Here’s why Tesla is at the Nürburgring, and why it’s important

Elon Musk has a talent for getting everyone to talk about Tesla. Shortly after Porsche announced that its new Taycan electric car had lapped the Nürburgring in 7:42, setting a new electric car record, Musk tweeted that a Tesla Model S was being dispatched to the German racetrack. But Tesla’s arrival at the ‘Ring produced more questions than answers. So what the heck is going on here?

The Nürburgring is one of the world’s most challenging racetracks. The Nordschleife (“north loop” in German) configuration used for most racing and testing winds its way through the Eifel Mountains over 12.9 miles, with over 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.

So when Musk announced that a Model S was going to the Nürburgring, the implication was clear. Tesla was going to challenge Porsche for the electric car lap record.

Sure enough, multiple Teslas were soon spotted at the track. Photos posted online have shown at least two cars — one gray, one red. But neither car is stock. The gray car had a modified rear spoiler, while the red car sported large fender flares. Both cars have also been spotted wearing Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires. These are very aggressive (albeit street legal) performance tires that are not currently on the Model S options list. Tesla also recently announced that it’s testing a powertrain upgrade for the Model S called Plaid, and it’s possible the cars at the Nürburgring are running a prototype version of it.

Why is stock important? A fast lap by a modified Model S would be impressive, but it wouldn’t prove anything. Porsche used a stock Taycan for its record attempt, and Tesla will need 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.

It’s possible that the record attempt may have been tacked onto a larger testing program for the Plaid powertrain, but whatever Tesla’s goals are, it may not be able to achieve them. Tesla has never been to the Nürburgring before, so it has no idea how the Model S will perform, Jalopnik noted. There’s also the issue of luck. Chevrolet wasn’t able to set any lap records with its C7-generation Corvette, despite the car’s blistering pace. Every time Chevy went to the ‘Ring, something went wrong. Keep in mind that Chevy made multiple attempts over five years. Tesla will need to have some luck on its side to set a record on its first try, with what seems like minimal preparation.

Tesla could make its record attempt on September 21, reports Road & Track. The magazine noted that a 30-minute private test session has appeared in the Nürburgring schedule for that date. A source also said a timed session may happen on September 18, but that will be while the track is open to the public. Formula One champion Nico Rosberg volunteered on Twitter to drive the Model S, but it’s unclear if Tesla took him up on that offer.

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