FRANKFURT/SAN FRANCISCO -- First there was derision. Then mockery turned into admiration. Now a battle is unfolding between two powerful names in the automobile world, Porsche and Tesla.
The venue of the showdown: Germany’s Nurburgring, the race track considered the most challenging in the world. The circuit boasts 73 tight turns (Silverstone in the U.K. has 18), changing elevations and a brutal length of more than 12.4 miles winding through leafy forest, earning it the nickname Green Hell.
It’s here that Porsche’s new Taycan Turbo S set the record as the fastest four-door electric car last month, clocking in at 7 minutes and 42 seconds. The feat wasn’t lost on a rival sitting thousands of miles away in California: Tesla Inc.’s Elon Musk. Always one to relish a good fight, Musk picked up the gauntlet and has dispatched a Model S to the German hinterland to reclaim the bragging rights as king of the electric sedan.
The car confrontation has all the ingredients of an epic battle between incumbent and upstart, infused with social-media feeds that have energized die-hard fans on either side of the Atlantic wondering which of the two cars can shave those vital extra seconds off their lap time. Adding to the frenzy is former Formula One racing champion Nico Rosberg, who chimed in on Twitter to pilot the Tesla, an offer that Musk happily accepted.
“We welcome competition, it helps you to get better step by step. But of course you always have to compare apples with apples,” Porsche CEO Oliver Blume told Bloomberg Friday on the sidelines of a panel discussion near the Frankfurt auto show.
Porsche’s Blume said Tesla had selected another driver “who knows the Nurburgring well,” but he declined to provide a name.
Musk has a lot riding on the challenge. After Porsche unveiled the Taycan Turbo and Turbo S as its first electric cars last week, Musk teased the brand for its “turbo” nomenclature because a turbocharger is only found in a combustion engine. Following the initial ribbing, he found more charitable words in a later tweet, acknowledging that the Taycan “does seem like a good car” and that the Nurburgring track time “is great.”
Blume said Friday the respect is mutual, but was careful to note the Taycan’s record was achieved with a normal series production car that came straight from the assembly line and can be purchased by customers. Tesla, by contrast, has already been working for about two weeks near the track to modify a Model S for racing purposes to achieve the fastest-possible time, the Porsche CEO said.
While a series version Model S wouldn’t be able to beat the Taycan’s lap time, a modified race version with tweaked suspension and brakes “could go in that direction,” Blume said. “We have a lot of respect for Tesla. They have achieved a lot and Elon Musk built this company from scratch.”
The stakes are equally high for Porsche, which has watched Tesla turn itself into a veritable alternative for customers seeking a high-performance car but with an electric engine, an open flank that the Stuttgart-based manufacturer now hopes to protect with the Taycan.
Musk posted on Sept. 6 that a Model S would make an appearance at the track “next week.” Indeed, a modified Model S has been spotted testing on the Nurburgring Nordschleife, according to Car and Driver, which appeared to show the car on the track as part of a general driving session open to others. The model sported flared fenders and an enlarged opening at the front, probably for extra cooling.
When exactly the car might attempt to break the Taycan’s record remains shrouded in mystery. Tesla did not respond to a request for comment on its plans for the Nurburgring.