Here's What Happened With Tesla's Ambitious First Attempt At The Nürburgring

Photo: S. Baldauf/SB-Medien

Once again, Tesla has defied expectations. After wrapping up its first-ever Nürburgring test this week and heading home to America, it’s pulled off an apparent hand-timed seven minute, 24 second lap in one of its Model S test cars, a mere second slower than the attempt at the beginning of this week—but still nearly 20 seconds quicker than the electric Porsche Taycan. And it bodes well for an exciting upcoming electric war at the world’s most famous race track.

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The start of this EV duel had all the hallmarks of a ’Ring rivalry—that is, a lot of irregularities and question marks on both sides.

Tesla’s attempt didn’t go perfectly, of course, but things at the ’Ring often don’t. At least one of the two cars, a red tester, had a breakdown on track for unknown reasons and was humorously passed by a Taycan. I told everyone that doing this track is hard.

Thing is, I’m more impressed than anything else. After Elon Musk’s tweets and the company’s obvious rush to the ’Ring, I was deeply skeptical, as were the editors of Jalopnik. But my take is the company has risen to the occasion with these two prototypes.

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Tesla’s ability to get this effort flying straight out of the box, thousands of miles away from its home base and on very short notice, is nothing short of phenomenal. And the team’s efforts should be applauded. They have clearly hired a very smart, motivated group of engineers that are at the top of their game, and despite my earlier skepticism and that breakdown, I’m happy to eat a little humble pie over what I’ve seen so far.

A Tesla spokesperson confirmed what a company tweet said, that the automaker is done at the ’Ring for a while and may head back next month. So let’s take a look at what actually happened and how Tesla has made this effort work.

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There are some rather big caveats here to talk about too, but I don’t think they’ll stand in the way of Musk getting the headlines he wants.

Tesla’s Effort Came Together Quickly

On August 26, Porsche uploaded a video of its Taycan Nürburgring lap with the claim that the car broke the record for a production, four-door EV around the ’Ring. Shortly thereafter, Musk tweeted Tesla would be sending a Model S to the Nürburgring by the end of the week—not necessarily for a record attempt, though.

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But this appeared to be news to everybody but Musk. We know for a fact that the Nürburgring wasn’t contacted for several days after Musk’s tweet. So not only was there no time set aside for them to make this attempt, but getting admitted to the industry pool for manufacturers is a process that normally takes months, not days.

Additionally, giant diesel generators had to be brought in to keep the cars juiced up, though they were later replaced by a Supercharger, which is a huge feat in and of itself.

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Now, some fans have argued that Musk had a secret, long-term plan to always do this at the ’Ring; I think the fact that there were no Superchargers already installed anywhere at the ‘Ring for the public or for Tesla itself proves otherwise. But the fact that its charging system was added later still shows Tesla’s level of commitment here.

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It turns out Tesla needn’t have rushed at all. As we’ve just found out, not only was the Taycan’s 7:42 “lap record” not officially sanctioned by the ’Ring; it was, in Porsche’s words, “one for ourselves that we use as a point of historical record.”

Although all Porsche’s cars go through that process, it’s why you won’t see its number on the list of official lap times. This means that there’s more glory yet up for grabs.

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That Model S Was Extremely Modified And Not Available Yet

Then it turned out that what we saw at the ’Ring wasn’t just any Model S, like I had originally (and incorrectly) assumed. Tesla brought two next-generation three-motor prototypes, possibly to be called the P100D+ if we’re going off what their badges say. And these cars are said to have the even faster “Plaid Mode.” Once the cars rolled off the trailers our guys on the ground were able to get a closer look at them.

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Photo: S. Baldauf/SB-Medien

So what exactly did Musk bring? Well to start, these were full-blown prototype cars. They looked identical to current Model S-es but with wider, body colored fender flares. The fender flares were needed to fit the massive wheel and tire package now residing at each corner. Also shortly after the cars hit the track a clear Lexan spoiler was tacked on to rear decklid of each one. Adding these spoilers would increase rear downforce, giving some high speed stability to the cars. The Nurburgring corners are so fast (many are triple digit speeds) that you need as much rear stability as you get once you really start to push on things.

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The cars also are, according to our sources, extremely stripped out—not much more than a driver’s seat, some data recorders and a cage, giving a significant weight advantage. (It’s hard to say exactly, since normally the interior spy shots you get from the Nürburgring are taken at the local gas station when the test cars swing by to fill up, and well... you know.)

That wasn’t the case with Porsche. Contrary to internet rumors, Porsche swears its Taycan record car was pre-production but production spec—i.e. not stripped out. A Porsche spokesman told us it weighs more than a normal Taycan because of the roll cage setup. He said it ran stock tires, too.

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Neither Car Is A ‘Record’ Car

But had Porsche gone through the official timing session, however, there would be no question as to the spec of the car, because it would have been inspected beforehand in keeping with information available to the public.

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Photo: S. Baldauf/SB-Medien

Back to the Model S. Its wheels were wrapped originally by Michelin’s super sticky, track-focused Sport Cup 2Rs, but soon those were replaced by all new Goodyear F1 Supersport RS. How does the Supersport RS compare to the Cup 2Rs? I couldn’t tell you as the RS-es are so new that I have not driven them, nor has anyone else whose opinion I trust. But Goodyear says that they are aimed squarely at Michelin’s Sport Cup range so I’m going to think they are fairly comparable.

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Sitting tucked neatly behind those wheels are a set of carbon ceramic brakes that looked similar to those available as optional equipment on other manufacturer offerings from Porsche, Ferrari and the rest.

If (probably when) either of these automakers decide to set an official lap time, they will have be full production cars and go through through stringent inspection with no non-production parts allowed other than for safety.

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They will then be timed in an official session set aside for lap records and if a record is set than the lap time, car model, driver and video will be posted on the official Nürburgring site.

Tesla Did It All Right (And The Car Was Damn Fast)

Next, and as I suggested in my own missive, Tesla needed a driver who really knew the ’Ring. No, not Nico Rosberg, though he’s hardly slow. Tesla turned up some very fast Nürburgring specialists: Thomas Mutsch and Swedish drivers Andreas Simonsen and Carl Rydquist (who has also raced extensively in the U.S.)

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As I’ve said over and over again, the Nurburgring is not a track you come to without knowledge, and these guys have it. In the tech world, “fail fast, fail often” has been touted as the best way to go about developing things. But when you are talking cars that shouldn’t apply outside the workshop or controlled conditions because failing at 150 mph is not something that should be part of any development strategy. Rushing into setting records at the ’Ring is not something that should work. But the folks at Tesla put in the right effort.

And succeed they did, running a (hand timed, for now) 7:23 lap, which is just fast. Not fast for and EV, not fast for a seven-seat sedan. Just plain fast.

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Due to the fact the the public is not allowed into the T13 area during any industry session the lap times were taken from the first corner after the start (Nordkehre, or North Corner).

Because our guy with the watch can’t see over the hill they have to guesstimate when the car finishes by listening to when it goes over the curbs just before the finish line. So please take that time with a grain of salt. We will have to wait until Tesla releases the official times to confirm.

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Tesla claims that when it returns next month, it could get closer to seven minutes and five seconds. But the automaker’s released no video or data or anything to back this up, so for now, it’s just a claim on Twitter.

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A few details about the runs themselves. First, the Model S testers only completed one lap each run before they stopped. We don’t believe this is due to any overheating issues (that we know of, yet) but it’s just done to recharge. With the amount of power that these cars are putting out one lap before recharge is hardly surprising. For comparison, I could just about get four laps of the Nordschleife out of a tuned 400 horsepower Ford Focus RS. The P100D+’s output isn’t known, but it’s likely significantly more than that.

Once recharged both cars seem to be capable of running five or six laps a day, which is quite impressive and not that far off ICE cars at this performance level.

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Finally, I know several other test drivers that are currently testing for other manufacturers and have been on track when the Teslas were running and they reported to me that these cars are very, very fast. Like vanishing from another high performance car with capable drivers.

Now, about that breakdown. I guess my take would just be that the Nürburgring is very difficult, like I said in my earlier story. As good as Tesla has been and as impressed with all of their engineers as I am, this is why you test cars quietly before trying to push on them for a very public lap record.

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So where does that leave us? Well, we have an unofficial lap time from Porsche in the Taycan—and not the faster Turbo S but the lesser Turbo. (Porsche probably left some room to try and go even quicker next time.) And we have an also unofficial, hand-timed lap time from the stripped out Model S P100D+ prototype, a car with tech that Musk says will be available sometime late next year. Hopefully the company can deliver without any characteristic delays.

The EV ’Ring War Is On

Considering that a sub-seven minute run was the realm of supercars just a few years ago, if Tesla can come back and hit that time, it will have more than a few of the old school automakers quaking in their boots.

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Now remember the spec that we believe these Model S have been running in would not be eligible for any official production records, as they are fully stripped out prototypes. Adding several hundred pounds of interior and other production bits would definitely slow them up a bit.

Above all else, I hoped Musk and Tesla’s team would do the ’Ring thing correctly and properly, and by all accounts so far they have done that and more. For that, they deserve tons of credit. Do I want to see a run happen with a production-spec Model S that’s production spec and not on Goodyear Unobtanium tires? Of course. Even so, Musk still comes off as the winner here.

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But what’s even bigger to us is that this opens up a whole new dimension to ‘Ring records, which—despite the great and sometimes tragic history of this place—have felt almost cheap in recent years. Now we’re talking range and durability in addition to speed. That’s going to be very interesting to see.

For now, we have a hell of a fight between old guard and new guard, and I for one am looking forward to it.

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Photo: S. Baldauf/SB-Medien

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