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Tesla's Nürburgring Run Raises Questions over Value of Lap Times

Tesla’s competition with Porsche, in which it set a new lap record on Germany’s racetrack, has reignited a controversy about the value of lap times, as the difference in conditions made the value of lap times debatable.

Porsche and Tesla are battling to establish supremacy in lap times for four-door electric sports cars, but comparisons are not exact, as conditions, ranging from car modifications to tyre types, vary with each test.

“We want to have circumstances that can be understood and replicated,” said Nürburgring spokesman Alexander Gerhard, adding that the racing circuit operator had moved to tighten rules by which a car maker can claim a certified lap time.

Automakers use the Nordschleife, one of the world’s most treacherous courses with 40 right-hand and 33 left-hand turns, to hone a vehicle’s sporting characteristics and burnish a car’s image for marketing purposes.

Tesla was spotted this week with a variant of its Model S sedan at the circuit, which is 20.8 km long, with slanted cambers and a 300-m altitude difference between its highest and lowest points. According to German car magazine Auto Motor und Sport, Tesla recorded an unofficial time of 7 minutes and 23 seconds, beating Porsche’s Taycan’s lap time of 7 minutes and 42 seconds.

However, critics voiced concerns that Porsche and Tesla weren’t competing under similar conditions.

“The car was heavily modified,” said Stefan Baldauf, who photographs prototype vehicles being tested on the circuit for a living. “Aside from a roll cage and the driver’s seat, the interior had been stripped out,” he added. “The windows were blacked out, so it was hard to tell.”

The Tesla also appeared to have semi-slick tyres, used only on racing circuits and unsuited for everyday use, Baldauf said, adding that a comparison is “hardly fair if this is the vehicle used to demonstrate that Tesla is faster.”

A Porsche spokeswoman told Reuters its Taycan was tested using standard tyres. Notary Jens Boehle, who certified lap times by Porsche, said, “Scope for cheating is as big as you can imagine. Is it a prototype vehicle, a standard road legal vehicle, or is it a specially modified racing version of a standard road car? These are just some of the questions that need to be answered.”

Tesla declined to comment on its lap record effort. The company’s CEO Elon Musk responded on Twitter, saying that “the final configuration used at Nürburgring to set the record will go into production around summer 2020, so this is not merely for the track.”

Gerhard, the Nürburgring spokesman, said that officials are trying to standardise speed record attempts, as in some runs for the record cars were allowed to make a flying start using a 20.6- stretch of the track.

“We now mandate that the full 20.8 km is used,” Gerhard added. “And we employ a notary to measure the time following rumours that another manufacturer had cheated, by speeding up video footage.”

Nürburgring hopes the new rules, introduced this year, will help revive the circuit’s popularity as a venue for competitive benchmarking to be “a believable benchmark,” according to Gerhard.

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