Struggling with a setup issue? Here Racers360 breaks down what you may need to adjust as a driver and the possible setup changes that will help you improve your car and find time on the race track!
Creating an official setup guide is so difficult because there are a lot of factors to take into account. What type of car is it? What track are you on? What are the conditions? Is the driver inducing the issues they are feeling with the car or is it truly a setup issue?
So, our official setup guide is not meant to help drivers find the perfect baseline or starting setup. Instead, it is meant to help drivers make those small adjustments to their starting points or to make those small driving adjustments to help find that perfect setup!
Racers360 has a fantastic clickable flow chart for diagnosing handling problems for a driver and for the car. It offers suggestions for driver technique adjustments and engineering changes for the car. It’s brilliant.
To find that perfect car balance, there are some critical things drivers need to understand, let’s dive into those here.
Way too often drivers turn to working on their setup to fix issues they feel in the car before they analyze their own driving to see if they are what is actually causing the issue. For most amateur racing drivers, they are going to get far more out of correcting where they pick up initial throttle, fixing lines, or working on how fast they are turning in, than by changing springs or anti-roll bars.
Why is it bad to start working on setup before drivers have strong fundamentals? When you begin trying to work on setup to solve a driving issue, you immediately limit the full potential of the car and actually start to reinforce bad habits. Very often we see drivers complaining about understeer and asking our pro coaches what setup changes they can make to solve that understeer when it is actually caused by them picking up the throttle way too early.
If those drivers are to make changes to their setup to solve that understeer, they are actually going to setup the car wrong. When the drivers then start to work on fixing their driving, the car setup will be completely wrong. This will make their incorrect driver inputs feel better and the vicious circle reinforcing bad habits begins. This means the car will feel at its best when it is not driven correctly, which limits the full potential of the racecar and driver on the race track.
So, in our setup flow chart, make sure you are taking a look at the driving technique changes you can focus on before actually looking at changes setups. Understanding weight transfer becomes vital for all racecar drivers. To make that concept as simple as possible here is how our pro coaches at Racers360 like to teach it.
Where the weight goes is where the grip goes. Every input racecar drivers make in the car shifts the weight. When you brake, the weight shifts to the front of the car, when you accelerate the weight shifts to the back of the car. That is exactly why drivers have more front grip when they trail brake into the corner or create more understeer when they pick the throttle up too early.
So, a very simple exercise while you are on track or after a session is to ask yourself if your inputs are maximizing grip on the end of the car you are struggling most with. If you have that understeer ask yourself, “Am I trail-braking with enough brake pressure or deep enough into the corner?” If you have oversteer on entry, ask yourself, “Is my brake pressure too high during the trail-brake phase? Do I need to coast rather than trail brake to keep the rear end underneath me?”
Race Car Balance
To understand how setup changes affect a racecar’s grip level, there is a simple rule that is largely true until a point. Softer = more mechanical grip. When you go softer springs, softer anti roll bars or softer compression, you are allowing more weight transfer and effectively increasing grip on that specific end of the car. There is a limit where you can overdo it and it turns negative. That is typically when we start overloading the tires and going beyond the level of grip they can supply.
When we are working on setup, it is not always possible to just increase the grip on the end of the car we are struggling with. For example, if we are dealing with oversteer on corner entry and we can’t go softer on rear springs, or we can’t lower the rear of the car, or we can’t add rear downforce etc., then to help the balance of the car, we actually work to reduce front grip. The perfect setup is not only about purely maximizing the total grip at both ends of the car, but also keeping the level of grip at each end of the racecar similar to one another and as close to the limit as possible.
Another example of how one end of the car can affect the other is apparent in understeer. A common question you will hear among pro engineers and pro drivers when speaking about understeer is, “is the understeer being caused by a lack of front grip, or is it the rear pushing the front?” Here the engineer is asking the driver if that understeer may actually be caused by the rear having too much grip relative to the front end. If that is the case, rather than potentially going softer on front springs, or lowering front compression, the better change may actually be less rear wing (if you can do that), increasing rear ride height, or going stiffer on the rear anti roll bar.
As you continue to improve as a racecar driver, you will slowly begin to have a better feel for what the car is doing and what is holding you back. In the beginning, it is totally normal for a driver not to be able to feel that while on track, but when they get off track and things calm down for thoughts on setup to pop up.
So, when you get off track, allow that adrenaline to die down, find a quiet spot and ask yourself, “What is preventing me from going faster?” That simple question allows you to simplify things and not try to fix too many problems at one. Focus in on a maximum on three key areas and be specific as possible when providing feedback. Then you will rank those three key areas in what is the biggest problem and you start working on fixing one at a time.
The more you take the time to ask yourself that question and run through that exercise out of the car, the more you will start to be able to do it while you are on track and you can start making small, quick setup changes during the session.
Getting your tires to last longer is all about sliding them less. Every time you have that small oversteer moment as you smash the throttle, or spin the tires on a front-wheel-drive car, you start overheating the tires. When you overheat the tires, they produce less grip and make it easier to slide or spin them under throttle again … another vicious cycle. So, if you want the tires to last longer being smoother is key.
Often you will see racecar drivers switch up their driving styles slightly when they have a long run to make on a set of tires. If they are worried about the rear tire degradation, then a driver will often focus on trail braking deeper into the corner and actually rolling more entry speed, which allows the driver to delay initial throttle application until the car is looking more down the road, or straighter, before picking up the throttle without costing them too much lap time. That reduces the chance of getting that wheel spin.
The next big point of tire degradation is tire temperatures and pressures. The perfect starting pressures are always a moving target. Driving styles, grip levels, and ambient temperatures can change these drastically.
As drivers improve on the track and start driving faster, they will start stressing the tires more and their hot tire pressures will start to rise. It is important to continually track starting tire pressures and hot tire pressures to keep them in line as the drivers improve.
Tire temperature spreads are also a vital point to keep track of. There are small setup changes that we can make that hurt tire degradation, but that can be hard to identify in shorter runs in practice. One of the big areas we see this happen is by adding more negative camber. That can drastically increase a racecars grip level, but it can also drastically decrease the tire life. That exact scenario is why negative camber changes can be a popular qualifying setup change!
The Big Point
We sincerely hope that this setup change breakdown will help you improve on track. Setup can be extremely complex, so we tried to keep this to a big picture one that will help the vast majority of drivers.
As you move forward, the number one thing we want you to focus in on is the following:
Before you make a setup change, analyze your own driving first and foremost
It is easy to jump right into setup and it is even easier to blame the car. We see that all too often in our sport. If you can fight that trend you will have a much higher chance to achieve your goals in our sport!
Visit Racers360 for more great tips!