- Tesla CEO Elon Musk indicated that a Model S would take on the famous Nürburgring-Nordschleife, a German race track that’s popular among car makers for setting high-performance lap times.
- The PorscheTaycan, launched this week, is the fastest production EV to lap the Nürburgring.
- Tesla has never staged an official Nürburgring run.
- Nürburgring lap times are sort of silly, but they do provide a rough basis by which to compare fast cars.
- The Nürburgring-Nordschleife is 13 miles long, so it’s actually a tough test for an electric car; EVs can overheat or exhaust their power when pushed to the limit.
- Ultimately, however, while Porsche owners care about the Nürburgring, plenty of Tesla owners have probably never heard of the place.
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Not long after Porsche officially launched its Taycan all-electric sedan this week, a spat broke out between Tesla CEO Elon Musk, Porsche (sort of – Musk trolled the German automaker with a joke about the Taycan Turbo’s name), and some elements of the motoring enthusiast community who were aware that while a Taycan prototype lapped the Nürburgring in an impressive 7 minutes, 42 seconds, a Tesla Model S has never made it around the famed German racetrack at speed.
Musk dived in with a tweet announcing that the Model S would take on the “Green Hell” next week.
We’ll see if that happens. But in the meantime, what the heck is this Nürburgring, and why does it matter?
Nürburgring lap times!
The short version is that the Nürburgring is car-lover shorthand for the Nürburgring-Nordschleife, a roughly 13-mile track that hosted the German Grand Prix in Formula 1 for years after the end of World War II. The infamously deadly track, although often-modified for driver safety, eventually lost out to another circuit, the Hockenheim. (There are now two tracks at the Ring, the Nordschleife and a 3.2-mile layout better suited to Grand Prix racing.)
The Nürburgring-Nordschleife has now become additionally iconic thanks to the popularity of lap times, undertaken by automakers in an effort to tout their fastest cars. The current record holder for street-legal rides is the Lamborghini Aventador SVJ, which got around the Ring in 6:44:97. The Taycan is the fastest all-electric vehicle to turn a lap. (Due to its length, electric vehicles are challenged by the winding, up-and-down layout of the Ring – EVs have a tough time running full-out for 13 miles without overheating.)
Nürburgring lap times are a tad goofy, one of those secret-code deals that car nuts like to chatter about. For a while, after in-car video and telemetry became democratized, the web was lousy with Nürburgring lap-time broadcasts, which appeal to the same demographic that has memorized all the turn names of the 24 Hours of Le Mans’ Circuit de la Sarthe.
A tough test for an electric car – but maybe a test that doesn’t matter all that much
The track’s setup – offering all manner of straightaways, corners, and changes in elevation – makes for a stout test of a high performance machine and is rather demanding even for pro drivers. (Amateurs, however, can also tackle the circuit on special public track days, although they tend to have to contend with a fair amount of traffic.)
For manufacturers, Ring times represent a neat way to compare vehicles on an even playing field without having to contend with chaotic dynamics of competitive racing. It’s car versus track, with the critical output yielding a ranking that can be widely shared, and of course somebody always has bragging rights. In a world where casual observers are perhaps overly impressed by zero-to-60 mph times, the Ring offers a multidimensional standard.
The Ring isn’t perfect, of course. It doesn’t exist under a bubble, and it’s located in Germany, not a desert. As The Drive’s Bradley Brownell noted in a critique of Ring lap times, you’d have to be a nincompoop to take the marketing seriously.
“Are you really willing to admit that you bought a car because someone else with more talent than you was able to drive a fast lap around a track you’ll never go to, on tires you’ll never buy, on the most perfect dry-but-still-cool day of the year, with special preparation from factory engineers?” he wrote.
Fair point. However, I’ve always thought it was sort of a glaring omission for Tesla to have dodged an official Ring run. Or possibly just ignored the idea, given that while Teslas are known for supercar-besting velocities for their highest-spec car, the business model is aimed more squarely at software engineers commuting in the San Francisco Bay Area. (Also, Teslas are supposed to surging toward a future where they can drive themselves, further reducing or eliminating the whole idea of Humanpilot.)
If Tesla can pull an effort together on short notice, it should be entertaining, and given the Model S’s specs, it ought to be able to get around Ring in something less than eight minutes (assuming it does not overheat or struggle to control its nearly 5,000-pound bulk through the corners).
But here the thing: while quite a few Porsche owners are aware of the Nürburgring and actually care about lap times, I’d wager that many current and prospective Tesla owners don’t give a hoot. To a degree, Porsche uses the old “win on Sunday, sell on Monday” adage: take a trophy at the track and watch the dealership fill up with customers. Tesla, meanwhile, has set its sights higher: “Don’t worry about winning on Sunday, save the planet today.”
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