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Tracking the Tesla Model 3, Part II: The expected and unexpected

Time for the truth has came on how would my Tesla Model 3 do on the track. Chuckwalla Valley Raceway will be the testing grounds.

Auto-piloting my way to Chuckwalla

5:30am of race day, I topped off the car’s battery at the Indio supercharging station as I planned then started my 60 mile trip to Chuckwalla. Easy math, starting at 310 miles at Indio, 60 miles to Chuckwalla, I should end up with 250miles of battery left right? Wrong. Turns out the path leading into Chuckwalla from Indio had lot of hill climbs. I ended up using 90-mile range of my battery arriving at Chuckwalla. What an unexpected surprise. 🤨

Upon arriving, I drove straight behind the classroom building, where the rumored 14-50 charger would be and viola, without much hassle I found the outlet and immediately started charging the car. At this point, I changed my display to show percentage of battery instead of range, since range doesn’t mean much anymore and watching the percentage will be more useful. I started at around 75% of battery charge. After doing the usual check in, registration, tire pressure check, torqueing lug nuts etc. I waited for my 1st session and wondered where my battery levels will be. Grid time for my 1st session comes. I hop into my car and check the battery level. 88% is where I will start at, not bad at all.

8:40am, I start off my out-lap, car feels good with a medium pace, then here goes the hot laps. First prediction happens, traction control kicks in hard and in almost every corner. I try to adjust for the traction control and be gentler, but it still kicks in. During the bowl (Turn 13), I charge the car in, lift off the throttle and let the bank to bleed off the speed, TC kicks and modulates the brakes. My passenger actually though it was me continually tapping the brakes. TC is definitely more intervening than I expected. I expected a little bit more of grunt from the car. The car had decent power coming out of slow corners, but it really lacked the high end horsepower needed to keep the speed going, hence the maximum speed of 101mph.

Regenerative brake was not as bad as I expected, but traction control alone was already interfering so much that regenerative brakes were lessor of an issue.

The car turned in a 2:12 lap time. It was slower than I expected. 😞

Back to pits, I was down to about 65% charge. I quickly plug the charger back in to get as much juice as I can back. What to do next? It was pretty obvious that the traction control was slowing me down and continue running the car like that wont yield faster laps and will heat up the rear brakes really quickly. I’ve been reading up on the possibilities to defeat the traction control and the only way available right now is to disconnect the wheel speed sensor. By doing so, it will disable TC and stop the interference but will also disable ABS. I balanced the two factors and decided it’s worth it to at least give it a try. Disconnecting the wheel speed sensor was actually lot easier than I thought. Taking the wheel off will make the sensor removal easier, but if you jack up the car, you can actually reach in to the sensor with the wheel on and just pull the plug. I also utilized this time to lower my tire pressures by a lot. In fear of tires rolling over due to stock suspension, no camber and skinny tires, I started the 1st session at 38psi. But with few laps in, the pressure shot up to 45psi and was definitely losing grip. A quick check using the pyrometer validates that. Middle section of the tires was about 20-30F hotter than the outside or inside. I lowered the pressure the tire pressures to 34psi and got ready for 2nd session.

10 minutes before 2nd session starting. I started the car to confirm that ABS/TC is disabled. All sorts of ABS and traction control warnings were popping up as expected, but as I read through the warnings, one unexpected one said, “Steering assist is reduced”. I drove the car around pit area and the steering effort felt hard, almost like no power steering. Decisions needed to be made. I drove around more to get a feel of the steering. It definitely was not easy but I felt it was manageable. I decided to go for it.

2nd session with the warm-up lap, everything felt much better already. The reduced power steering was not much of an issue as we picked up speed and no electronic nannies kicking in at all. After the warm up, I set to go hard on the hot laps. I ring in a 2:08 instantly. 4 seconds faster than before ✌️. But as laps goes on, charge got down quick, I ran into other cars and battery was heat soaked and reduced the car’s power.

Coming off track, I was down to 50% charge. I decided to call it a day cause it will take too long charge the car back up to performing levels, but by going through this session without traction control I was able to get a much better feel of the car and where it stands.

Overall, the car did some parts well and some parts not as well. The car could definitely use more horsepower coming out. The lovely instant torque that people love to brag about works on the streets, but does not translate on the track once the car is rolling at a higher speed. I’m sure the Dual Motor Performance model will do much better in that aspect. I’m stuck with 270hp/300tq in a 3800lb car.

What a difference Horsepower makes

The Brembo 6 piston GTs sourced from Corner3Motorsports was not an issue at all. In fact, it’s the rest of the car that’s not up on par with the brakes. The chassis and limit of the car felt good, turn in’s felt direct and the car moved as a whole. And at the limit, it felt quite neutral. The car was also holding some decent minimum speeds through turns. As you can see in this comparison of the Tesla vs. my stock-like GT-R, minimum cornering speeds were not far off. 🏎️

The weight was definitely hindering the car’s performance. I knew the car was heavy, but didn’t expect it to show so much. In the end, weight cannot be masked. No matter how low the center of gravity the weight is and how well it’s distributed, pound is pound. There’s just too much weight for the car’s stock suspension to manage at speeds. With a passenger in the car, we are at 4200lbs being thrown around at almost 1.3g. That’s small SUV weight territory and in comparison to the Porsche Macan S that I took to the track once, I felt the Model 3 had even more roll than the Macan. 🐷

With this much weight being thrown around, it affected every aspect of the car. I cannot brake as hard in this car, because the stock suspension pitches so much forward, it takes it too long to rebound and make for the turn ahead. Exiting corners was another issue due to the weight and soft suspension. I always like to rotate the car a little on exit and given this car is a RWD, I’d expect it shouldn’t be too much of a problem. But nope, the rear squats so much that lot of weight shifts to the rear and there’s not enough high-end torque to power out the corner.

Most corners at Chuckwalla at sweepers with double apexes and were about 70mph’ish corners. This style and speed of corners definitely benefited the cars stock suspension. But if we’d put this car to a track such as Buttonwillow Raceway, I think the suspension will not be able to keep up.

While I think it could be a bit too early to conclude the track-ability of the Tesla Model 3 RWD, a good suspension will bring it to a much better level. I was able to talk to Swift Springs through TPM motorsports and they will offer me the first Spec R prototype spring for me to try on my Model 3. I’ve never been too huge of a fan of just a spring upgrade, because I never trust OEM shock valving for track work. But Swift is very reputable and they actually offer springs that will work on the upper side of the OEM valving.

Curious once again, I’m patiently waiting for the Spec R springs to be installed on my car and I will bring it Buttonwillow Raceway for a Tesla Corsa event to evaluate the car once again. 🤔


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