Voices

I experienced a Tesla, a Toyota 86 and a Formula Vee racecar all at Phillip Island

I love the variation in my job, which overlaps seamlessly into my recreation.

ON FRIDAY NIGHT I picked up a Dodge Ram, a giant American ute over 6m long with nearly 1100Nm of torque that can tow over six tonnes. Naturally, I drove it to Phillip Island where I used it to set out cones and yes, a 3500kg ute is somewhat overkill for carrying a few bits of brightly coloured plastic. But it was fun! d11d8622

I spent the rest of the day instructing novices to racetracks at an MSCA Come and Try Day, one of whom was driving a Tesla. I also hotlapped a mate’s 86, and drove a tiny open-wheeled Formula Vee racecar. And then drove back home in the Ram.

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Image credit: http://www.sdpics.com

I’ve written quite a bit about the 86, and a Ram review is on the way, so I want to zero in on the Tesla and the Vee. You don’t drive student cars, but nevertheless the Tesla 90D S was quite an experience. It’s nearly 5m long, weighs close to 2200kg of which around 700kg is batteries, and has two electric motors, one for the front axle and one for the rear. Below is the 100, which is very similar to the 90:

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Everything is controlled by a sophisticated array of computers driven off a huge variety of sensors, and the Tesla is very much the car of the future, now. So of course it is different, and that was even noticeable while we were waiting in pit lane, where there was of course just quietness… in contrast to the car with a modified exhaust owned by another of my students!

Then there was the satnav – I have a printout of the track with me, but the Tesla has a 17-inch display screen and Google Earth. Not often you can see that sort of detail.

d11d8634 I looked closely but there weren’t any of the geese that populate the track represented on the screen. More work needed, Tesla.

Soon it was time to follow the pace car out on track, and as we passed the circuit entry I told the driver we could accelerate. Well, we did… and as I’m sure you’ve heard, Tesla all-electric acceleration is quite something to experience. It’s pretty brutal, and accompanied by barely any noise so there’s an odd disconnect between ears and body – I’m used to hearing the roar of a V8 or something when we gather speed that fast. Nevertheless, you get used to it.

Out on track the Tesla performed better than I expected. It’s heavy and not even a pure sportscar, but it seemed to handle the track very well, aided by a cautious but competent driver. Obviously there were no gearchanges to upset balance, the car tracked accurately in the corners, was stable at speed and generally permitted rapid and unhurried progress. The braking, always a problem with roadcars on circuits, would have been helped by the regeneration system. If the stability control ever kicked in I never felt it, and I suspect there would have been all manner of driving aids working in the background to contribute to the car’s track performance.

Rapid progress could be made for sure, but the car’s ability to pile on speed did seem to tail off earlier than an equivalently-engined petrol vehicle. On public roads with 100km/h limits you’d never worry though, and I think it can be confidently said that Teslas are rapid in more than just short straight lines. Overall, it’s an impressive vehicle and it’d be interesting to actually try and hotlap it. 

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Image credit: http://www.sdpics.com

We had two instructor sessions in the car, both about 15 minutes long, and between the first and second the owner was able to recharge the car off a 240v power supply. However, after the next one – when he had more confidence and was therefore quicker – that wasn’t possible, so I guess come the day that we’re all driving electric sportscars we’ll need a lot of fast-charging devices. Better than the array of jerrycans we use now I suppose.

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But that begs a question – would you drive an all-electric sportscar? I would if there was nothing else, a bit like I’d eat tofu if the alternative was starvation. Yes, the speed and acceleration is there, but you miss the rawness, the theatre of the petrol engine which for me at least is a large part of the enjoyment of a motor vehicle, and no amount of engineering or electronics can compensate for the delightful directness of a lightweight motorcar.

Just like the Formula Vee. This is a tiny little open-wheel racecar weighing less than 500kg built using VW parts from which the series gets its name. You sit low and need a full-face helmet, it’s manual, and there’s absolutely no electronics to help you at all. You have to remove the steering wheel, then squeeze into the cockpit, then refit the wheel.

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I’m happy I’m not any wider, and that I’m wearing my race shoes with thin, narrow soles as the three pedals are close together. The four-speed gearshift is to the right, and it’s the smallest gearlever you can imagine with the shortest throw I’ve ever used. I’m given a direction only to use third and fourth, which is more or less what I say to my own students.

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Image credit: http://www.sdpics.com

The engine is behind me, and it’s noisy. The owner, trusting soul that he is, pushes me out of the pits, and it’s time to hit the track.

The acceleration is, after the Tesla, slow. But the sense of acceleration is quite different, and so you feel like you’re going faster than you are. You’re much lower, there’s the loud engine note rising in direct proportion to speed, and you have to change gears yourself. There is a thrilling connectedness with the car the larger vehicle cannot offer…you can see the front wheels… it’s a real racecar, just a little one. It’s also mid-engined and not mine, so I’m taking it easy, not wanting to explore lift-off oversteer into Turn 1. But I am learning. I thought I knew Phillip Island but this car is teaching me so much more about the track surface it’s like I’ve never turned a lap there before. It would be amazing to race one of these, and they’re pretty cheap by racecar standards.

Maybe I’ll buy that Dodge Ram and load a Vee in the back, while I still can before Teslas take over the world.

Further reading

Title image and all on-track shots by SD Pics: http://www.sdpics.com

  • Allen

    “…before Teslas take over the world.” Really?

    • Yes, Teslas, or something like them. The internal combustion engine doesn’t have much room left for development, and it’s time for something new, like when horses were replaced by cars.

      • Allen

        What do you think of fuel-cell cars? Or too early to tell? Tesla boss calls them fool-cell cars.

        • I think that at least in the short term electric is the way to go as it has the infrastructure mostly in place already, and it can be further developed by hybrids too. In the longer term FC may take over, but I doubt it. The problem electric needs to solve is cleaner source energry. FC doesn’t offer enough advantage over electric in my view, and that will become increasingly the case as time moves on.

          • JoeR_AUS

            Seriously, Infrastructure in place?

            There is 6500 petrol stations with average 8 pumps each and you take 10mins to refill were a Tesla takes 3hours and how many recharge stations are there? You would need 18 times the stations to be made available and how much would they cost be as you sit there for 3 hours?

          • Yes. Electricity is everywhere, and two things will happen; electric cars will get longer and longer ranges, and charging will become quicker not just off 240v but off superchargers. And it is much easier to install a supercharger than a FC energy station.

            Each of those 6500 petrol stations also has electricity 😉

          • Adzee Aus

            That sounds the element you’re missing. They no longer need to be at petrol stations. Search Bjorn Tesla in YouTube to watch a gentlemen frequently travel all through Europe using a rake of Tesla Superchargers, and also third party charges. Most are near hotels, restaurants and cafes, or just next to roadhouses. I have only seen him wait for a few times. But that’s part of the early adoption.

            Given the attractiveness to get those customers to your store I imagine places like Bunnings will add them and shopping centres will roll more out just to improve options, and to get the 1 hour of your time to spend money at their locations. Service stations will be redundant.

          • JohnGC

            I hope you weren’t referring to Bjorn Nyland, the Norwegian guy who won a Model X and money from Tesla in a competition based on getting new customers for Tesla. Do you think he’s the sort of guy who would post a critical review of a Tesla? Search Youtube for “You’ve never seen a Tesla like this!!”. You get a more balanced view of the pros and cons of Tesla and the supercharging network. You’ll see how annoying the wait to charge can be, particularly if you’re going away. Also, Tesla now fines the squatters who leave their cars there after its fully charged. So, the wait time is a problem, it’s not the relaxing break you might think it is.

          • Adzee Aus

            Yes, I was. He filed video reports on his vehicle (211,000km) with all of this issues, parts replaced etc. he wasn’t too hard on it, mentioned common issues etc. I felt that was pretty fair and it was well before he got any endorsements or support from Tesla.

          • JohnGC

            I think the car itself is great, but the infrastructure situation is the biggest issue and the charge time needs to come down a lot. Owner reviews I take with a grain of salt. Bjorn bought his S without test driving a Tesla, so he was always going to love it. He also takes it on trips for the purpose of visiting charging stations in Norway that he hasn’t visited before! I guess that makes them conveniently located. I would love a Tesla, but I just drove from Tweed Heads to Mildura and back for Xmas and it will be a very long time before I could do that trip in an EV. I can’t do Tweed Heads to Noosa in a day, I can’t do Tweed Heads to Grafton in a day and think this is a serious limitation for a $150K car.

          • Adzee Aus

            You seem quite angsty about Bjorn, don’t understand that, and actually he just loved road trips, and started doing delivery jobs and in the process visiting super charges along the way. The model S can recharge in 30 minutes consistently at a super charger, I’m not sure why this is not accepted as fact by you?

            As for your journey you just mentioned. Yes, that’s a tough one as far as super charges but there is ones down the east coast, including Goulburn and Euroa but that’s why hotels etc are installing them. You need to appreciate as well that in Europe they have higher denisity of population than us with less distance so we suffer from the cost of Tesla or third parties installing in areas where people currently don’t visit often is a huge investment for little return. But as businesses recognise the benefits of customers visit you will see this al change, and hopefully there will be a great network in the future.

            Yes a Tesla ain’t cheap but if we all started hassling Hyundai to bring the ionic (with similar kWh range to Tesla) then we could all have much more affordable options and the introduction of more charging stations would increase.

          • JohnGC

            Watch the video I suggested. A different owner review, much more realistic use of the car and it’s charge times. It’s not really a review of the car and is just a guy trying to get to a place by a certain time. Bjorn likes the tech stuff, he’s a computer programmer and seems happy to sit in the car looking at the screen for an hour, playing with the buttons, waiting for the charge. I don’t really know anybody like that.

          • Hi JohnGC – interestingly I did Melbourne-Mildura-Melbourne over the break, but not in a Tesla!

            I don’t think range is a reason not to buy the car. The vast majority of car trips don’t involve hundreds of km of driving. It’s like saying don’t buy a $150k car if it won’t tow 3000kg – range is just one criteria for a car.

            Admittedly, Teslas make no economic sense, but no luxury or sports car does.

          • JohnGC

            Hi Robert, I get what you’re saying with the “most trips” argument. But reviewers rarely apply that argument consistently across the features of the Model S. If most trips are short trips then does it make sense to buy a 5 metre long car, with 2 boots, that can accelerate 0-100km/h in under 4 seconds? For most trips, no and I think that’s what you are saying. But it is a luxury car and as such will have features that are nice to have, but not necessary for most trips. I put driving range in that category. A long driving range gives me options. With a $20K petrol car I can drive to Mildura or I can fly. I can take the Pacific Hway to Sydney, or I can take the New England. So, I see driving range as a legitimate shortcoming with the EVs and if you really only ever do short trips, and want electric, then get a Leaf or i3.

            BTW, Mildura was stinking hot when I was there, but I noticed a lot more traffic on the road this year driving out there then previous years. I thought all the sensible people hit the coast over summer.

          • Hi John. I agree that range is an issue for the electric cars, but people that consistently drive hundreds of kays like you and I are an exception. There’s no way Teslas make economic sense at the moment, but no car at that price point does.

            Lots of people were in the river when I was there, looked nice and cool!

          • Adzee Aus

            Are you serious about that guy and the clip you recommended? He is not ordinary. id you own an ev your mindset needs to shift. If you don’t accept any of those things like plugging in at night you only have yourself to blame. Those other tesla’s were probably finished charging excluding removing the power adapter Tesla will most likely in furture autonomous introductions tell the cars to find another space autonomously so the next person can charge.

            What a waste of 11 minutes to not see anything revealing.

          • JohnGC

            OK, sorry to waste your time, but I thought it was pretty real world. He was trying to juggle work and family and didn’t have the time up his sleeve to charge the night before and just thought he’d ‘fill up’ the next day. It seemed a reasonable mindset to me but hopefully the future can make charging more accessible.

          • Adzee Aus

            It’s also not 3 hours to charge…

      • Agnt James Vargas

        There is always room for improvement, but Tesla is life and electric cars rocks

  • Adzee Aus

    I think the Hyundai ionic will be a game changer here in Aus if the all electric model comes. From every review or owner experience online that I have seen it gets similar range to Tesla’s in the sense of kWh per 100km which is very exciting.

Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper is the editor of PM4x4, an offroad driver trainer and photographer interested in anything with wings, sails or wheels. He is the author of four books on offroading, and owns a modified Ford Ranger PX which he uses for offroad touring. His other car is a Toyota 86 which exists purely to drive in circles on racetracks. Visit his website: www.l2sfbc.com