A Tesla Model 3 Performance will take on the gruelling 1,000km Targa West road race again on Thursday to Sunday, in an effort to echo the fantastic winning results it achieved in 2020 when it outran its competitors by 10 minutes against a lineup of high-spec petrol-guzzlers.
But this year it will be with a difference, becoming the first Tesla Model 3 in the Southern Hemisphere to enter an FIA-sanctioned motorsport with a roll cage.
The addition of a roll cage means that, for the first time, the Tesla Model 3 – with husband and wife drivers Jurgan and Helen Lunsmann in the front seats – will be able to enter the high speed Targa 165 component, which has a top speed of 165km/hr.
For Florian Popp, whose company Gemtek sponsors the team, “it’s a fun fast, clean way to get the message out about clean transport.”
“We still haven’t found a more effective way to convince Commodore drivers and petrol heads about the transition than to put a car on a race track,” he tells The Driven.
The car itself is still an unmodified Model 3 Performance, which can far outpace the 165km/hr limit for the Targa 165.
Having slaughtered its competitors in 2020, the Gemtek team and Jon Edwards – who has pioneered a roadhouse waste-powered electric vehicle charger which was instrumental in 2020’s win, and whom Popp refers to as the “white knight” of electric cars in Western Australia – sat down to decide how to further the case of the Model 3 at the 2021 event.
“After last year’s Targa West, the decision was made to install a roll cage into the car,” he says.
“So it opens it up to the highest speed categories – the 165 and the full open class which goes 200km/hr.”
Although the car can go faster, Popp points out “this isn’t a race track.”
“The Targa West is run on normal roads – country roads and city roads – so there is a speed restriction in the 165 and open simply because with those sort of roads, the event needs to be safe.”
“Motorsport is dangerous and from our perspective, Tesla’s electric cars are fast. Keeping it on the track is an important message to young drivers who drive these cars.”
“The way that the Targa regulations work is that the cars can only have minimum mods – they are rally-prepared and are very fast but can only be modified within very specific parameters,” he says.
“They have to be fairly close to production cars. It allows people to compare apples with oranges in this type of format, and they are accessible to normal people.”
Although the Tesla has superb acceleration, in the Targa 165 it is up against competitors with similarly spectacular specs. And while some sections of the race are 20km long, some stages are city stages with short sharp accelerating, creating a sort of democratic levelling of capabilities so the race is more dependent on driver and navigator skills.
“The cars that we’re up against as fast cars – Porsche, Lotus, Nissan GTRs, Mitsubishi Evos – they are highly prepared,” he says.
So the Tesla is pretty even on acceleration and once we get up to the fastest speed, the petrol cars have more power at that top-end – it’s a really even race and it comes down to vehicle performance but also driver’s skill.”
So does the Tesla have a chance this year of crossing the finish line ahead of its competitors?
“This is the peak of road racing motorsport,” says Popp. “The Tesla is up there – but whether it up there to reach the podium in this open category, we just don’t know.”
The only thing holding the team back from entering the Open Class with a speed limit of 200km/hr is the ability to keep the car charged. The faster the car drives, the more it chews through power. Recharging fast enough to keep up with combustion engines is key to winning results.
“We really need an extra 120kW charger to be able to compete effectively in the 200km category,” says Popp.
He says the exposure the race gives to electric vehicles in winning positions has a positive impact on the industry, which in Western Australia is now seeing the state government commit to building the world’s longest intrastate electric charging network.
“From our side it’s saying thank you to those supporting us because that’s what gets us back in front of local governments and council – there’s not much more than iron ore and hydrogen beyond that gets people excited here,” he laughs.
The Targa West starts on Thursday at 11am and finishes Sunday – live results can be followed at the Targa West website and the Gemtek team will post updates via the Toceva Facebook page.