Drag-racing in the Roadster: A first-person account

Tesla engineers have been keenly focused for some time on the 1.5 powertrain, which we have been testing extensively both on roads and at closed facilities. We have our own data collection kit, but we wanted to see what sort of performance figures we would get from a public track.

The nearest venue to our headquarters in San Carlos is Infineon Raceway in Sonoma Calif., which features a Compulink timing system. We headed up there Oct. 29 for Infineon’s last Wednesday Night Drag of the season.

The event is open to everyone who pays admission.

At $25 per car and $10 for spectators, it’s a fun bargain. Because this was the last meet of the season, more than 300 cars turned up, and the wait between runs was long. But we had fun checking out the selection of cars and chatting with other drivers. And needless to say a lot of people approached us to look at and talk about the Roadster, which was easily the smallest and quietest vehicle on the track all evening. It was probably also the only one to sport attention-grabbing, bright orange leather seats!The crowd was an extremely friendly bunch. They even seemed to forgive my admittedly rotten start on the first run (I was still fiddling with our data acquisition kit on the start line!) One Infineon veteran racer was so kind to give me a few tips and a beginner’s guide to drag etiquette. (It hasn’t been quite as jovial in the blogosphere. One blogger trashed me as a “pitiful driver.” Come on, be nice, people!)

Happily, a driver’s bad reaction time does not affect the quarter-mile test results, as the clock does not start until you break the start beam. So despite my sloppiness, we got a respectable time of 12.76, topping out at 104.7mph. This was roughly what I expected from VP 13, which has powertrain 1.5 and other enhancements under development that we wanted to test. The previous day, VP 13 clocked 12.82secs and 103.3mph, running slightly uphill.

If you’re curious, some comparable quarter-mile times can be found here.

On the second run I was a little too keen and ended up with a negative reaction time of -0.117. I jumped the lights. Sadly I never got a third try because after my second sketchy start they told me the car was too fast and asked me to leave the track.

I mean no disrespect to the wonderful folks at Infineon – but to set the record straight: Any convertible that runs less than 14 seconds needs to have a roll bar, and at first glance the Roadster does not appear to have one. In fact we do have a roll bar, which is integrated into the design of the car but is not immediately visible as it lurks under our gorgeous carbon fiber roll hoop cover. (The clue is in the name.)

My explanation fell on deaf ears. But in fairness, Infineon returned my $25. And when I return next season, I plan to come armed with a CAD drawing as evidence of the integral roll bar. Or maybe I’ll bring a hardtop.

Despite the Roadster’s scorching results, I have to admit I was slightly disappointed to be going home early. I was having a grand time – and many spectators and I came to the obvious conclusion that the Roadster is the *ideal* car to scoop up prizes in drag competitions.

Because there is no gear change or clutch, the car will give very repeatable times, provided the battery charge is at a similar level. As the prize is given for running closest to your predicted time, without going over it, the Roadster has an inbuilt advantage.

Even better (and as my choked starts show), you don’t have to be a professional driver who has perfected his clutch work and footing to consistently perform well in the Roadster. By contrast, drivers of internal combustion engine vehicles must factor in both falling temperatures as the night wears on and the driver’s ability to shift changes seamlessly. Both factors can significantly effect times and diminish their ability to get consistent results.

People interested in cars that don’t compromise on performance or the environment have long been Roadster fans and owners. But now I expect Tesla to develop a following among another group – drag racers!

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