The Sunday supplement: keeping track

2y ago


You could argue that the 718 wears the GTS moniker more easily than any other modern Porsche. After all, it shares the concept of a clever, mid-mounted four-pot Boxer not just with the 718 RSK from which it takes its name, but also the beautiful and dominant 904 Carrera GTS from 1963, the first car to sport those hallowed letters.

Today the ‘GTS’ badge has come to symbolise a sporting pedigree and driver focus that, although thoroughly modern in execution, is traceable still to those distant days of four-cam flat-fours and fibreglass. This, therefore, is a car with both a lot to live up to and lot to prove. Which is why Porsche decided to prove it properly by renting a race track.

Ascari, in southern Spain, is a purpose-built private racing facility. The sort of place you could scarcely dream of when asked to concoct an ideal last day on earth. Nestled in the mountainous Andalusian countryside, it is a remote and exclusive petrolhead’s paradise, with high-tech facilities, five-star catering and even a pool. None of which seems to matter as soon as you roll up track side.

The circuit itself is almost 3.5 miles in length, two thirds of which is made up of straights. There are 26 corners, 13 going left and 13 going right, multiple ascents, heart-stopping drops, tricky cambers, old school banking. It’s a little bit of everything, made all the more special by the slightly alien absence of advertising hoardings, grandstands and track furniture. There is a purity to Ascari that makes it a willing subject to the job in hand: driving fast.

Today is launch day, and film crews and journalists from all over the world have descended on this small patch of asphalt northwest of Malaga. Happily for us, the tribe has been invited too, arriving just in time to bag the only remaining manual GTS in the pit lane.

This fixed-head Cayman – the driver’s choice you might say – is what’s been rolled out for track duties, picking up where the acclaimed 2014 version left off, short a couple of cylinders yet up on power, torque (in PDK guise) and performance.

Resplendent in Racing Yellow, offset by satin black 20-inch wheels and trademark black GTS trim around the headlight modules, rear apron and exhaust, this is as perfect a spec as if we’d configured it ourselves.

The circuit has been divided into three, allowing multiple cars to enjoy the freedom and security of closed loops. A 718 Cayman GTS gleaming in the high Spanish sun, your very own race track, 90 minutes on the clock. There have been worse days on the job.

Our GTS barks eagerly into life, settling quickly to that now familiar flat formation hum. Inside, its Alcantara-trimmed cockpit is cool, dark and uncompromising. Sports seats hold you firmly in that peerless driving position, hunkered down with optimal visibility and the essentials in easy reach. Punch on the Sports exhaust system, select Sport in the PASM. Three pedals today and engaging first is a satisfying flick of the wrist as the clutch comes in and we surge up the empty pit straight.

Ascari is fast, challenging and unfamiliar, with tentative early laps benefitting from the extra 60NM of torque available in the manual from as little as 1,900rpm. This 718 pulls so eagerly from low down, even in third, that a missed gear is more than made up for by a firmer right foot.

The GTS is a seductive package, following the format of its 911 big brother by equipping an ‘S’ with almost all the sporting options you can think of, including Sport Chrono, PASM and Torque Vectoring. Amidships, an angrier turbo with improved breathing brings peak power up to 360bhp (combined fuel consumption: 9.0-8.2 l/100 km (31.4-34.4 mpg; CO2e 205-186 g/km), 35bhp more than the previous six-cylinder GTS, with peak torque up to 430NM via PDK.

As car and circuit begin to reveal themselves, the animalistic qualities of the GTS are laid bare. There’s an angry growl from the sports exhaust under even half throttle, and an addictive pop and burble on the overrun. At full chat a roar that belies the car’s small capacity engine fills the cabin. And the GTS covers ground with a vehemence and drama that gives even an empty straight a whiff of the intimidating.

The standard 330mm four-piston brakes are more than enough for the modest 1375kg kerb weight of the GTS, but our car is equipped with the optional PCCB ceramics. Their fade-free ability to scrub off speed on entry is as remarkable as the way it reappears at the exit.

Thrown hard into an off-camber corner, the levels of grip and balance are otherworldly, the faintest slip allowed by the unobtrusive PSM Sport. Pick up on the next straight is so punchy and immediate that, a distant whistle notwithstanding, you’d forget there was a turbo back there at all.

The ride is remarkable too. Even in its stiffest sport setting, running on 20-inch rims, the 718 GTS takes a huge amount of kerb without the slightest complaint, absorbing everything with eerie ease, composed and ready for the next corner while you’re still reliving the last.

Power, noise, grip, stop: it all adds up to the perfect package for this sort of slightly bonkers driving experience, and handing back the keys to the small and trusting team of Porsche personnel who stood placidly all day in the busy pit lane, that 90 minutes felt more like five.

But there is a twist in the tail to this bucket list driving day. Transport for the winding and mountainous two-hour drive to the hotel is waiting in the car park. A 718 Boxster GTS, roof down, engine warmed through. More of that to come.

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