Q: What is proper seat placement for driving on a racetrack, and how do I set it up in my car?
A: Proper seat placement establishes a driver’s communication with the car. Optimizing one’s position improves control and reduces driver fatigue, but may require compromise. Drivers who share a car will have additional considerations. Fundamentally, your daily driving position will be most comfortable, and change may feel awkward at first. This will pass as you settle in. The performance improvement is worth the initial discomfort.
Wear your helmet, shoes and gloves while making adjustments to avoid surprises when rolling out to grid. Drop the seat base as low as practical while still maintaining ample visibility. This drops the overall center of gravity and positions you closer to the vehicle CG and roll axis. Move the seat forward until you have full range of motion on the pedals without hyperextending your toes, and a roughly 45-degree bend in your knees at rest. An adjustable clutch pedal stop or adjustable pedals allow optimal leg extension with full pedal actuation. However, improper adjustment can damage the transmission. Verify or reposition the rest pedal to support your left foot between shifts or braking.
The seat back and steering wheel are adjusted together to optimize comfort and range of motion. Move the steering wheel as close as possible, then adjust the seat back and steering wheel to suit your preference. Proper wheel position allows a 60-degree bend in your elbows with hands at 3 and 9 o’clock. Place one wrist over the top of the steering wheel, and if a shoulder separates from the seat-back then you are too far from the wheel. This may not apply to NASCAR style or Formula cars with steering-wheel tilt near vertical. Verify full steering range so the wheel does not pull away from your hands nor does your back pull away from the seat.
Finally, verify instrument cluster visibility and full shifter actuation without seat interference. Adjust the wheel, base or seat-back in that order. Find a balance between sight-lines, shifter and seating position. Click-in and tighten the seat belt or racing harness and check again.
Molded seats complicate the process but the same principles apply. If you share a fixed seat, find a compromise without sacrificing safety and control. A cushion or molded seat insert allows each driver to achieve optimal positioning. It’s better to be too close than too far away.
It’s always worth the effort to find the best seating position. The solid steering feel and control along with a solid seat support builds confidence, which translates to lower lap times.
Joshua Allan is a driving coach living in California. A mechanical engineer, Allan has worked in the design offices of Ferrari’s Formula 1 team and has been a vehicle development test driver for Maserati in Italy. He is a five-time champion in a PTD Mazda MX-5 with Robert Davis Racing. Learn more at RacerMentor.com