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Project White Lightning Update 3: The Summit Racing Tesla Model 3 Gets New Wheels & Tires

More than just a style upgrade, the larger wheels and stickier tires will help extract even more performance out of this Tesla Model 3. (Image/Summit Racing)

Whether it’s gas, diesel, or electric, Summit Racing’s going to find a way to hot rod every vehicle it gets its hands on.

So when Summit Racing introduced us to White Lightning a while back, we knew the performance modifications to its Tesla Model 3 would start soon.

You can get all the updates on Summit Racing’s Tesla Model 3 White Lightning here.

With a newly-upgraded suspension, the White Lightning project team set its sights on bigger wheels and stickier rubber. We’ll let Summit Racing’s Brian Nutter tell you all about their wheel and tire selection process below.

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Autocrossing the car and doing the ECTA Arkansas Mile Land Speed event had us thinking about new wheels and tires. We looked first at the classes running 200 TW (tread wear tires). SCCA Super Street was one of them, but we already transitioned into A Street Prepared by the second time we autocrossed. Optima Ultimate Street Car competitions are also a lot of fun and BFG g-Force Rival S 1.5 tires are a favorite. Gridlife and other track-day events also have similar classes.

We’ve been building White Lightning toward the SCCA Street Touring rule-set because it’s a great place to compete for folks that like to mod their cars. Then we had some great news a few months ago when the SCCA decided to add the new EVX class for our Tesla and other electric vehicles!

That solidified the 200 TW decision.

We like 18 inch wheels but it’s a bit of a step backwards due to the backspacing allowed with the factory spindle. The less diameter, the less backspacing can be incorporated. 20s are out due to lack of good tire choices and those wheels also start to get real heavy. That left us at 19 inch wheels—a pretty good place to be, with quite a few offerings from plenty of wheel manufacturers.

From there, we have to decide if we’re going to run a square setup (same width on all four corners) or staggered (wider in the back). Normally, we’re big-tire people, but running a square setup out of the gate is good for several reasons:

  1. Less expensive wheels and tires
  2. Our Tesla Model 3 has AWD and wider tires in the back aren’t absolutely necessary to put the power down
  3. Our MP3 has a slight rearward weight bias. If it was 60% like a lot of mid-engine cars, the need to go wider in the rear would be more critical

When it comes to fitment, the rear wheel wells have a LOT of room for wider rear wheels and tires, so we base our decisions on what fits in the front. A 19″ x 9.5″ wheel with 114.3″ bolt spacing is fairly common. It also accommodates a 275/35-19 BFG Rival S.

Here’s the Tesla’s stock Continental tire (left) next to our new BFG Rival S. We’re confident that the grip of the wider tire will pay dividends on the track. (Image/Summit Racing)

From there, we took a trip to our favorite performance parts website to narrow down our wheel options. A 35mm offset wheel makes the tire a little too close to the spindle, especially with our new tires. A 31 to 32mm offset would be optimal but we were looking for an inexpensive option—and that’s just what we found with a Forgestar CF5V wheel with 29mm offset.

This particular wheel is a common size for Forgestar and is a pretty good start. Yet we may tweak things later, so definitely check back here before purchasing. We will update this post if we do.

Note, this wheel is not hub-centric. Summit Racing’s got a very inexpensive fix with the Gorilla hub centric rings that come in a variety of sizes. (Image/Summit Racing)

Next up? Getting the Rivals mounted on the wheels! It’s starting to get exciting now.

Summit Racing offers a mounting and balancing option for customers. I’m not one to brag, but it is SUPERIOR to what you get at your typical tire store. We use a Hunter Road Force machine that does several things most don’t, including laser-assisted measurements for things like wheel and tire runout.

Mounted and ready to install. Let’s see how they fit. (Image/Summit Racing)

Now, let’s talk about unsprung weight. In this case we gained 3.65 lbs. per corner. Our Forgestar CF5V wheel is flowformed (cast), 22.15 lbs., and a good fit for most people’s budgets. At the end of the day. we’re getting an added inch of rim width and an extra 40mm of tread—we’ll take that trade-off every time!

How do the New Wheels & Tires Fit the Tesla Model 3?

Let’s take a look at the most critical area first: inner tire to spindle clearance. The 275/35-19 BFG Rival S tires have large squared off tread blocks that maximize tread width for the its cross-section.

One thing to note is the Tesla’s lug nuts have a 37 deg. conical seat and are VERY shallow. A typical aftermarket lugnut is likely to have more depth and cover more of the stud than the tech inspectors will be comfortable with. For that reason, we reused the factory lugnuts. 

With new wheels, always re-torque at 1 mile, 20 miles, 100 miles, and 500 miles so everything mates as intended!

Snug, but still enough clearance. (Image/Summit Racing)

A 35mm offset would have been too close. 29mm has an abundance of clearance. 31 to 32mm would be about perfect and account for tire flex around hard corners. Let’s take a look at the outside front.

(Image/Summit Racing)

Not bad, but we have a little more poke than we desire. A 31mm offset front (vs. 29mm) would have pulled the outer wheel surface in 0.120 inch. Another thing that’s hurting us is we don’t have adjustable control arms (yet) so we’re limited to 0.6 degrees negative camber on the passenger front.

After hard testing, it turns out the 1 degree of negative camber on the driver’s front is enough to clear the tire but the outer edges of the passenger front are rubbing slightly on the outer tread blocks. Based on this info we recommend you limit the front tire to a 265mm front if you are running an Eibach Pro Kit with 1 inch lowering, factory control arms and a 29mm offset. A normal 275 tire without the Rival S tire’s outer tread blocks would (likely) be fine as well.

What an improvement! (Image/Summit Racing)

Ok, so they look great. But how do they perform?

Stay tuned for the next update where we take the car to the ECTA Arkansas Standing Mile and set some records.

Then some autocross action after that!

In the meantime, we created this 101-style video that’ll walk you through some basic anatomy of a Tesla Model 3. It’s a good watch if you’re unfamiliar with Teslas (or EVs in general) and want to see what makes ’em tick.

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