Elon Musk has a talent for getting everyone to talk about Tesla. Shortly after Porsche announced its new Taycan electric car had lapped the Nürburgring in seven minutes and 42 seconds, setting a new electric production car record, Musk tweeted that a Tesla Model S was being dispatched to the German racetrack to set a better time. Tesla hinted it has already broken the record, and it kept its promise of returning to the track in October 2019 to make it official.
Posting — where else? — on its official Twitter page, the California-based company explained data from its track runs peg the Model S Plaid’s ‘Ring time at seven minutes and 20 seconds. That’s a significant improvement over the Taycan; it didn’t take long for the firm to embarrass Porsche on its home turf. It added that it might be able to lap the track in seven minutes and five seconds after making improvements to the sedan’s triple-motor powertrain. The prototypes are back on the Green Hell in October to set an official time after receiving a round of updates at Tesla’s California headquarters.
Data from our track tests indicates that Model S Plaid can achieve 7:20 at the Nürburgring.
With some improvements, 7:05 may be possible when Model S returns next month.
— Tesla (@Tesla) September 19, 2019
While official details remain few and far between, spy shots taken on the circuit show the prototypes gained BMW-esque air curtains behind the rear wheels. These vents can perform a variety of different functions ranging from cooling the brakes to reducing turbulence in the wheel wells, according to Motor 1. Out back, the Model S gained a huge rear diffuser that looks like it belongs on a race car, not on an eco-friendly, battery-powered sedan. We’re looking at the most extreme Tesla to date.
Tesla previously experienced many ups and downs as it tries to set a new record. Video footage of a red Model S broken down on the left part of the track emerged online. There’s no word on what the problem was; it might be a powertrain issue, or it might have simply run out of juice. Driving flat-out drains an electric car’s battery in record time. The Taycan that nonchalantly passes it shortly after its tow truck arrives adds insult to injury.
Meanwhile, Porsche quietly pointed out the 670-horsepower Taycan Turbo set the current record, not the 750-horsepower Turbo S model. Car & Driver speculates the German firm might be waiting to see what its American rival is capable of before sending its most potent model to the track. Alternatively, the Turbo S might set the exact same time as the Turbo; the aforementioned figures correspond to a temporary overboost function, and both offer 615 horses in normal conditions.
Here’s why this matters: The Nürburgring is the world’s most challenging racetrack. The Nordschleife (“north loop” in German) configuration used for most racing and testing winds its way through the Eifel Mountains over 14 miles long, with more than 100 corners. The sheer size of the track, the high speeds it allows, and the difficulty of some of the corners have made the Nürburgring legendary. Automakers use the track to test new cars, and a lap record is public relations gold.
The Model S attempting to set a new record isn’t a run-of-the-mill sedan; it’s not even a variant you can buy from the company, though that will soon change. The prototypes shipped to Germany featured a modified rear spoiler, large fender flares, and stripped-out interiors. One of them is pictured above, next to the Supercharger station the company installed at the track. Both were also spotted wearing Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires. These are very aggressive (albeit street-legal) performance tires that are not currently found on the sedan’s list of options. Sticky tires are a must because the two cars are powered by an upgraded powertrain called Plaid.
On the surface, whether parts are added to make the Model S quick around a race track sounds wholly irrelevant, but the add-ons make all of the difference. Setting a record in a modified Model S would be an impressive feat, but it wouldn’t prove anything. Porsche used a fully stock Taycan to set its own record, and Tesla needs to do the same with the Model S for an apples-to-apples comparison. While Tesla wouldn’t be the first manufacturer to try to stretch the definition of “production car,” that would just put an asterisk on any lap record.
Setting a record on the ‘Ring requires a tremendous amount of experience. While former Formula One champion Nico Rosberg volunteered on Twitter to drive the Model S, Autoblog reported Tesla enlisted drivers more familiar with the track. We’ll find out more about the car, the driver, and the time both are capable of in the coming weeks.
Updated on October 15, 2019: Added the latest information about the record attempt.