Its cars are blindingly fast, but as a company, Tesla appears to be utterly indifferent to racing. This is perhaps understandable; Tesla is up to its eyeballs in orders for cars and is hard at work on developing the Model 3, as well as the Nevada “Gigafactory.” After all, why spend time and money on a side activity when you’re flat-out, selling every vehicle you can build? But that hasn’t stopped people wanting to take Teslas racing. We’ve seen a privateer Model S run at the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, and with any luck an all-Tesla racing series—called Electric GT—will field a grid of 20 Tesla Model S P100Ds later this year.
I’ve been keeping a watchful eye on the Electric GT series for a while now, but over at Motor Sport, Jack Phillips has an interesting piece on the series, including an interview with racing drivers Karun Chandok and Alice Powell, who have actually driven one of the cars.
As mentioned, Electric GT is completely independent of Tesla; the company is aware of the effort, but that’s as far as it goes. Like Blake Fuller and his Pikes Peak Model S, the Electric GT people are on their own. The cars get some aerodynamic add-ons and have been on a diet, shedding 1,100lb (500kg) despite the addition of a roll cage. And the races will have to be kept short—60km—so as not to exhaust the batteries.
Chandok—who has driven in Formula E—tells Phillips that he thinks the new series will need to pick tracks with few undulations so as not to put an extra strain on those lithium-ion batteries. But he was also quite happy with the way the car drove:
“If anything, the car felt over-gripped. They’re talking about having an extra 30 or 40 per cent power from what we tested, and therefore it will be a much more even balance in terms of power to grip. The grip in the low speed—I couldn’t believe how much front end it had—you just turned the wheel and the nose just turned it. You want it to be a little harder, really. You want it to be a bit more powerful and a bit harder to drive.”
That last bit makes me think that Agustín Payá, the series’ technical director, might still have a little work to do retuning the cars’ traction and stability control systems. My colleague Sebastian Anthony found it almost impossible to provoke the Model S into some sideways action, with the caveat that he knew he had to hand the car back to Tesla in one piece. But cars with too much grip make for boring racing, something we’ve seen all too clearly in Formula 1 the past few years.
However, the cars will run on bespoke Pirelli tires, according to series boss Mark Gemmell, which bodes well. But unlike Formula E, which made the decision to use treaded tires with relatively low rolling resistance for its electric racers, the Teslas in Electric GT will run on slick (untreaded) tires.
Electric GT is trying some other new approaches to racing. For one, it’s aiming to get a 50:50 mix of men and women on the grid, and drivers can apply for a race seat through an online driver’s club, although as Chandok points out in Motor Sport, one has to wonder how that’s going to work with teams who will presumably want to bring their own people along.
Perhaps the biggest problem the racing Teslas are going to have to deal with is overheating. Keeping the battery cool enough was a real challenge for Blake Fuller’s Tesla at Pikes Peak last year, and overheating issues are usually the fly in the ointment that prevents Tesla owners from having fun at track days.
Despite the potential for technical problems, we’re rooting for Electric GT here at Ars. After all, racing is racing, whether it’s powered by gasoline, diesel, gravity, or electrons.