-hand Bruxelles corner before flatfooting it towards Turn 11. He brakes hard, turns left, and grabs a late apex onto the short straight towards Pouhon—a fast double-apex left-hander. Picking up speed as he unwinds out of the corner, he accelerates all the way to Turn 13 where he hits the brakes, makes a right, accelerates out of the corner, and feathers it just a bit through the left-hand Turn 14 know as Campus.

It’s full bore down the short straight to Stavelot, where Gabriele brakes hard, hits a late apex, then accelerates through the follow-up, Turn 16, that unwinds onto a long fast section with two gentle left turns. He uses all of the road to maintain speed—rumbling over the border at the outside of Turn 18 and reaching top gear and maximum speed as we approach the Chicane. Hand-of-God brakes snap us back from warp speed as Gabriele downshifts—zing, zing, zing. I brace myself with the door handle as he throws the Porsche over the apex curbing of the Z-shaped Chicane before hammering the throttle. We cross start finish, he brakes heavily for the sharp hairpin, La Source, and we begin another lap.

Crossing the Start/Finish line at Spa Francorchamps.

As we accelerate towards Eau Rouge Gabriele comments, “The car is really good but we have not much tires.” It’s clear that the car’s Pirellis P Zeros aren’t optimal for the track. It’s also clear that this stock Cayman GTS, driven at the limit lap after lap, can take whatever is thrown at it. Well, it’s a Porsche.

Gabriele Piana Update

An active racer, Gabriele Piana has three pole positions, four fastest laps, and five wins so far in 2016—including Porsche Super Sports Cup wins at the Hockenheimring and the Red Bull Ring driving a Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport.

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