Up to this point, everything had gone smoother than a warm chocolate fondue. It’s my sixth shot answering the siren’s call from the fourteener boulders of America’s Mountain— the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. The thrills and challenge of open-road racing are irresistible to me. But things have just taken a bad turn.
Just three months before, I was on a Third Row Tesla podcast with Ben Schaffer of Unplugged Performance, the noted Tesla tuner. I needed a ride, so I threw it out there: Say, why don’t we ask if we can borrow the Model S Plaid for Pikes Peak? “Not likely,” Schaffer said. “But maybe we could run our UP Model 3 Performance.”
Really? After my experience hot-lapping their suspension and carbon widebody mods at one of their Tesla Corsa track days, this made perfect sense. Impressive handling, upgraded brakes and cooling, huge torque, and adjustable all-wheel drive.
Better still, it would be a single 10-minute run at altitude, where electrons don’t slow down. Internal combustion cars wheeze up there, and turbos are tough to tune for it. Failures are common. High voltage is perfect for Pikes Peak and its 14,115-foot summit, and an electric prototype racer has the overall record, by a lot.
Before you know it, the Unplugged team has stripped and caged a brand-new Model 3 and installed every speed part they sell. The drivetrain remains stock, the complex high-voltage system being very difficult to modify, except for some tricks to keep it cool in the thin air. Power creates heat—whether it’s electric, gas, or diesel.
We test at MotorTrend ’s home away from home, WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, and set the electric car lap record on our first lap. The Model 3’s instant, massive torque response into all four racing slicks makes it a beast out of the tight turns, and the ultra-low center of gravity helps keep the UP3 stuck in the fast ones. It’s all about the launch. The power is not as awe-inspiring down the longer straights, but at 450 hp, it’s still quick.
As an aggressive driver who appreciates the confidence of a stable setup, I prefer the front-rear torque split at 50/50, to capitalize on the car’s strongest point: the low-speed exits. Unplugged added a rear limited-slip, so that end is hooked, but I feel what seems like traction control nibbling at the power due to inside-front wheelspin, indicating the car would benefit from an LSD on that end, too.
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