Born in Algeria in 1961, the son of French parents, Raphanel moved to France after Algeria's War of Independence ended. Brought up in the south of the country, Raphanel made a relatively late start to his motor racing career, becoming French national karting champion in 1981, before being discovered and taken on by Marlboro in 1982. He competed in Formula Renault in 1983 and in 1984 he moved up to French F3, finishing 3rd overall in his ORECA Martini Mk 42 Alfa Romeo. The next year, in the new Martini Mk 45, he went two better and won French F3 Championship taking 4 wins on the way, though Yannick Dalmas, his team mate, came back strongly at the end of the year. He made a further impression by winning the prestigious Monaco F3 race.
He moved up to Formula 3000 with the ORECA F3000 team for 1986 and Raphanel ended the season looking a good bet for honours in 1987.
In 1987 Raphanel moved to Onyx. He did better but his results were not good enough to secure him an F1 drive and he had look on as his old team mate Dalmas overtook him. The only bright spot was third place at the Le Mans 24 Hours.
In 1988 he went back to ORECA but once again his ability was not reflected in the results. At the end of the year, however, Dalmas fell ill with Legionnaire's Disease and Raphanel was called in to F1 by Gerard Larrousse for the Australian GP. He failed to qualify because of a gearbox problem.
Signing to race for Coloni in 1989, he found himself among the early-risers attempting to pre-qualify, and did extremely well to get on the grid at Monaco, where he qualified 18th and ran 15th before going out with a mechanical failure. A mid-season move to Rial merely meant that he could turn up a little later for practice, but he was still to find his Sundays free.
In 1990 went to Japan to drive sports cars in Japanese Group C and touring cars. He also figured in Toyota's Le Mans challenge, finishing second in 1992 (with Sekiya and Acheson). Raphanel has since enjoyed a successful career in sports cars, and after racing a Courage-Porsche at the Sarthe circuit with Pascal Fabre in 1994, he switched to GT racing with the Team Davidoff McLaren F1 GTR between 1995 and 1997, finishing second at Le Mans that year.
He continued to race in Japan and America until his retirement in 2001. In recent years he has run an estate agency in Montpellier with his former manager Patrick Carlotti.