We took our Audi e-tron GT to Britain's first EV track day
A track day without noise complaints? Whatever next, an Audi outhandling a Porsche? Let’s come back to that later, shall we? But yes, no noise as this was the UK’s first ever EV-only track day, a zero emissions occasion unique not only for its lack of volume, but for the sight of the chief marshal trying in vain to find an exhaust pipe to insert his decibel meter into.
It was the brainchild of John Chambers, boss of Tevo Solutions, a company that tunes Teslas (not motors and batteries, just brakes and suspension). Rather predictably the pitlane was half Model 3s. But after that an eclectic mix that included a Renault Twizy, a couple of VW ID.3s, a BMW i3, a smattering of Porsche Taycans and a bloke with a converted Boxster running Tesla hardware and a 15kw battery.
Llandow circuit doesn’t have electric charging. The Boxster wised up first, bagged prime spot and shoved an extension lead through the meeting room window for a three-pin top-up. An e-Golf running track rubber thought he had it sorted by bringing along a generator, only to discover his car thought otherwise, refusing to accept kilowatts that had been created by petrol. At lunchtime tumbleweed blew through the pitlane as everyone else dashed off to find the nearest charger. Those that could.
Several people had discovered to their cost just how fast a heavy electric car can get through a front left tyre on a circuit that is largely made up of four right hand corners. There might not have been engine noise, but there had been plenty of tyre squealing.
Not least from our own cars. Greg Potts and I took along our twins-under-the-skin, the Porsche Taycan 4S and Audi e-tron GT. Mechanically near identical, both use twin electric motors (one per axle) drawing from 93.4kwh battery packs.
The power to weight ratio slightly favours the Porsche as it’s roughly 50kg lighter and 15bhp more potent, and given Porsche’s reputation for driving dynamics – and the fact it wears Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres rather than the Audi’s eco-minded Pirelli Cinturato P7s – I expected it to have the edge.
But with one niggling doubt. When Chris Harris and I bought an RS e-tron GT to Llandow for a twin test with a BMW M5 CS we were amazed how well balanced and playful the Audi was, how keenly it turned in and how readily it oversteered. Surely the same couldn’t be true of the base model, particularly one that isn’t equipped with the optional four wheel steering system that’s fitted as standard to the RS?
Well actually, yes. It’s weird, but if these things matter to you – and they certainly did to the track day attendees – the e-tron GT is the best balanced Audi available today, electric or internally combusted. Through fast sweepers you could turn in and then lift off slightly to trim your line, feel the front grip more as weight was transferred forward. Do the same in the Porsche and it would carry on understeering, it was less adjustable. And the same applied under power as well. The Porsche would push its nose wide, while the Audi sent more power to the back, so exited corners more neutrally. I reckon Audi’s engineers saw the Taycan as a target.
It is worth pointing out that this particular 4S is a Taycan in its least track-focused form. Indulge in the options list and you can sharpen it up with the addition of torque vectoring (PTV Plus, £1052), four wheel steering (£1650), even ceramic brakes (PCCB, £6321), all of which should combine to give the Taycan similar adjustability to the Audi.
Not that the e-tron GT does everything better anyway. The Porsche is more communicative. You know where you are with the brakes more accurately, its steering wheel is smaller, slimmer-rimmed and has better feedback, the instruments are more legible and better laid out and – most crucially of all – the Taycan feels smaller on the road. It looks it too, although the dimensional differences between the two barely amount to a phone thickness here and there.
But it was a surprise to put it mildly that the Audi was the more fluent of the two around a track. After the first lap the Porsche’s nearside front tyre had had enough and was already detectably starting to get hot and lose grip, causing understeer. Even reducing the tyre pressures only helped a little and then only temporarily. The Audi worked its tyres more evenly, lasted better and went round at a pace that matched the fastest Teslas and Taycan Turbos.
On track electric has its drawbacks. Everyone was taken aback by tyre wear, the pitlane smelt not of petrol but the acrid whiff of cooked brakes. The weight means dynamics suffer – no-one was pretending their e-car was as nimble or rewarding as a Caterham, but that wasn’t the point. They were there to enjoy electric, not prove it’s better or worse than what’s gone before.
An interesting mix of people, too. Some were track day regulars who have added an EV to a petrol portfolio, others were early adopters who had never done a track day, but want to embrace every aspect of EV ownership, several represented companies offering electric vehicle solutions: sales, tuning, servicing etc.
I had a go in John Chambers’ own Model 3, complete with uprated suspension and brakes. It was evidence that a Model 3 can provide driver communication and feedback, something I hadn’t thought possible before. It made the Tesla crisper and more immediate to drive, brought more feel to the steering, helped disguise the weight.
But mass isn’t the only issue surrounding electric cars on track days – some places don’t allow EVs on track at all due to safety concerns and the confusion over what training marshals and staff need. It’s all a learning process, and this event was an incubator for the future.
Chambers’ aim is to start building a community around electric cars and track use – not just track days, but encouraging people to get started in EV motorsport: sprints, hillclimbs and time attack. The more people push for it to happen, the faster the shift will occur.