“Should we set up the car to understeer so that we can focus on trail braking?” “In a front-wheel-drive car, do we set up the car to oversteer on entry?”
At Racers360, we get a lot of questions surrounding the topic of how to think about how to approach setup as a driver to get the most out of the racecar. In this article, we are going to guide drivers on how to approach working through setup.
Don’t Engineer In A Setup Issue
The first step to getting a car properly setup is first knowing what you want to execute on as a driver. So, unless you have strong foundations, you shouldn’t even be really thinking about setup.
The goal of getting a car setup is to make it as neutral as possible to let us as drivers drive the car in the most efficient way. When I start off a race weekend, I am focused on optimal throttle-application areas, brake pressure for trail-braking and initial braking application pressures. Because a racecar setup is never exactly perfect, I will have to adjust my driving away from the optimal way to drive around the balance of the car.
But, during practice sessions, the goal is to get the car in a place where I need to make as few adjustments away from how I want to drive the car as possible.
Once I have identified the top one or two things that are slowing me down, I will begin working on setup changes to fix those issues. Notice here the key distinction is I am not trying to set up the car to understeer so that I can trail-brake in. A car that understeers or oversteers is not optimal and forces the driver to drive it in a way that is not the ultimate fastest way, so we try to get rid of those things.
It is really important to pick one thing to try to fix with each change. The following can be tough to do in the middle of a session, so for most drivers, setup conversations should only happen after a session. For most amateur racers, the practice session isn’t quite long enough to do a setup change and get a good back to back.
From a mental perspective, most amateurs also will get more of a benefit by just running more laps back to back than having the interruptions in rhythm that setup work in the middle of the session creates.
As racecar drivers, we need to be able to identify the number one problem in the car balance slowing us down. Go through the race track corner-by-corner, think about corner entry, mid-corner, and corner exit. Find the one common theme through your analysis to work on, and don’t engineer for an issue that you are experiencing only in one corner.
We also have to be able to understand how one setup issue may be actually causing another. Here is a very common scenario:
The racecar has oversteer on corner entry and mid-corner to exit understeer. As a racecar driver, I first think to myself which one is slowing me down more? The next thought is if we fix the oversteer on entry would that actually fix my mid-corner to exit understeer?
I know that if I have less oversteer on entry I will be able to trail brake with a little bit more brake pressure and get more rotation near the apex, which should let me open my hands up more at the exit and get back to throttle more aggressively.
You will see that often issues early in a corner can manifest themselves into creating more issues later in the corner, so typically we want to start off fixing balance issues that show up early in the corner first.
Do We Ever Engineer In Understeer Or Oversteer?
There are rare times that we want to engineer in a certain balance issue, but this is a pretty high-level technique and is something racecar drivers should probably avoid doing until they have a lot of experience with a specific car, on the same set of tires, on a track they have run this combination at many times.
Every race weekend you will learn more and more about yourself and your car. Every car’s balance will go in different directions as the stint goes on and that balance changes depending on the track, tires, temperature, and more. After enough experience you will start to know which direction the balance on the car will go throughout the race stint.
In this situation, you can set the car up to have a balance where you have engineered it to start off the stint with a balance slightly in the opposite direction of where it will go during the stint.
So, to get started working on car setup during race weekends, here are the vital steps to know:
1) Don’t start working on setup before you know your driving foundations are ready to do so. If you start doing setup work before you are really ready to do so, most of that work will actually be trying to get the car to work while driving it incorrectly. This means you will never find the optimum lap time in the car and it will be more difficult to fix your driving issues later on as the car balance will feel worse as you drive it better.
2) Focus on one issue at a time. Think through the track and ask yourself, “What is the biggest issue that is preventing me from going faster?” If you have multiple issues that you can’t choose between, see if the issues are related, like in our example above. Typically you will prioritize fixing the issue that comes earlier in the corner.
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