Tesla Adding Track Mode to Model S Plaid

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
tesla adding track mode to model s plaid

While it’s possible to catch a glimpse of a Tesla Model S staging at the local dragstrip, they don’t make many appearances at track days. EVs that weren’t designed specifically for racing circuits typically become undone after a few laps of sustained abuse, with Tesla’s first sedan being no different. Early examples of the Model S even failed to get around the Nürburgring when pushed to the limit, with touring car driver Robb Holland sharing videos of the model forcing itself into limp mode as components began overheating during a test run in 2014. Holland praised the car for its sublime road manners, though concluded it was ill-suited for serious racing.

Things are a little different today. Tesla now holds the fastest single lap of any EV to grace the Nordschleife and sells the Model 3 Performance with a dedicated track mode it plans on extending to Model S Plaid vehicles via an over-the-air (OTA) update. But can some fresh code and a little time really do what’s required to make the sedan a valid track vehicle when the preexisting hardware remains unchanged?

The big get with Tesla’s track mode is the ability to tweak or (allegedly) defeat the sedan’s fairly invasive stability control system. Handy during the daily commute, stability control ultimately limits what the car could do on a pristine racetrack. On the Model 3, this results in putting regenerative braking into overdrive and using it to assist with torque vectoring. Though the driver is never really free from getting assistance since the automaker’s vehicle dynamics controller is constantly monitoring things to decide how best to divert power to improve rotation.

However, the biggest gripe among those attempting to race the Model S typically stems from the heat management program erring on the side of caution. This too has been addressed with track mode by offering the same pre-cooling system that’s on the Model 3. Here, Tesla lowers the operating temperature of the battery pack in preparation for the onslaught of heat it’s about to be subjected to. It does the same whenever the car has pulled off the track or is enjoying a cooldown lap. The manufacturer claims the system allows for operation of the powertrain beyond typical thermal limits and increases refrigerant system capacity by overclocking the AC compressor into higher speed ranges.

The rest is about what you’d expect from any track mode. Dampers default to their setting and the infotainment system swaps to displaying all the relevant temperature readings, with a lap timer and G-meter thrown in for good measure.

Unfortunately, I’ve still not seen many Model 3 Performances make more than a handful of laps on any course before it begins issuing warnings about the brakes or battery overheating. But overheating is a common concern among people tracking their street cars and it’s probably not fair to directly compare a Tesla luxury product to something that’s been equipped with an external oil cooler and some tow hooks.

Tesla said this is all about keeping the fastest EV lap time at the Nürburgring and prepping the Model S for a 200-mph top speed that’s supposed to come by way of future OTA updates. I’m inclined to believe this will require a few hardware updates to be accomplished safely, however. As nice as the Model S is to take on the freeway, its steering needs to be sharpened before the company decides to transform it into a four-door hypercar. It’s also going to need better tires and brakes — the latter of which Tesla plans on offering by way of a carbon-ceramic brake kit for $20,000 available later this year. Though they’ll technically cost more than that since you’ll also have to purchase the 21-inch wheels in which to house your fancy stoppers.

With the ability to breeze past 60 mph in the low two-second range, nobody paying attention is going to claim the Model S Plaid isn’t an extremely fast car. But it seems to do all its best work in a straight line and I’m not sure why the manufacturer is so obsessed with competing with Porsche on the Nürburgring. These planned updates will undoubtedly make it more capable from a performance perspective, I just have doubts that it’ll make for a better luxury sedan or set the Model S to replace the Mazda MX-5 as the default track day automobile.

[Image: Virrage Images/Shutterstock]

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10 of 22 comments
  • Dal20402 Dal20402 on Jan 11, 2022

    The super-fast Teslas just don't seem relevant to daily life. I've test-driven both my friend's Model 3 Performance and a demo dual-motor Model 3 Long Range Plus (the car now sold as just plain Long Range). In default settings, the Long Range Plus was the nicer car to drive, because the Performance's throttle was a hair trigger. The Long Range Plus was more than quick enough for any street driving situation. The Performance trim seems to me like a way to get bragging rights while making your car worse, unless you take it to a drag strip. Of course all this is even more extreme when you compare the regular and Plaid versions of the Model S.

    • See 3 previous
    • Dal20402 Dal20402 on Jan 12, 2022

      @FreedMike Part of the reason I sold my G8 GXP—which is slower at legal speeds than even a non-Performance/Plaid Tesla—was that I never had an opportunity to exercise it, so I was just living with an unrefined interior and crap fuel economy for little benefit.

  • Kcflyer Kcflyer on Jan 12, 2022

    the reviews I watched of the Plaid all said it was badly under braked. Hopefully this is being addressed.

    • See 3 previous
    • Kcflyer Kcflyer on Jan 12, 2022

      @MrIcky The guys definitely seemed worried by those brakes on such an incredibly fast and heavy car.

  • Alan I blame COVID, the chip shortage, container shortage and the war in Ukraine. This aggression is evident in normal daily driving of late.
  • Alan $10 000 is a bit rich for a vehicle that most likely been flogged all its life, plus it's a VW. Lots of electrical gremlins live in them.
  • Alan Mitsubishi, Hino and Izuzu trucks are quite common in Australia. Another factor that needs to be taken into account are the cheap Chinese trucks and vans that are entering the market in Australia and becoming more popular as reliability improves, with huge warranties. Businesses want the cheapest logistics. Plumbers, concreters, builders buy many of these in their lightest versions, around 2.5 tonne payload. Hino/Toyota could use the cheaper competitor in Mitsubishi as a competitor against the Chinese. You don't see too many of the Japanese/Asian trucks in the rural areas.
  • 2ACL I think it's a good choice. The E89 didn't get respect due to its all-around focus when new, but it's aged well, and the N52/6HP combo is probably more fun and capable than it's given credit for.
  • Wjtinfwb I can hear the ticking from here...