Pedal to the Metal... It’s a Sprint to the Finish!
Easter Monday 2010 saw the first official motor race that included Electric Vehicles in the UK. Held at the Historic Goodwood Circuit, Tesla Motors became the world’s first electric vehicle manufacturer to enter competitive motorsport in the UK. Earlier this year, the UK’s motorsport governing body, the Motor Sport Association, assessed the performance and safety criteria for electric vehicles competing in UK Motorsport. Finally, motor racing clubs could create competing classes for EVs. The Goodwood Road Racing Club were first to create a class for an EV and invited Tesla to enter 2 cars in their first sprint of the 2010 season, the GRRC Spring Sprint. This year’s sprint included 9 Classes for Modern and Historic Road and Racing cars as well as Class E for road-legal cars built after 1979 and propelled by an electric motor and solely powered by on-board batteries. The invitation gave Tesla the opportunity to answer a question asked by EV enthusiasts and petrolheads alike… How does the Roadster compare on track with petrol-powered sports cars? A minute feels like an eternity when you are sitting on the start line pointing towards the 100mph entrance to Magwick, the first corner at the historic Goodwood motor circuit; far too much time for contemplation… This Tesla Roadster does not belong to me. This is my first dry lap of Goodwood. I wonder if that old 911 RS has dribbled oil all over the first corner. Will my boss forgive me if I land upside down in the tyre wall? Probably not! I look over to my right and see that James, driving the white Roadster Sport, is not at all concerned. He’s busy entertaining the Clark of the course and the Marshalls by blaring Classical FM from the Radio… "See, it does make a noise," he quips. James Wood, friend of Tesla and vastly experienced professional racing driver, was drafted to drive Car #58. With thousands of laps’ experience of the Goodwood circuit, James was tasked with extracting the best time possible from the Roadster. My brief from Tesla HQ… get around the circuit, don’t embarrass us, and don’t crash! The start light goes green and James is first to show the spectators and course officials the awesome spectacle of a Roadster launch. All eyes follow James around the track for a moment before returning their focus on bright green car #57. Me. Now it’s my turn. No messing around with launch control, traction control settings or balancing clutch and engine revs for a clean launch in a Tesla. I simply stamp my right foot, aim for Magwick and try to remember which way the circuit goes. The timing sheets showed that both Roadsters cut the beam placed 64ft after the start line in a fraction over 2 seconds, bettered on the day only by two (very far from factory standard) Nissans (a GTR and a Skyline) and a Porsche 911 GT3 Cup race car.
Through the first corner and accelerating hard towards Fordwater at just under 120mph with 5mph to go until our limiter, it struck me that most of the other cars were already pulling between 130 and 160mph.If we (I say we and mean James) were to bag ourselves a respectable lap, time lost on the straights was going to have to be made up in the corners.
The Roadster clung on to the tarmac hard through turn one and was flat out through Fordwater. On approach to the unnamed entry to St Mary’s full of confidence, I leave braking a little too late. Re-Gen plus a quick dab of the brakes scrubs off just enough speed to turn in to the corner Initially it feels like the Roadster’s rear wants to overtake its front before it settles in to nicely balanced slide and point’s itself towards St Mary’s second apex. This infamous corner reputedly ended the career of Stirling Moss. Not wishing to cut my career with Tesla short I thought it best not to fall off here and to get through without drama. I needn’t have worried of course. The Roadster has huge reserves of grip. Its enormous traction let me exploit all 215kw of power to haul the Roadster out of the corners without fuss.
Next up, Woodcote. The circuit guide’s description of a tricky double apex right hander doesn’t do it justice. Recalling one competitor fall off the track here quite spectacularly earlier in the day helped direct the focus on keeping the Roadster’s carbon-fibre body in one piece and finding the braking-point. Ever stable, the Roadster’s balance through the corner gave no cause for such concern. Turning in on the brakes with a little assistance from Re-Gen had the Roadster sliding neatly in to the apex. Back on the power early again and heading towards the chicane… a quick right, left flick and the I’m on the start-finish straight looking for the flag.
After another two timed runs James has recorded a best of 99.95 seconds for a class win and I finish the day on 101.04 seconds and take second place. So how did our Tesla Roadster compare on track with the petrol-powered sports cars? Rather well, as it turns out! Of the 84 cars on the track that day, our best times put us 25th and 29th in the overall standings – an outstanding result. Heading back to London in the winning Roadster, I passed some of the other drivers towing their race cars home. The strange looks they gave me suggested they were not expecting to see the Roadster on the road after a day on the track. At the first set of traffic lights I pull up next to an Aston Martin. The driver, revving its engine, is trying to goad me into a drag race. As tempting as it might be to demonstrate for the second time that day why Newport Pagnell’s finest is no match for 400nm of instant torque, I decide it really isn’t necessary. Tesla isn’t about showing off, it is simply about steering the way to a new future… a new future where cars are as fun and fast as they are clean. A future where the thrill of driving is not compromised in the quest for zero emissions. And as I look at the driver of the Aston Martin as the light turns green, I am reminded that this new future is already here, and I’m driving it!