Turn one at Knockhill Racing Circuit just under an hour outside Edinburgh is tight, blind, and comes right on the back of a crest on the start/finish straight. And the 2019 Porsche Cayman GT4 I'm driving is dancing as I lean heavily on the brakes in preparation for the apex.
The critical elements that combine to give birth to a truly great track car are all so finely tuned within the Cayman’s aggressive exterior, you wonder whether the engineers who executed the GT4 are in fact mere mortals.
It’s easy to wax lyrical about any new, track-focused Porsche, but then it’s far more difficult to deliver the kind of chassis, drivetrain and suspension package that leads to such adulation.
This new 718 Cayman GT4 is faster, more planted and makes more power than the previous model. In fact, it’s four seconds a lap faster around the Nurburgring than the Carrera GT was in 2005. Those thoughts are in the back of my mind as I delve as far into its reserves as I dare on what is a short, challenging, roller coaster of a track.
The question is then, is this the best pure sports car Porsche currently offers?
I complete my first 10-lap session, split at the half way point by a quick chat with the factory test driver I’m following who is behind the wheel of a wailing GT3 RS. I wouldn’t be catching him even in equal machinery, let alone when he’s driving something as potent as a GT3 RS.
Regardless, he’s complimentary of my lines and learning of the track and keen to push harder once we select the sport damper setting, to get a better feel for what the GT4 is actually capable of.
The kicker comes an hour or so later, before my second track session, when I go out for a quick impromptu run with Mark Webber at the wheel of a GT4. He claims he’s no better off than me, having never driven the GT4 before, but I’d wager his - let’s call it extensive - motor racing pedigree demotes me to Muppet status.
I’ve never experienced hot laps with an F1 driver, and in fact, I tend to avoid hot laps most of the time. However, this is Mark Webber. One of only four Australians to win a Formula One grand prix, a multiple podium finisher, and now Porsche factory test driver.
I won’t say no to his ‘wanna go for a quick run?’ offer.
Fans of the sport often joke that F1 drivers - like WRC drivers and MotoGP madmen - are cut from a very different cloth to even the best racing drivers from other categories.
I’m now convinced that’s true - the reactions, the inputs, the otherworldly read of the track surface, braking points, apexes and when you need to be back on the throttle, is all you need to remind you that the GT4’s limits are well beyond those of the average driver.
Savage is the wrong word, because Mark’s inputs are subtle and smooth, but the GT4 is savagely fast in his hands. It changes direction with the precision of a scalpel, the balance sublime, the brakes unrelenting and the power of the naturally aspirated engine finding a second wind beyond 4000rpm as the flat six reaches its crescendo.
Doesn’t sound as good as the old one? Wrong. With the exhaust open, at full wail, it makes all the right noises for mine.
Let’s take a quick look at the numbers that make for this compelling narrative then. You can read our pricing and specification guide for the breakdown, but a quick reminder here: the 2019 Porsche Cayman GT4 starts from $218,800 before on-road costs.
While 200 grand isn’t chicken feed by any means, believe me when I say that you won’t believe what it’s capable of for the outlay.
The 4.0-litre, naturally aspirated, flat-six engine is a masterpiece, generating 309kW at 7600rpm and 420Nm between 5000-6800rpm, with an 8000rpm redline. The dash from 0-100km/h comes up in 4.4 seconds, 0-200km/h takes just 13.8 seconds, and top speed is 304km/h.
There’s a six-speed manual only, and the official combined fuel figure is 10.9L/100km. Not that we’re paying any attention to fuel use when we’re flat out on a racetrack. Still, the GT4 retains its day-to-day usefulness - as every Porsche does.
When I referenced the price above, think about that Carrera GT reference. For just over $200,000, you can buy a car that will lap the Nurburgring quicker than a full-house, top of the tree, supercar did just 14 short years ago. It’s completely and utterly crazy.
Back to the racetrack…
Heading out onto the track, I set the exhaust to open (because, noise), the auto blip to on (because, one less thing to think about), and the adaptive dampers to their soft road setting. The test drivers have suggested we get a feel for the chassis and the circuit first, before we switch over to the firmer damper setting.
The day before, we had sampled the Spyder on open roads, and the same tied down, competence of the GT4’s chassis is immediately obvious, even on the warm-up lap. While the fluency between engine and gearbox is as good as it gets, the steering, braking, balance and response is sensational.
Porsche gets more than enough credit for its power steering systems, and for good reason. The sharpness of the response is as if you’re directly connected to the front tyres, meaty 245/35/ZR20 Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2s.
Second, third and fourth are the sweet spots around Knockhill, and the gear change is so fluid, it’s easy to internalise the idea that more straights would provide more opportunity to slice through the six ratios. Still, I’m having a ball mastering the shift from second through to third, then fourth over the start/finish crest.
The auto blip is brilliant out here, as I wrote above, one less thing to think about, and it’s faster than you or I would be anyway. It keeps the engine on song beautifully, and you never feel anything like a flat spot in the power delivery once you get those revs into the sweet spot.
The GT4 is 30mm lower than a standard Cayman, and specific software has been developed to control the clever adaptive damper system - standard for the GT4 - so selecting the sport setting is the order of the day for our second track session.
Response is ratcheted up a notch and is even sharper again, and while it's undoubtedly firmer, it is never unsettled on track. I’d be hard pressed to pick a suspension preference to be honest - I loved both.
Softer allows you to feel the way you’re setting the car up a little more, settling it under brakes, balancing the rear on the throttle, using the lean to set the GT4 up for corners. However, the firmer setting is more purposeful, faster, more predatory on track - choose your poison I guess.
At the end of a three-hour session where the GT4s have been driven hard and without the use of kid gloves, there’s not a thought of brake fade, or mechanical exhaustion. They simply get trundled off to the far end of the pits for a bath, tyre pressure check, and that’s it - ready for the next session.
What’s important to reconcile is the way Porsche has once again executed such a competent track car. The cars we drove all had fixed buckets, cages and fire extinguishers - part of the optional track package. Aside from those race focused goodies, it’s as you’d expect from Porsche.
The quality of the cabin, the stitching, the fit, finish and general design, is all at the outer edges of luxury. Everything works faultlessly, even the wireless smartphone charging pad. I wonder how many track cars have one of them?
You’ll get sore ears from 911 fan boys and girls screaming at you if you ever tried to claim a Cayman was a ‘better’ car than a 911, and I get that. I used to be at the head of the queue claiming I could only ever buy a 911 if the budget allowed - in that it's the only ‘real’ Porsche.
But, and it’s a big but, as far as ‘pure’ sports cars go, the Cayman GT4 - unfettered by the technological burden and devoid of an engine behind the rear axle - might in fact be the best that Porsche has to offer.