Juan Barnett's post of a rendering of a race-spec Tesla Model S got me thinking; can the Model S be realistically adapted for production-based touring car racing? How much must the car be altered to meet regulations? How will the electric motor's performance be matched with competing internal-combustion engines? Can the battery pack be made as safe as a fuel cell? And, the biggest question; is it realistic to race a car with a energy-replenishment time measured in minutes, not seconds?
The production-based aspect of the World Touring Car Championship went the way of NASCAR, DTM, and V8 SuperCars long ago, so I will imagine a Tesla effort to compete in either the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge or the Pirelli World Challenge, the two top production-car-based race series in Tesla's main market, North America.
Energy Replenishment: Can electrons stay competitive with hydrocarbon fluids?
A cursory search of Youtube will show that yes, electric cars can keep up with traditionally-fueled cars; at least over short distances. Nissan has highly modified a Leaf to make a NISMO Leaf, which is probably the closest car in existence to an electric touring car, and it can manage 20-40 race track miles between very lengthy pit stops. A DC quick charger needs 30 minutes to bring the Leaf's battery to 80% charge; quite a long time, but the tire changers will love it.
At the CTSCC race last week in Daytona, cars drove for a minimum of 45 minutes before routine pit stops could begin. On the 3.56 mile course, that happened at lap 20, or around 70 miles into the race. As for PWC, they have fifty-minute races without pit stops that last a similar distance. This is out of the range of the NISMO Leaf, but Tesla claims an 85kW Model S traveling at a constant 80 miles per hour can achieve a 200-mile range. Consider the NISMO Leaf's upper estimated range of 40 miles and compare that to the production Leaf's range of around 70 miles with the same drive train. If a race-spec 85kW Model S's range would decrease by the same ratio, a big if, the Tesla should easily manage a 70 mile race stint. If battery-swapping could happen within 25 seconds, a Model S could theoretically match pit strategy with existing CTSCC cars. However, the lack of pit stops would seemingly make the PWC ideal for the Model S in its current form.
Safety: Can the battery pack be as safe as a fuel cell?
The current generation of racing fuel cells is an engineering marvel. Only of the most violent of accidents cause a fire, and even then fires are easily manageable for well-placed safety crews. Conversely, Teslas seem to burn more often, even if publicity makes their fires more memorable than the average K-Car-B-Q on your local motorway. Lithium fires are notoriously difficult to extinguish, and while a trained track safety crew would likely be better prepared than your municipality's bravest, the battery packs will have to be that much safer. The car itself is incredibly safe, having actually broken failure-testing equipment in classic Ford GT style. However, the answer to this question is ultimately up to Tesla. Their battery pack sits spread out in the car's floor pan, meaning any large collision would likely damage it in some way. This does raise reliability issues that won't be discussed here, but only testing will see if the battery pack can withstand racing damage.
As for the charge in the car, all existing race cars have an external fuel cut-off switch that safety crews can use. An analog cutting off the wires from the battery to the car should be possible, but if anyone knows otherwise, please share in the comments.
Buzz Buzz vs. Vroom Vroom: Can electric cars keep up?
We already know that electric cars can blow past fuel-powered cars, but can the Model S keep up with CTSCC and PWC cars?
An 85kW Model S produces 416 horsepower and accelerates from 0-60 mph in 4.2 seconds. The CTSCC top series cars make anywhere from 350-405 horsepower (I cannot find the acceleration specs, share if you know them) and the PWC 2013 championship winning CTS-V produces 460 horsepower and accelerates from 0-60 in 3.1 seconds. Tesla may have to reduce the Model S gearing, but the drivetrain should need little bolstering to be competitive.
Building a Racing Model S: Can the Model S comply with regulations?
Neither the CTSCC nor the PWC have rules that would bar a Model S from competing, though neither has specific rules for electric competitors; these would have to be written. However, both series mandate bulkheads between the driver and fuel cell, with PWC requiring a metallic bulkhead. A metal capsule around the battery may count as a bulkhead, but there is no precedent for that.
Interestingly the CTSCC mandates stock door latches, which may be interesting with the Model S' trick handles
Such a thing as electric touring car racing is likely possible if Tesla and sanctioning bodies want it to happen. The criminally under-watched CTSCC and PWC would likely love the attention the Model S would bring, but Tesla would be hard-pressed to find the business case for it.
Photo Credit: Tesla Motors (cropped for Kinja)