While it’s possible to catch a glimpse of a Tesla Model S staging at the local dragstrip, they don’t make many appearances at track days. EVs that weren’t designed specifically for racing circuits typically become undone after a few laps of sustained abuse, with Tesla’s first sedan being no different. Early examples of the Model S even failed to get around the Nürburgring when pushed to the limit, with touring car driver Robb Holland sharing videos of the model forcing itself into limp mode as components began overheating during a test run in 2014. Holland praised the car for its sublime road manners, though concluded it was ill-suited for serious racing.
Things are a little different today. Tesla now holds the fastest single lap of any EV to grace the Nordschleife and sells the Model 3 Performance with a dedicated track mode it plans on extending to Model S Plaid vehicles via an over-the-air (OTA) update. But can some fresh code and a little time really do what’s required to make the sedan a valid track vehicle when the preexisting hardware remains unchanged?
The big get with Tesla’s track mode is the ability to tweak or (allegedly) defeat the sedan’s fairly invasive stability control system. Handy during the daily commute, stability control ultimately limits what the car could do on a pristine racetrack. On the Model 3, this results in putting regenerative braking into overdrive and using it to assist with torque vectoring. Though the driver is never really free from getting assistance since the automaker’s vehicle dynamics controller is constantly monitoring things to decide how best to divert power to improve rotation.
However, the biggest gripe among those attempting to race the Model S typically stems from the heat management program erring on the side of caution. This too has been addressed with track mode by offering the same pre-cooling system that’s on the Model 3. Here, Tesla lowers the operating temperature of the battery pack in preparation for the onslaught of heat it’s about to be subjected to. It does the same whenever the car has pulled off the track or is enjoying a cooldown lap. The manufacturer claims the system allows for operation of the powertrain beyond typical thermal limits and increases refrigerant system capacity by overclocking the AC compressor into higher speed ranges.
The rest is about what you’d expect from any track mode. Dampers default to their setting and the infotainment system swaps to displaying all the relevant temperature readings, with a lap timer and G-meter thrown in for good measure.
Unfortunately, I’ve still not seen many Model 3 Performances make more than a handful of laps on any course before it begins issuing warnings about the brakes or battery overheating. But overheating is a common concern among people tracking their street cars and it’s probably not fair to directly compare a Tesla luxury product to something that’s been equipped with an external oil cooler and some tow hooks.
Tesla said this is all about keeping the fastest EV lap time at the Nürburgring and prepping the Model S for a 200-mph top speed that’s supposed to come by way of future OTA updates. I’m inclined to believe this will require a few hardware updates to be accomplished safely, however. As nice as the Model S is to take on the freeway, its steering needs to be sharpened before the company decides to transform it into a four-door hypercar. It’s also going to need better tires and brakes — the latter of which Tesla plans on offering by way of a carbon-ceramic brake kit for $20,000 available later this year. Though they’ll technically cost more than that since you’ll also have to purchase the 21-inch wheels in which to house your fancy stoppers.
With the ability to breeze past 60 mph in the low two-second range, nobody paying attention is going to claim the Model S Plaid isn’t an extremely fast car. But it seems to do all its best work in a straight line and I’m not sure why the manufacturer is so obsessed with competing with Porsche on the Nürburgring. These planned updates will undoubtedly make it more capable from a performance perspective, I just have doubts that it’ll make for a better luxury sedan or set the Model S to replace the Mazda MX-5 as the default track day automobile.
[Image: Virrage Images/Shutterstock]
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