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Tesla tests Model S with an even faster ‘Plaid’ powertrain at Laguna Seca

Tesla teased a prototype Model S that Elon Musk says can go faster than the “Ludicrous” speed the company’s cars currently achieve. The new powertrain is dubbed “Plaid” and is “about a year away from production,” Musk tweeted Wednesday. (Both names are a reference to the Mel Brooks movie Spaceballs.) The Plaid Model S made its debut at Laguna Seca raceway, where it lapped the famous California road course in just 1 minute and 36 seconds.

The new Plaid powertrain, which employs three electric motors instead of two, will be available in the Model S, Model X, and the second-generation Roadster. It won’t be available for the Model 3 or the Model Y, Musk said. It will “cost more than our current offerings, but less than competitors,” he added, a possible reference to the newly-unveiled Porsche Taycan Turbo, which starts at $150,000. (Though the new Roadster starts at $200,000.)

As Tesla pointed out on Twitter, 96 seconds is about one second faster than the “record for a four-door sedan” at Laguna Seca. But this is where things get tricky. A spokesperson for Laguna Seca told CNBC that track officials “were not officiating while the Tesla was testing,” and that “[o]fficial records only happen during sanctioned events where a sanctioning body is officiating.”

That’s a pretty standard approach when it comes to track records, though it didn’t stop Musk from claiming on Twitter that Tesla had set the new “record for fastest 4 door ever at Laguna Seca.” The Silicon Valley automaker also posted a video of the run to YouTube titled “Tesla Model S Fastest Lap at Laguna Seca.” The semantic confusion of this wording is cleared up in the video description: “We lapped Laguna Seca in 1:36.555 during advanced R&D testing of our Model S Plaid powertrain and chassis prototype — a second faster than the record for a four-door sedan.”

To be sure, the Model S lap is nowhere near the fastest Laguna Seca lap. That was officially set by Helio Castroneves in 2000 in a Champ Car, the short lived offshoot of / erstwhile competitor to IndyCar (don’t ask). Back then, Castroneves put down a lap time of 1 minute 7 seconds. (The unofficial record, 1 minute 5 seconds, was set in 2012 in a Ferrari F1 car.)

Tesla is also running a Model S around another famous race track this week: Germany’s Nürburgring. Musk announced last week that the company would take a Model S there in an apparent response to the news that Porsche’s Taycan Turbo had set the “four door electric sports car” lap record, which is another arguably made-up record.

But Tesla isn’t attempting to break any records at Nürburgring just yet. Musk later tweeted that the company plans to “review & tune” the Model S for safety before going all-out there. (Which may be a good thing, since it seems Tesla may be running a lemon law buyback Model S.) Tesla also won’t have the track to itself, because it will be making the run during a session where multiple automakers are allowed to test.

Tesla’s Model S Nürburgring runs will be the closest thing we get to an actual head-to-head competition between the two cars until more Taycans make it into the real world. It’s a matchup many performance car fans have anticipated during the four years Porsche spent hyping its flagship EV. On paper, the Taycan isn’t as quick as Tesla’s best Model S — and it also starts at $150,900, which some might say is ludicrous in its own right.


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