Prototype Tesla Model S “Plaid” (Available 2020) Breaks 4-Door Sedan Lap Record At Laguna Seca (Video)

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Proving the superior performance of electric vehicles, a prototype Tesla Model S with “Plaid powertrain and chassis” has broken the outright 4-door sedan lap record at the famous Laguna Seca Raceway, in a time of 1:36.555. Elon Musk has confirmed that this version of the Model S will go into series production around a year from now, and the same powertrain option will also be made available for the Tesla Model X.

There’s potential for this Tesla Model S to put in an even faster lap time, since the 1:36.555 lap was driven by what Tesla refers to as “a member of the Tesla development team (amateur driver).” The previous lap records for 4-door sedans were held by the limited production (300 unit) Jaguar XE SE Project 8 (1:37.54 — video), at an MSRP of $187,500, and the slower Cadillac CTS-V (1:38.52 — video), at MSRP $89,000. Both were driven by pro racing driver Randy Pobst. In the hands of such a pro, shaving another second or so off the Model S lap time may be possible.

For context, the BMW M4 GTS, BMW M5, Alfa Romeo Giulia QV, and other renowned sports sedans are all a good bit slower to lap the Laguna Seca circuit. Beyond the sedan category, the only faster “4-seat” cars around the circuit are 2-door “coupes” — a couple of Porsche 911 variants, a couple of Nissan GTR variants, and the Camaro ZL1 1LE. Calling these “4-seaters” is a stretch — we’re talking about very cramped jump seats in the back, with almost no head or leg room — only really suitable for small children. In terms of practicality, these are obviously a far cry from a spacious and comfortable sedan like the Model S.

Aside from the above, only 2-seat performance cars and exotic supercars (e.g. McLarens, Ferraris, and Lamborghinis) can lap this circuit faster than the Model S (here’s a decent list of Laguna Seca lap times).

The “Plaid” powertrain goes beyond “Ludicrous” (and former “Insane”) modes (a nomenclature of scale derived from the classic Spaceballs movie), and was previously only known to be planned for the upcoming Tesla Roadster. Unlike previous Tesla Performance powertrains, Elon Musk confirmed that “Plaid” uses 3 electric motors, and that this configuration will be available in both the S and X (as an option) as well as in the Roadster (as standard).

In the case of Model S (and likely Model X), the new variant also features chassis changes, and probably also includes more overall power, likely a track mode, and almost certainly advanced cooling design for the battery, power electronics and motors (among other changes). Musk also made clear that there are no plans to feature this Plaid powertrain setup in the Model 3 or Model Y.

Finally, Musk clarified that the pricing for this powertrain option will be above the current Performance variants, yet more affordable than competitors:

The Tesla Model S — presumably in a similar Plaid prototype form — is currently in tuning for performance and safety on the Nürburgring Nordschleife, in preparation for setting a competitive lap time. Musk has indicated that it will be another week or two before everything is ready for a safe attempt at the actual timed lap. For example, the Flugplatz area, around 50 seconds into the circuit, involves a high speed jump just before a fast corner, which requires detailed suspension work to be undertaken for safety, especially in heavier EV vehicles.

The Laguna Seca lap time result, combined with all we now know (and can reasonably estimate) about the new powertrain, suggests that the Model S Plaid prototype should handily beat the recent 7:42 Nordschleife lap time set by the Porsche Taycan Prototype. It will probably also beat the lap times of the Porsche Panamera Turbo and BMW M5, even though these have a considerable top speed advantage down the long back straight. Unless the Plaid powertrain has boosted the Model S’s top speed … ?

Musk has also stated that the upcoming Tesla Roadster will tackle the Nürburgring Nordschleife next year (likely still in pre-production prototype form):

We earlier speculated that a new Tesla Model S powertrain would likely be used to set the Nürburgring Nordschleife lap time. We now have some of the details (Musk says more will be revealed soon). What’s your guess as to some of the other specs of this upcoming “Plaid” Model S? What kind of lap time do you think it will achieve at the Nordschleife? Please let us know in the comments.

Images courtesy of Tesla

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Dr. Maximilian Holland

Max is an anthropologist, social theorist and international political economist, trying to ask questions and encourage critical thinking. He has lived and worked in Europe and Asia, and is currently based in Barcelona. Find Max's book on social theory, follow Max on twitter @Dr_Maximilian and at, or contact him via LinkedIn.

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