Tracking an EV: Frequently Asked Questions
Updated: Nov 22, 2020
Most people know that Teslas are fast in a straight line; however, many people don’t know that they are quite capable on road-courses, and hold up to competitors from BMW, Porsche, Ford, Audi, Mercedes-Benz, and Alfa Romeo surprisingly well. Today, I’m going to go through the most common questions people ask me about tracking my Model 3 on the road-course, and how it compares to my track experience in other vehicles.
Q: Will it overheat?
The answer is not straight forward and there are a lot of factors that impact the battery temperature. After 20 track days in my Model 3’s, I have found that ambient temperatures, speed, and pace can determine whether you experience no overheating, or if you lose power after 10 minutes. However, it seems most people experience little to no overheating. As you modify the car and get faster, the cooling system will also need supporting modifications. Just to be clear, the Model 3 will not go into limp mode or prevent you from continuing to drive. That being said this is not the only car the deals with overheating at high temperatures. My prior track vehicles were BMWs, and those had their own overheating challenges. It is also important to note that battery power in the Model 3 will decline linearly with charge level, starting at about 70%. You will notice less power on the straights the lower the charge level goes. This is due to voltage sag.
Q: How long can you stay out? Can it do a full session?
I am averaging about 1,500wh/Mi on the track, which means on a full charge the car can go about 50 miles. VIR is my home track, which is 3.27 miles long, so I can drive the car just over 30 minutes per charge when you consider a warm up and cool down lap. Again, your energy consumption will vary depending on your driving style, speed, and pace, so others may get more track time out of a charge.
Q: How do you charge between sessions?
Fortunately, I have found almost all tracks have 50 amp RV outlets available for use, generally at no cost, although some do charge a small fee. VIR has many of these outlets, and this is my primary charging method. Other tracks have a Supercharger close by, and others even have DC charging such as a Chademo available nearby or onsite. Using a 50 amp outlet, it would take about 7 hours to fully charge the vehicle. This means, I generally consume about 1/3 of the battery (so about 12 minutes on-track), and then I come off and plug back in. A Supercharger or Chademo would give you plenty of charge between sessions to continuously run.
Q: Does tracking the vehicle affect the overall battery health/life?
So far, I haven’t seen any battery degradation outside of the norm when compared to other Model 3 owners. After about a year and a half, I am seeing about 6% degradation. The car has many sensors inside the battery and the drive units and will pull power as needed to prevent battery or motor damage. I have had no mechanical failures with the car. Tracking the Model 3 does not seem to wear the battery any more than Supercharging would, for example.
Tesla vs. Other track vehicles
My prior track vehicles were BMW M3s, for the sake of comparison I’m going to go over the similarities and differences between my 2018 Model 3 and my 2015 BMW M3. They are both great track cars in their own respects. The Model 3 I feel handles better than the M3, despite being 500lbs heavier. While the M3 utilizes a Macpherson style front suspension, the Model 3 uses a double-wishbone front suspension, and with the center of gravity being lower in the Model 3, as well as Track Mode’s intelligent use of the two motors, the Model 3 is incredibly precise and easy to drive, whereas the M3 has a tendency to want to oversteer and requires smoother inputs. Impressively, the Model 3 is pulling 1.8g’s on street tires!
One advantage to the Tesla is its instant torque and pull out of corners. You can sort of point and shoot the Model 3. On the other hand, the BMW has the speed advantage above about 110mph. The Tesla will hit almost exactly 140mph on the back straight at VIR, whereas the BMW is capable of 150mph.
Despite the differences, a stock Tesla Model 3 Performance and a stock BMW M3 will run very similar lap times at VIR on the same tires. Many people are very surprised to hear how fast the car is. You can view my other videos to see in-car recordings, but the best I have done is a 2:08, and I am getting faster every time I get out.
Some big differences between the two are energy. Fuel for the BMW will cost significantly more. I previously spent a few hundred dollars on gas for a track weekend. On the other hand, you can track the BMW for the full sessions whereas with the Tesla you’re looking at about half sessions without fast charging.
As far as consumables are concerned, the BMW will absolutely wear through tires and brakes quicker than the Tesla. Track pads on the Tesla will last 15 days or more, whereas the BMW would go through pads in 5 days or less. Tires are showing similar wear patterns. The Tesla is low maintenance in all regards, and so far I have spent $0 on broken parts or maintenance on the Tesla, which I can’t say for the BMW where I changed the oil at least every 5,000 miles.
At the end of the day, EV’s still have a way to go before they become commonplace at the road course, and there are absolutely compromises to running one. However, the Model 3 is proving that for (comparably) reasonable money, your running costs are low and the fun factor is high. As the charging infrastructure and technology of EV’s improves, I think we will see a lot more on the track in the future. I certainly have no regrets, and I hope I can inspire more people to take their EV to a track-day. In my next blog post, we will talk about the basic modifications I would do before taking your Model 3 to the track.