TRACK DAY: Nelson Ledges Race Complex – Early September 2015

When I purchased my Tesla Model S 85D back in March it was never intended to be a track car.  Granted most of the cars I’ve owned have been a daily driver first and foremost, but honestly, the Tesla wasn’t a car I anticipated doing much with in the way of racing.  But when you’re a gear head and a car guy, well… you know where this is going!

If you’ve been to my blog before, you may have read about my Audi Track Day at Nelson Ledges last year, or perhaps seen that same car when I took it to Pittsburgh Int’l Race Complex in September 2014.  I’m no stranger to the road course, though I’m not nearly as avid an attendee as some of my peers.  Still, I love to toss my cars around the track and see what they can do.  This Tesla is no exception, and even though it is a heavy pig of a car I still wanted to at least be able to say I tried it once.


About a month ago I had my first real experience “racing” my Tesla. There was a big local car show put on by friends of mine at Thompson Dragway, a local drag strip.  Due to weather they got a late start and I only managed to get a single quarter-mile run in that day, but it was a great run.  My car is an 85D Tesla which is NOT the fastest version of this model.  It does NOT have Insane Mode, nor Ludicrous Mode.  Those two versions are the P85D/P90D cars, which are $20k and 30k more than mine, respectively.

Still, Tesla rates my car as being able to run a 4.2-second 0-60 and a 12.50 second quarter mile.  And boy is that accurate!  Check out my time slip here:

Drag Racing Slip from Aug 30 2015

And thanks to a friend, here is a video of the run too:

Obviously my car is on the left hand side.  This was impressive, and really got me interested to see what more the car could do. Having read enough to know that the drag times are pretty consistent, I had no real burning desire to run it down the strip again but might revisit that just for fun.  What really had me curious was how the two-and-a-quarter-ton tank would fare on the road course.  So I headed off to Nelson Ledges Race Complex to find out!


Even though NLRC is a course I’m familiar with, it had been over a year since my last visit and I only raced their once last year.  Additionally, my Tesla is running on all-season Hankook tires, so my expectations were low from the start.  Still, my run last year at NLRC in the Audi was also on all-season tires, in a car making less power, though heavier.  I expected to match those times, and hoped to exceed them.

I arrived at the track with 85% of my battery life remaining on the car, which again is a 2015 Tesla Model S 85D.  My car is lowered slightly with air links, has longer fixed length upper rear arms to resolve camber, and is aligned to factory specs.  The wheels are a staggered set of 20×9 and 20×10.5 HRE P41 forged mono block wheels shod in 245/40 front and 275/35 rear Hankook Ventus S1 noble2 UHP all-season tires.

During my first heat I managed to use up around 35% of the battery (dropping to 50% after 7 or 8 laps).  After just two laps the car was already limiting power output to just under 320-kW, but by my 5th lap I was seeing even more power restriction.  When I came into the paddock early (after only a dozen minutes on-course) the car was limited power to less than 160-kW.  Heat soak is a real bitch!!  Power being so limited due to this heat-soak was very VERY annoying, as the car was not powerful enough to overcome its own weight and I was getting passed swiftly.

Where my first session’s best lap was during heavy power limitations (and my trying hard to remember the best lines of the track) and only mustered a 1:27.9 lap– my second time around was far more fruitful.  Just a few laps in (my 11th out of what would be 15 total time-recorded laps today) I managed to shave my time down to 1.24.4 seconds.  This was a solid 2-seconds faster than my Audi.  Also, my second session must have been smoother, as the power restrictions came on again but never quite as heavy handed.  Weather was in the low-to-mid 70s, for those wondering.

Below are two videos, showing first my slower, best lap of heat #1.  Then following is my best of the day lap, in my second heat.  By the time I came into the pits (again, second heat ended early due to heat-soak), my battery was down to 25% such that I had completed 15 timed laps and seen 60% SOC loss.

Overall, I was quite pleased with the final outcome.  Down the road I’d love to go back, but only when two major things occur.  First off, NLRC needs to add a 220v line for me to charge, so that I can get more sessions in.  Secondly, I’ll eventually need to replace these tires, and might go with something more capable and sticky.  At that point I would love to try again, and might even consider going in slightly cooler weather to help prevent battery heat soak, though then tires might suffer instead.


In conclusion, the Tesla is a VERY capable track car, but that proved to certainly not be its forte.  Where the Tesla can best most anything from a dig in a straight line, and does a decent job around the twists and turns, it is most at home on the road.  Punch it and pass that slow-poke on the express way.  Or just enjoy the smiles and giggles from your passengers as you scare them doing swift zero-to-sixty pulls.  But most of all, enjoy the inexpensive transit, the silent acceleration, and the gobs and gobs of technology inside this great car.

I’d love to have a track toy (there was a gorgeous red 1986 Porsche Carrera there today, oh so pretty!), or something more dedicated to the purpose of being fast out there.  But in the end my visits to NLRC or other tracks is rather limited, so finding the car best suited for my daily driving is paramount.  And in that capacity, the Tesla trumps all.  It is a great car, even for a few laps around your local road course!

PS: Below are some fun random photos of the car, including my wife stalking me at the track using the iOS Tesla app.  Also showing off my huge power usage on the track.  And special thanks to Flat 6 Photowerks for some of the shots below.  Ciao!



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