Why Tesla needs to go racing.

Why Tesla needs to go racing.

So I figured you all might like this one too, since I got a pretty great response from my last article. Take a look.


Red Sage ca us | 31. mars 2014

Very good points about racing.

I am a longtime fan of Honda vehicles. The Legend of Soichiro Honda is that he was a street racer first, an engineer second. He absolutely believed that high level performance on the track with motorcycles and cars, was imperative to the improvement of vehicles manufactured for consumer use. He believed that performance must be superb on a variety of levels: handling, speed, durability, and fuel efficiency. It can certainly be argued that the subsequent decline of Honda Motors in the past couple of decades has coincided with their absence from racing -- at a high level.

Though Tesla Motors has not instituted a Racing Series, or started a Racing Team of their own, I am certain this is something that is near and dear to the heart of Elon Musk as well. He bought a McClaren F1 immediately upon receiving his first influx of wealth. That's really saying something.

The first car offered by Tesla Motors was a two seat, mid-engine, rear-wheel drive vehicle, after all. He made sure that their second car has performance at the forefront. He is determined that the third vehicle not abandon performance either. I believe that trend will continue, because he is specifically targeting the darling of the automotive industry, the so-called Ultimate Driving Machine, the venerable BMW 3-Series* with the vehicle that will follow the Model X.

He knows that by putting a product in customers' hands that moves their very soul, he will capture their hearts and their imaginations.

As nice as it would be to offer a new Model R Roadster, or even a Model Z Supercar... Their time has not yet come. To support those creations, there must be a firm move toward profitability, first and foremost. That path must go through Model X and then Model E production. Tesla Motors must perform in the marketplace, before it can be put to the test on the track.

The main reason for this is that popular mantra, "Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday!" We all know it's true. Tesla Motors does not currently advertise. They don't have to. The expansion of their Supercharger network is effectively being done with their Marketing budget. Their Customer Service is leading to excellent word-of-mouth that advertises on their behalf. Building superlative vehicles causes consumer advocates and automobile aficionados to proselytize in favor of Tesla Motors.

So the expense of auto racing, for the sake of 'getting the word out', is not necessary just yet. Everyone who needs to know about their cars already knows, or will know very soon. And when it is done, absolutely no one else's chassis should be used to bear the banner of Tesla Motors. There will be no Tesla Motors sponsored Toyota RAV 4 EV doing the Baja 500 -- and there shouldn't be.

Citroën Survolt, Audi R8 e-tron, Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Electric Drive... Yeah, it would be really nice to see these blown off the track at Le Mans or the Nürburgring by a fully race-prepped Tesla Motors vehicle. I know. But at this point, it really isn't necessary. Come 2020 or so? Now we're talking!

Until then, people can continue to be wowed at the silent car with no engine up front blowing the doors off their favorites in the quarter mile on drag strips all over the US. This is the realm of the Tesla Model S. It's a good place to be.

* Reports are that the current BMW 3 Series has already been caught and surpassed by others, such as the Cadillac CTS-V. So the field of targets that Tesla Motors must assess and eliminate is a wee bit wider now.

Baribrotzer | 31. mars 2014

Interesting idea, but I suspect the apples-vs-oranges issue might be a bigger problem than you do.

Eight-or-ten years ago, the LeMans rules for diesels assumed a motor of size and weight comparable to the Cummins found in a Dodge pickup: undeniably powerful, but long, tall, bulky, 500-to-600 pounds heavier than the gas competition, sporting a clanky truck-style valvetrain, and not something that would make for any sort of agile road-racer. Peugeot realized that oversight, and saw an advantage. They built a fast-turning, relatively light 4-cam V-12 with high-pressure turbos, and cleaned up for a couple of years. The rules were eventually changed. However, they still seem to favor diesels to the extent that several other makers are now fielding oil-burners. (You probably know all this, Jon K., but not everyone reading this might.)

So I suspect that the racing establishment might now be a little cautious about alternative powerplants. Especially one where it's not easy to figure out how to impose parity. You can cut the allowable displacement or turbo pressure on a diesel - and the LeMans rule-makers did - but what do you do to make an electric motor more equal? It's just too damn different.

HurricaneFodder | 01. april 2014

Major oversight by excluding drag racing. 60 ft times with all that torque would be amazing. If Tesla let me in the factory I would instantly begin prepping a dual motor AWD model S. 900 ft/lbs of torque sounds like a good start. :-)

Jonathon.klein | 01. april 2014

I thought about drag racing, but it's already been done and I feel like if Tesla were to get into racing they would want to have a global audience, rather than a local one.

DTsea | 01. april 2014

Marketing budget better spent on superchargers. Vehicle development heads better used on model x and gen III. Lastly, racing is anti green...
Conflicts with Tesla mission.

Jonathon.klein | 01. april 2014

@DTsea, since you came over here too, I'll post this again.
You do realize most of the innovations in car design and tech have come from racing? KERS came from racing, which is what a Tesla has in effect with the regen capabilities. Racing allows for more innovation and tech. Look at F1 right now with all of their new rule changes to be more green and require more green tech. Racing can be dirty, but it can also be super clean. You could also look at the hybrids that run and continually dominate at LeMans. Racing is essential to innovation and imagination. It also makes people interested in cars, and the Tesla is definitely an interesting car!

Race sponsorships are just advertising but it ensures the future of the car, and the car fan. You wouldn't be on these forums unless you were a car fan. And we definitely need more car fans to grow up and continually innovate to keep the car relevant. That includes innovating like the Tesla!

Red Sage ca us | 01. april 2014

Yes, the global audience prefers courses with 'lefts AND rights', not just straight line performance, or consecutive circuits around super ovals. I'm all for rally racing, hill climbs, autocross, street courses... But we must not forget those racing types that occur to the American public, first and foremost.

VIDEO: Tesla Model S Performance vs Dodge Viper SRT10 Drag Racing 1/4 Mile

Imagine the pure awesomeness that would ensue if the Tesla Model S were the pace car at the 2015 Daytona 500, and also the 2015 Indianapolis 500. Sure, they'd likely have to engineer a slightly different version of the car, capable of at least 150 MPH, sustained for up to 15 minutes or so, with a 135 kWh battery.

Imagine the drivers being Richard Petty, A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, or John Force... Think of their comments while behind the wheel, cruising effortlessly with leather, wood, air conditioning... Maybe even while riding with their children or grandchildren. Five deep.

VIDEO: Tesla- Again! again!

This initial exposure would be enough to perhaps move people to consider owning an electric car themselves. It would also have others considering them as racers. Thus, some existing series might establish rules to include electric cars. While other organizations would set up a separate class for electrics.

I like to drive. I love racing. I don't care what the fuel or propulsion system is, I just think it's a cool thing to do. I'm pretty sure others feel the same way. Why else would rocket cars be so popular at drag strips?

For a good long while the Sports Car Club of America had some nice street circuit and autocross racing going on, but that mostly went away, sadly. If we could get something like that again, but without the gutted interiors, I would be happy to see Tesla Motors out there carving up the track.

Tesla Model S obstacle course SCCA 1st place for production vehicle.

Given the crash worthiness of the Model S, I think it could be argued the car could be raced without adding a roll cage. Just put the netting up in the driver's side window, put on gloves, throw on a helmet, and go.

Personally, I'd like the 'stock' back in Stock Car Racing of all sorts. I'm kind of tired of the race cars that rely upon stickers to emulate a real world vehicle on a completely different chassis, drivetrain, and body. Sure, that Baja runner has Toyota decals -- but that's it.

DTsea | 01. april 2014

Please share what innovations have come from racing lately? None of the auto driving, safety sensing, or comfort items. Not antilock brakes... that came from airplanes as did drive by wire. Fuel injection? Dont know. Turbocharging? Airplanes. Airbags? Not racing. Unibody? Not racing. Invention of minivan and suv? Not racing. Modelling and simulation for crashworthiness? Not racing. Composites? Airplanes and windmills.

Tesla over the air updates, pack management, ac motor, erc? Not racing.

I am not trying to say you are wrong.... i would like to kmow what itema in current cars come from racing, i am curious.

DTsea | 01. april 2014

My point is why should tesla expend financial and human capital on racing? I dont see it. Its not about innovation.... its about marketing, these days.

Red Sage ca us | 01. april 2014

DTsea inquired, "My point is why should tesla expend financial and human capital on racing? I dont see it. Its not about innovation.... its about marketing, these days."

I'll presume you might be speaking to someone else... I don't think I mentioned 'innovation' in either of my prior posts. Racing is very much about marketing, mostly for the sponsors, than anything else today.

The manufacturers are for the most part rather distanced from the racing aspect in the United States of America these days. NHRA and NASCAR vehicles might have Chevrolet and Ford emblems on the bodywork, but nothing from those manufacturers under the hood. But for the road racing that is employed by Mercedes, BMW, and AUDI, quite a lot of the series they participate in will involve their own, internally developed hardware.

It isn't so much either 'innovation' or even 'inventiveness' at play here. The key word is 'improvement'. When a company tests their engineering staff in the fires of auto racing, their skills are honed, tempered, and improved considerably. What they learn there allows them to identify issues in the design of consumer vehicle systems and work steadily toward improving them.

Tesla Motors' engineering staff has been 'in the fire' from the start. They still are. So no, they don't need to be in racing right now. The racing will come later, to test their skills directly against the abilities of other manufacturers, on a level, but harsher playing field. That will be for the sake of improving the technology used in electric vehicles above and beyond what they would have thought possible before that point.

Essentially, racing allows engineering staffs to know they cannot simply rest on their laurels. Even after you succeed, you may need further goals to motivate you. Tesla Motors hasn't reached that level of comfort yet, so they don't need the added motivation, or distraction, of auto racing to focus their efforts.

But it sure would be nice to see, nevertheless.

Jonathon.klein | 01. april 2014


Antilock brakes developed by aviation and car manufacturer, Gabriel Voison, it was orginally for aviation but first car, was Ferguson P99 racing car.

First use of Carbon Fiber in cars, McLaren F1 car

First use of Turbo in car was Chevy JetFire, but quickly went into F1 after that

Energy recovery was the AMC Amitron, but lost focus because the collapse of the company and wasn't picked back up until WEC cars and F1 cars started messing with it again. Now, it's on a bunch of road cars.

Safety cells and Monocoque designs were first introduced in racing.

Fuel injection wasn't aviation at first, it was industrial, just to let you know, and it was for diesel engines.

My point is that racing allows for those technological leaps from other areas of science and technology into cars. It's a showcase of new technology. Just look at the modern F1 car, or better yet, the way more advanced WEC cars. They are bastions of innovation. Yes many things come from Aviation, but they don't just jump from aviation to road cars, there is an intermediary which is racing.

It also doesn't need to be directly from Tesla, but rather most teams just buy the cars from the manufacturer and then go to work on it. Also why build a performance oriented Roadster, or even the Model S performance pack if Tesla is strictly going for green? The more energy you expend the more electricity you will need to put back into it, which most of it is derived from coal? Yes the supercharger stations run mostly on solar, but your house doesn't.

This is getting off track and into a fight. Honestly I do think seeing a Tesla out on track would be a great benefit to Tesla, if only to show up the naysayers about range and reliability. You have enough skeptics out there that might watch it run laps around the gas powered cars to become believers which would be good in the long run.

@Red Sage, I agree with you mostly, I do think they are still in the fires right now, but I feel that it could be some very well deserved marketing and research for Tesla to really identify issues and improvements they can make. Maybe this just means running around the Nurburgring a few times, or isn't Willow closer to the factory? Something, even some auto cross would help. But yeah, at the moment it might be too soon. But it would be great!

JAD | 01. april 2014

Tesla is making great street cars, but the battery technology is not ready for racing. Even the new E-formula racing series requires a CAR change during the race. That is not allowed in any other racing series. A Tesla may theoretically turn one very good lap, but it could not survive a day of practice, qualifying and a race. Don't expect one car to be great at everything. The weight, low resistance tires and a host of other reasons mean you should enjoy your car on the street, and leave the tracks for ICE at this point in technology.

Porsche, Ferrari, McLaren, F1 and others are using batteries as a boost to performance, but not as a stand alone. I AXed a Roadster, and while it had some great features at the track, it really was a joke compared to the Porsche's in that environment overall. Didn't stop me from buying a MS for the street though!

DTsea | 01. april 2014

Jonathan klein i wasnt fighting. Thanks for answering the question. I agree that enthusiasts modifying and racing model s would do no harm, and i agree with red sage that the tesla engineers have plenty of challenges without racing.

The point about bringing tech from other industries into cars through racing, which is cost insensitive, makes some sense. The question then is what would tesla want to exercise that is ev specific? Preaumably when they see value there, they will pursue it. Right now i doubt they have the bandwidth.

I still think also that racing conflicts with the tesla green message though... the point of the exercise is mostly entertainment and marketing (it is a sport.... and it is entertaining); tech development is a side benefit, not the goal, seems to me.

Aviation used racing to develop faster airplanes in the 30s. Once the airplanes became too expensive, air racing became a hobby. Maybe cars arent there yet as a mass market item.

Brian H | 02. april 2014

Putting two motors in does not double hp, for 2 reasons. 1. The motors are not likely to be dupes of the current single. 2. Power is battery-dependent, not motor-dependent. Double hp would require double (?) battery capacity/power density.

Yeah, TM should plan ahead for the day they need marketing. Could happen!

chrisdl | 03. april 2014

To name some innovations which come from racing and which are used in our Model S (although these are not all recent):

* Multilink Suspension (currently also used in F1)
* Air-cooled Steel Disc Brakes (F1 now uses carbon brakes; it'll be a while before we see those on our car)
* Traction Control (in the meantime again forbidden in F1)
* Aerodynamics, spoilers, diffusors (somewhat obvious)
* Tyres (they last longer, work better in the rain and have better grip thanks to F1)
* Your rearview mirror :-) ... Yes, really.

Please note that these were not all "invented" for racing, but they were developed specifically for motor racing and transferred as such to our daily drivers. Many of these technologies were invented a long time a go and either used in aviation. Several never got out of the experimental phase until racing teams got involved.

Jonathon.klein | 03. april 2014


I think with all the press on Tesla already they might want to prove the technology in racing, but I do agree that it might be difficult for them at the moment. But if you just look at all the Jalopnik stuff on Tesla, they would definitely be a fan favorite.

Yes the car is green, but they also made it blindly fast! If it was strictly a green car, like a LEAF, then there wouldn't be no argument with the going against the green message, but with this car being such a performer, I think racing would be good. And racing right now is getting greener and greener by the minute. Look at all the hybrids out there right now. All the fuel limits, all the recycling efforts. They are still dirty, and in my opinion should be a bit more dirty, especially in respect to F1, but they are about as green as they can be without going strictly EV, but you also are going to be getting that next year with the Formula E series.

minervo.florida | 03. april 2014

too much on their plate for many years.

Racing is definitely not needed for many years to come.

DTsea | 03. april 2014

minervo +1

DTsea | 03. april 2014

@jonathan.klein I don't believe they have anything to prove. The trade press, the stock market, and the customers have all voted, already, a resounding thumbs up. Jalopnik is not going to be swayed.

Red Sage ca us | 03. april 2014

Jonathon suggested, "Maybe this just means running around the Nurburgring a few times, or isn't Willow closer to the factory?"

The Tesla Motors factory in Fremont (formerly NUMMI) is closer to Laguna Seca. The SpaceX facility in Hawthorne (formerly Northrop) is closer to Willow Springs. Owners of the Tesla Model S do make sure to visit the track though...

VIDEO: Tesla Model S EV P85 track days Laguna Seca Raceway (48:28)

VIDEO: Abraham Shrem racing his TESLA Model S at Willow Springs (15:28)

Brian H | 03. april 2014

In my experience, the blind are not all that fast. ;p

Blindingly slow and cautious, usually.