Tesla Roadster Wins ReFuel EV Races, We Interview The Driver, Joe Nuxoll

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Tesla Roadster #16 on track at ReFuel EV races

Tesla Roadster #16 on track at ReFuel EV races

The ReFuel EV Track Day and SportElectric Time Trial were held at Laguna Seca last weekend, and a group of Tesla employees decided it would be a fun way to get to know each other better. What the others there, mostly owners of a range of electric cars, both production and home-built, didn't know was that Tesla had brought a ringer: Tesla user interface designer and former High Gear Media web designer Joe Nuxoll. We interviewed him to see what lapping the Roadster to victory was like.

Nuxoll is an experienced and talented driver, regularly instructing high-performance driving events at Laguna Seca and Infineon. To see just how good he is, you can visit his YouTube page, which is filled with videos of him driving his personal track machine, a 2008 Lotus Exige S, and even a few laps in a Radical SR3, which we've embedded below.

So what is the ReFuel EV Track Day and SportElectric TT about for Tesla, and why did so many Tesla employees and cars participate? According to Nuxoll, it was just a fun event and a way for the employees to get together and bond over their love of racing--Tesla itself has no interest or intent to get involved in motorsports--while having some fun on the track.

One thing both Nuxoll and Tesla communications head Camille Ricketts were very clear on, several times during the interview, was that typical owners should think twice before taking their car out on a track day--there could be warranty implications, as the extreme conditions cause heat build-up that could shorten the car's life.

Driving the Tesla Roadster to victory

But what about that 1:50.888 lap around Laguna in a first-generation Roadster? What was that like? Nuxoll walked us through the driving technique used to extract the best times from the car, and it sounds more like a Group B rally driver's skillset. Why? Because of the regenerative braking built-in to the Roadster.

Being a rear-wheel drive car, the Roadster's regenerative brakes work on the rear axle, sending power that would otherwise be wasted as heat in the friction brakes back into the pack to extend the car's range. That's a great feature on the street, but on the track, it's like having extra rearward brake bias, which isn't always a good thing for balance.

Tesla Roadster #16 on track at ReFuel EV races

Tesla Roadster #16 on track at ReFuel EV races

So, to work around the system, Nuxoll employed a highly non-standard method: entering the corners with the throttle still nearly pegged, using his left foot on the brakes. Because the Roadster doesn't need to shift, he didn't have to worry about heel-and-toeing his way into the corners. Instead, he was manipulating the car's computer into staying out of regenerative braking to keep the car balanced. The regenerative braking did turn out to be useful in some areas, allowing Nuxoll to rotate the car with a simple lift of the accelerator.

The rest of the lap was a lot like driving any other car, except the Roadster's high torque, lack of gears, and Lotus-designed and built chassis, which all worked together to make the Roadster surprisingly quick. As Nuxoll said, "It was fantastic. It would just accelerate as needed coming out of every corner."

If you doubt Joe's word due to his employment by Tesla, consider this: prior to working there (and since) Nuxoll has used his Exige S to consistently turn 1:43-1:44 laps at Laguna--very quick times. In other words, he knows what he's doing and what he's talking about. The Roadster got within six seconds of those times--and it was completely stock, right down to the tires.

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