First there was derision. Then mockery turned into admiration. Now a battle is unfolding between two of the most revered names in the automobile world, Porsche and Tesla.
The venue of the showdown: Germany’s Nurburgring, the race track considered the most challenging in the world. The circuit boasts 73 tight turns – Silverstone in the UK has 18 – changing elevations and a brutal length of more than 20km winding through leafy forest, earning it the nickname Green Hell.
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It is here that Porsche’s new Taycan Turbo S set the record as the fastest four-door electric car last month, clocking in at 7min 42sec.
The feat wasn’t lost on a rival sitting thousands of miles away in California: Tesla’s Elon Musk. Always one to relish a good fight, Musk picked up the gauntlet and has dispatched a Model S to the German hinterland to reclaim the bragging rights as king of the electric sedan.
The car confrontation has all the ingredients of an epic battle between incumbent and upstart, infused with social-media feeds which have energised die-hard fans on either side of the Atlantic wondering which of the two cars can shave those vital extra seconds off their lap time.
Adding to the frenzy is former Formula One champion Nico Rosberg, who chimed in on Twitter to pilot the Tesla, an offer Musk happily accepted.
Musk has a lot riding on the challenge. After Porsche unveiled the Taycan Turbo and Turbo S as its first electric cars last week, Musk teased the brand for its “turbo” nomenclature because a turbocharger is only found in a combustion engine.
Following the initial ribbing, he found more charitable words in a later tweet, acknowledging the Taycan “does seem like a good car” and that the Nurburgring track time “is great”.
The stakes are equally high for Porsche, which has watched Tesla turn itself into a veritable alternative for customers seeking a high-performance car but with an electric engine, an open flank that the Stuttgart-based manufacturer now hopes to protect with the Taycan.
Musk posted on September 6 that a Model S would make an appearance at the track “next week”. Indeed, a modified Model S has been spotted testing on the Nurburgring Nordschleife, according to Car and Driver magazine, which appeared to show the car on the track as part of a general driving session open to others. The model sported flared fenders and an enlarged opening at the front, probably for extra cooling.
When exactly the car might attempt to break the Taycan’s record remains shrouded in mystery. Tesla did not respond to a request for comment on its plans for the Nurburgring.
The Tesla-Porsche competition may be a marketing spectacle, but one that nevertheless helps to draw attention to electric vehicles, said Gene Munster, a managing partner and long-time Tesla bull at venture capital firm Loup Ventures. Munster predicted Tesla would race a souped-up version of the Model S at the ring, and that it will beat Porsche’s Taycan record.
“Elon wouldn’t take it to the track if they didn’t think they would win,” Munster said. “He’s fiercely competitive, and he loves sticking it to traditional automakers. It’s his hobby. He feels confident.”
Bolstering Tesla’s case, the company tweeted last week that a Model S with a new ‘Plaid’ power-train beat the record for the fastest four-door sedan at Laguna Seca, a race track near Monterey, California, even as the time hadn’t been achieved during a competitive event.
Pushing the round below 10 minutes is the ambition of all Nurburgring daredevils. The track is open to both professional and amateur drivers, and the fastest time with a street-legal sports car was 6min 44sec, performed in a Porsche GT2 RS MR in October last year, according to the circuit’s website. That’s an average speed of 185kmh for the 20.8km circuit.
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