Did Tesla Just Set an Electric Car Speed Record at the Nürburgring?

Tesla is attacking the race track. It claims to have set a lap record at the famed Laguna Seca Track in California. And it now appears to be taking on the most famous track for sports cars, Germany’s Nürburgring. There are also reports a modified Model S lapped the Nürburgring this week in 7 minutes, 23 seconds, which would be 19 seconds faster than a Porsche Taycan EV prototype got around the 12.9-mile circuit.

With the advent of the Taycan, Tesla is feeling the heat and is preparing a “Plaid Mode” performance Model S that is able to accelerate hard, brake, and run all out for extended periods. A year out from its likely launch, Tesla appears to be testing prototypes at famous racetracks. Some of the lap times Tesla is reporting are based on Tesla’s say-so, which is good enough for barroom bragging or tweets, if not enough to alter the record books.

Instead, what Tesla wants to alter is the perception that the Model S is no longer a show pony. Besides, if you have a fast car to sell, part of the marketing plan involves a trip to the ‘Ring and a YouTube video.

Tesla claimed a 1:36.6 lap time at the demanding Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey, California: 2.238 miles / 3.602 km long. At 1:04 of the video: the Corkscrew, the track’s infamous, blind, diving left-hander followed by a quick right. You don’t see the turn until you’re in it. 

What Tesla Did at Laguna Seca, Nürburgring

Last week, Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted (below) that Tesla set a record for “fastest 4-door ever” at the WeatherTech Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey, CA. The video above shows a lap just under 1 minute, 37 seconds. Apparently “fastest” is in comparison with a Jaguar XE SV Project 8 car in 2018.

But there’s much about the Laguna Seca Tesla that’s unknown: what modifications were made to the suspension, drivetrain, tires, cockpit, etcetera. Also, setting a “record” can mean different things. Most typically it means the speed runs are done with the help of a sanctioning body. That group, and not the automaker, does the timing, and they inspect the car thoroughly to see what modifications have been done. Auto racers can make Russia look like the Boy Scouts when it comes to messing with outcomes.

In some cases, there are separate records for EVs; in other cases, none have been established. The Jaguar XE SV Project 8 is a combustion engine car, which is actually good for Tesla because it shows an EV can keep up with a gasoline V8, at least for the purpose of one or two record-testing laps.

Word is bubbling out of the Nürburgring, especially from our friends at Autoblog who had a spy photographer onsite (although with a racetrack that big, it’s impossible to keep people out). Tesla has several modified Model S Plaid cars there. Plaid refers to a series of performance enhancements Tesla said would be applied to the upcoming new Tesla Roadster, the Model S sedan, and the Model X SUV.

So far this week, one Tesla has recorded a very unofficial Nürburgring 7:23 lap time, versus a recorded lap time of 7:42 by the Taycan Turbo. Things might well be different if Porsche ran the Taycan Turbo S, which is the name (“Turbo”) Porsche uses since Tesla already uses “Ludicrous.” (Even if there’s little more ludicrous than putting “Turbo” on an EV.)

Reports have the Model S modified with the bigger wheels and tires, higher performance semi-slicks (tires with minimal tread), an enlarged front grille, and quite possibly different — meaning enhanced — motor and battery cooling algorithms. The Plaid mod also has three, not two, electric motors.

For Tesla to claim any Nürburgring “record,” it would need certification — although come to think of it, none is needed to send a tweet — from a sanctioning body that would be all over the car and in charge of timing. And then Tesla would have to decide what record it wants. Possible records would be for midrange cars held by the Jaguar XE SV Project 8 (7:23) or for executive cars held by the Mercedes-Benz AMG GT S 4Matic+ (7:30).

There are also effectively unattainable records: 6:05 for an electric sports car set by the Volkswagen ID.R, and 5:20 for the Porsche 919 Evo, the fastest lap, of any car, at the Nurburgring’s 12.9-mile layout to date. The very quickest sedans/coupes/two-seaters from BMW, Chevrolet (Corvette and Camaro, not Cruze), Nissan, Lexus, and Mercedes-Benz get around in 7:25 to 7:40. A $35,000 Honda Civic Type R and Mercedes station wagon (well, E63 AMG) got around in roughly 7:45.

Why Tesla Took to the Track: Match Porsche (Also Jaguar)

Teslas are pigs at the track. At least, they have been and will be until 2020 and the arrival of Plaid. The stock Model S’ ludicrous 0-60 times under 2.5 seconds and standing-start quarter-mile times under 11 seconds can’t be done repeatedly. None of this keeps Tesla from being a great if aging sports sedan that’s amazing on public roads. But to lap repeatedly for the half-hour it takes to run a showroom stock race event — no way. A current Tesla would last a lap or two. But the Model S sedan in its 2012-2019 configuration was okay because there was no serious competition in high-performance EVs that could run balls out at the track. Bragging rights were about street driving and single, not repeated, acceleration runs.

Jaguar I-Pace EV running flat out at the Portimão Circuit (used for Formula 1 testing) in Portugal last summer. Unlike current stock Teslas, a stock I-Pace happily runs lap after lap at speed.

Actually, there was competition a year ago in the Jaguar I-Pace EV. That it’s an amazing two-row passenger car (described as an SUV), electrified, and at home on Portugal’s Formula 1 circuit made it ExtremeTech’s Car of the Year. The I-Pace also won the 2019 World Car of the Year award, the World Car Design, and World Green Car titles. But sales are soft at less than 1,000 units sold worldwide in August, and never more than 250 units a month in the US since arriving here in quantity last November. So Tesla has effectively ignored Jaguar.

The Porsche Taycan got around the Nurburgring fast. Tesla apparently got around faster (than Porsche’s base model Taycan, that is).

But now comes the Porsche Taycan EV. That car, Tesla can’t ignore, because Porsche is the benchmark for sporting cars just as Tesla is for high-end street-going EVs. It may be that Tesla for years had a plan to build a track-capable Model S and coincidentally went public with plans now, along with semi-official performance testing. Or Tesla now hears footsteps.

The Porsche will likely cost more because a) it’s a Porsche and b) nobody knows how to price options and upgrades like Porsche. But that’s okay because early on, the fact that a Taycan Turbo costs $150,000 is a status symbol even if it causes grumbling among the po-folk buyers of $60,000 Boxsters.

Tesla is talking about bringing out the Tesla Model S Plaid around October 2020 EDT. As in Elon Discretionary Time.

Now read:

  • Porsche Taycan EV Sedan Debuts: $152,250 and Up, 670 hp, 0-60 in 3 seconds
  • 4 Automakers Agree to Cleaner California Air. Now They May Be Sued.
  • Will Tesla, GM, and Nissan Get a Second Shot at EV Tax Credits?