French driver Thierry Genetier is a regular on some of the world’s most iconic race circuits, clocking up hours at the Nürburgring, Spa-Francorchamps and beyond. And, as a paraplegic, he does so behind the wheel of an adapted Porsche 911 GT3 RS. What’s more, Thierry adds a good measure of skydiving, paragliding, skiing and beyond to his cocktail of heart-pounding activities. This a man seemingly always on the move.
As a teenager, Thierry’s lust for cars was fed by avidly buying newspapers, magazines, posters and books about his favourite hobby. When he received his driver’s licence at 18, this appetite for speed was fully unleashed, allowing him to rack up plenty of racing experience. First up in a rally car at the Linas-Montlhéry track, just south of Paris, as one of 3,000 young drivers invited to try out for a select few places. Although not yet fast enough to pip the others, the excitement he felt in that car was palpable.
The next course on the menu was getting his motorbike licence at the age of 21. “I wanted to ride a bike, as I felt it was the kind of vehicle that frees your mind,” he says. However, in 2002, at the age of 29, Thierry was involved in a serious motorbike accident. It would confine him to a wheelchair, abruptly ending his adventures on two wheels.
Adapting to this new reality forced Thierry to alter his entire outlook on life. Throughout this time, it was a focus on driving again that was his constant motivation. “At first, my thoughts were consumed by the reality that I could not walk,” he says. “If I was alone, I couldn’t go anywhere. I had to depend on someone taking me in their car. So, my first goal was to get my new driving licence.” Propelled by this ambition, Thierry achieved this just 10 months after the accident. At that point he knew he was independent again – that, he says, he could do what he wanted, whenever he wanted.
Learning how to navigate the world all over again further forced Thierry to consider aspects of his life he would never have otherwise considered. “When you get an accident like this, you have two possibilities,” he says. “The first is you stay at 0%, thinking about the darkness. The other option is to use it as a force to do even more things than before. When I was walking, I had a wish list full of things I said I would do ‘one day’. But that day never comes. You come up with excuses, so it just stays on a list. My accident was a motivation. I thought, now I need to do everything on that list, and more. I wrote down everything that I could no longer do. Then, instead of writing negative things, I started to write what I had, and what I wanted to do. I learned that I actually had the opportunity to make something even more wonderful with my life.”
Falling head over wheels for Porsche
Thirsty as ever for speed, Thierry went on the hunt for a four-wheeled companion to deliver the goods, starting with driving a hand-controlled car on the road, then on the track. As it transpired, learning to drive fast paved the way to his Porsche love story.
Looking for the perfect track car, Thierry’s journey down a Porsche-shaped rabbit hole began with a 911 GT3 RS and, later, the Cayman GT4 Clubsport, helping level up his racing experience even more. Passing the competition test in front of the FIA for a handicapped licence, the doors to participating in races were now open, with Thierry competing alongside non-disabled people.
Over the years, an impressive list of four-wheeled cohorts have been part of his Porsche fleet, including a 911 Carrera 4 GTS, Panamera 4S and Macan. Now, his line-up comprises a Panamera Sport Turismo and his social media-famous 911 GT3 RS in Crayon. Joining them soon? A Cayman GT4 RS awaits in the wings.
Peering inside his crayon 911 GT3 RS reveals the adaptations made to transform the vehicle into his personal racing machine. An electronic throttle system sits behind the steering wheel, as well as the mechanical brake, which is linked by a rod to the pedal – Thierry simply pulls the ring to set off.
Shock is usually the first reaction when people see Thierry drive flat-out in a hand-controlled vehicle. “People often think, that’s crazy, it’s not possible,” he says. “When I’m driving on a track and overtake the car of a non-disabled person, people can’t believe it. There’s only ever good reactions. People are happy to learn that driving only with your hands can be this fast, and this cool.
“With Porsche you don’t buy a car, you buy a story,” says Thierry. He waxes lyrical over the cars, citing their everyday usability, combined with their signature Porsche soul, as what keeps his passion alight. “Whether you need to go down the street to buy bread, drive to a restaurant, or hit the track, you can find the DNA of Porsche inside every single car. The chassis is wonderful, the front is perfect – like a scalpel – and the sound [of it] is crazy. There are no worries in a Porsche. You don’t wonder if the car will stop today. You just turn the key and go.”
From horse power to social power
You can keep pace with Thierry’s wild life thanks to his social alias – @spynergie – on Instagram, TikTok and YouTube, where he opens the windows to his incredible journey. “My friend suggested I start social media channels. He said, ‘You’re in a wheelchair, you’re funny, you understand life, you drive beautiful cars, and you take them on the tracks – I think you should share this racing experience’,” he says. Primarily, Thierry uses his channels to educate and inspire others with how he lives his life, showing it’s possible to go anywhere and do anything as a disabled person. The response has been huge, with followers watching in droves and asking questions, from where his puts his wheelchair to how he gets in and out of the car. In response, Thierry illustrates the answers through his videos.
“When I was young, I never thought about how people in a wheelchair could drive, and how they live their life,” says Thierry. “When you’re not involved with the disabled community, you don’t think about it.” He explains that there are a lot of non-disabled and disabled people who write to him who say that he’s inspired them to tackle their own bucket lists. “I just want to show that I am enjoying my life, even although I am in a wheelchair. I want people to be conscious that they have to enjoy their life too. And if I manage to make anyone realise this, to me, I win something.”
Taking his racing experience on the road
Later this year, Thierry will head to Las Vegas for the world’s premier automotive aftermarket event, the SEMA Show. There, he’ll share his video diaries – some from the track, others from the air as he fits in some skydiving. “We’ll do crazy things that are still on my bucket list,” he promises. He also aims to start work on an upcoming project that will see him connect disabled people with track racing, teaching a group to drive adapted cars, some for the very first time.
But competitive racing will remain an important fixture in Thierry’s diary, including the Porsche Motorsports GT3 Cup in France, and a potential entry into the GT4 Cup in his new Cayman next year. “Being in competitions is my favourite thing of all,” he says. “The atmosphere is really different, and people are friends and enemies all in one.”
When Thierry talks of sharing his racing experiences, one factor is clear – it’s all about the community. “When you stare death in the eyes, your life changes. This accident gave me more power than before, and I am happier now than I ever have been, because I know the cost you can pay with your life. To be able to give some happiness to other people, that’s the goal.”