On July 20th, I drove my Model S on the Laguna Seca raceway in Speed Venture’s Refuel event designed for electric vehicles. Laguna Seca has a famous corkscrew turn and the course is banked by both sand traps and walls. Speed Ventures had set up the event for electric vehicles only although in-between were a few noisy ICE vehicles on the raceway.
For the price of $125 including a $30 helmet rental, you and about 50 other drivers are on the track for 15 minutes three times during the day. According to what I have heard, this price is higher than other tracks in California that are less famous and located in places where land is cheaper. Fifteen minutes on the first glance sounds quite short but it is sufficient given the intensity of the experience.
The time trial was an additional fee. They also provided electric hookups and Tesla brought eight superchargers. The charging stations were intended for those who were participating in the time trial.
I had heard rumblings about “insurance” but decided to not investigate it. One rumor was that supplemental insurance was only necessary for the time trial but some insurance companies may also consider Laguna Seca a “non-public road”. I figured I would not drive extremely aggressively anyways and did not contact my insurance company.
I have a good friend who races regularly on these tracks so I had a very minor amount of prior knowledge. I have always lived by the motto that life is not a spectator sport and only rarely have I watched any sporting events including car racing. A number of other drivers mentioned they watched videos of the raceway prior to attending the event to familiarize themselves with the course.
The organization has mandatory briefings and debriefings as the rules of the road are a bit complex with several different flags that have different meanings; for example one flag indicates debris on the road. A number of people taped their headlights down just in case of flying debris.
The instructor also used the analogy that racing is a lot like skiing or snowboarding. There is speed involved but there is also a lot of skill and technique development. Newer drivers have simpler turns and hit the apex of the curve later than more experienced drivers with more advanced techniques. The instructor also provided instructions for what to do if you lose control of your car in different situations.
The first time out was quite overwhelming. I wore both the rented helmet, the baklava and sunglasses and the combination was fidgety and difficult to adjust correctly. The original list made it clear we needed to wear a long sleeve cotton shirt but that also felt hot and stuffy. I also adjusted the cars setting to regenerative braking to be low. I never drive with regenerative breaking low, so that major change was quite distracting the first time out.
I enjoyed my laps around the track. Folks warned about curves where you couldn’t see the road below you but for some reason I barely noticed that area in particular. Perhaps I did not react to these blind curves because I have driven on enough roads like that in real life. I found that as soon as you negotiated a turn following the guidelines, the next turn was coming up very quickly giving no time to rest. I definitely hit the blue and white striped area on the side once but did not have any real problems. I have to admit I did not see all of the flags that were on the track the first round. The track also had a series of numbered signs at every curve — three signs: “1”, “2” and “3”. I used these to gauge when to turn although he had not explained exactly what these signs meant.
Since I was in the beginner / inexperienced group, we were not allowed to pass on the first round. After a few loops around the track, I felt a bit guilty as there were more experienced people behind me and decided to leave a few minutes early to allow them to enjoy the track.
I enjoyed the second round a lot more when we were allowed to pass (and to be passed). The driver in front of you waves to you with the hand out the window with the an arm gesture to the left or right. Both front windows are required to be lowered while racing. When I got on the track I allowed a number of people to pass me. And then I basically had the track to myself for the rest of the session until near the end when I caught up to a couple of cars. At the debriefing a number of people had said they were in a traffic jam. Perhaps there were simply too many people on the track at a given time. I normally really don’t like to drive near other people even when just cruising down the freeway.
Right after my second drive was the EV parade lap. All electric vehicles could participate and drivers and passengers were not required to wear a helmet. This little loop around the track was nice and an alternative for people who don’t want to actually race.
The third session was about four hours after the second one. I did not feel compelled to wait around for the last session. I enjoyed the second one a lot but that was quite a long period to wait.
I’m sure for many folks driving on Laguna Seca’s racetrack would be on their bucket list. I took advantage of this opportunity to try something exciting. I enjoyed it a lot but I doubt I will do it again. I have been a lifetime skier and have snowboarded a few times. I love speed but I don’t particularly care to turn unless it is a beautiful medium mogul run, which unfortunately don’t exist much anymore in California — skiers and boarders these days prefer groomed runs. I found that a racetrack was more about turning than speed and it would take me a while to develop the skills to get a true thrill out of acceleration.
When talking to others at the track, someone suggested perhaps I’m more of a drag racer! Many years ago I remember going ridiculously fast on the autobahn in a rental Volkswagen and a number of times I have driven very fast on extremely remote desert roads where you have great visibility and few cars. I do enjoy driving on twisty roads but for me I really like simple speed.
More experienced drivers commented on that the Model S does limit power after racing hard for a few laps. The battery cooling is not set up for track use, so the algorithm does not kick in early enough. Probably a firmware change could fix this. I was so concentrated on driving I have no idea what my top speed was or whether I hit any power limits.