Basic Setup Theory

imbpI’ve been involved in racing since I was a child. Mostly on the oval side of things, but also in Karting, as well as Spec Miata. Over the past few years I’ve spent my time studying engineering, and building setups for iRacing NASCAR Peak Antifreeze Series teams, as well as building my own setups for rFactor, rFactor2, Assetto CorsaR3E, and any other racing game I can get my hands on.

Tonight, I’m going to explain the process I go through every time I start on a setup.

When building setups from scratch, it’s very important to think through exactly what you want to accomplish with the setup. “Just make it fast” would be nice in a perfect world, but you need to be a lot more specific than that to build a setup properly, so what are the broad things we know for a fact make setups faster?

Center of Gravity –  This has always been a huge effect on speed; the lower the better. Race teams in real life are constantly trying to get a lower center of gravity in anyway possible, because it directly translates to speed and less body roll. How do we accomplish this in a sim where we can’t adjust where our weight is placed? This entirely depends on regulations first!

Let’s say you are in a series that has a ride height rule, for example current NASCAR xFinity Series cars, or the current Stock Car Extreme GT3 mod I’ve been working on recently. We only have one option and it’s a big reason a lot of series have gone away from a ride height rule. Run the softest spring you can possible get away with to get the car as low as possible on track while still being able to pass the regulation off track. Without a ride height rule, it comes down aerodynamic grip versus mechanical grip, and the lower we go ,the stiffer we make the springs to compensate. In a perfect scenario on a completely smooth track we could run a near rigid setup and ride the car a millimeter off the track at all times.

Contact patch is the other key to getting raw speed out of a setup. You can adjust this through camber, caster, toe and tire pressures.Featured image

The goal here is to get the majority of the tire in contact with the road as much as possible for maximum grip. You could have the fastest setup in the world, but if you are on -5 degrees of camber, you’re going to have a problem. More caster (the angle of the steering axis) results in more camber gain, so depending on track and different corners you may want more or less to get extra camber on those really tight corners where you crank the wheel, but in general this is at or near max everywhere in every sim.

Camber on the other hand is 100% based on a track to track basis, and always has an optimal number for grip on any given track. We just need to find that number.

We can do this with either tire temps in general, looking for a 10-20 degree hotter inner temp (because it rides on the inside more down straightaways) or even better, through telemetry. Toe in general is added for stability to the negative on the front and positive on the rear (you want to keep this at a minimum so you aren’t scrubbing straightaway speed), on top of this you have adjustments like the ackerman bump steer. I’ve seen no sim that utilizes adjustability, however, so I’ll disregard those for now.

Aerodynamics are another reason the lowest possible ride height is so important. Less air under the car equals more downforce and less drag. Think of an upside down airplane wing. Depending on the track, sometimes you will run more downforce, with wings or ride height adjustments. This is entirely dependent on track and car selection, so when experimenting, start at minimum front and rear values to begin with. In general, you want to lower the car until you start scraping and then bring it up just a bit.

465182_257064464437730_162884092_oSo now that we know the basic keys of going fast, here are my general thoughts I go through before I even start refining the baseline I’ve built.

  1. Ride Height Rule. Run the softest spring possible, usually with a big anti-roll bar to reduce body roll.
  2. No Ride Height Rule? Ask yourself is the car/track combination more Aero or Mechanical grip oriented.
  3. If it’s an Aero Dependent combination, run the stiffest springs possible to maintain max aero at all times.
  4. If it’s a Mechanical Grip combination, run softer springs and don’t care too much about ride height for Aerodynamic reasons. This is for cars like Street Stocks or Miatas that are not going to benefit from any aero tricks on ride height.
  5. Find optimal camber and caster for max contact patch in corners throughout the whole track. In some cases, on tracks like Daytona or Indianapolis, you want as little contact as possible for max speed under power.
  6. Consider how bumpy the track surface is to refine suspension settings.
  7. Search for a Brake Bias value that provides optimal braking distances and weight transfer balance.
  8. Camber should always be set at the start of your setup build so you get proper balance and feel during testing laps, while re-adjusting after every setup change. Softer springs will create more camber gain, but in general, the optimal camber shouldn’t change once you have your base together, at least not in a large amount.
  9. Double-Check everything.

You’ll only get better at creating setups the more time you put into it. It should take less and less time to find the optimal basics of the setup as you learn what works and what doesn’t. This is especially easy with telemetry, where you can see exact information of what the setup is doing when it comes to your dynamic ride height, camber… etc… And not have to rely on driver “feel”. Even I will sometimes build multiple setups per race just to see “maybe this will be a tenth a lap faster then that other one.”

In general, the basics from every setup will always be the same unless something was wrong in the first place. Once you have a good baseline setup for a car, you can take that to every track and just fine tune it for each track.

In most cases, I will have a smooth track setup for High Speed/Low Downforce tracks like Monza, Low Speed/High Downforce like Singapore, and a Rough Track setup mirroring the above combinations for places like Chicagoland and Monaco as well.

RRRE 2015-05-31 17-05-43-89If everyone appreciates these kind of articles, I will go in-depth into balancing a setup in the next article, Understeer versus Oversteer, how to account for different parts of the track, and corner types. Leave a comment and let me know what you think!


34 thoughts on “Basic Setup Theory

  1. Well, actually, that’s the kind of article I really like, not the “game (and people) bashing/click bait” article that James loves to write.


  2. Could be. But a general one seems pointless. Each game has it’s own intracancies. I’d like to see one done for project cars. If their setups work now after 3.0.
    But anyway, specific setup articles would bee appreciated more than general I assume.
    PCars setups are something no ones really done. I’d appreciate hearing what you guys have to day about them.


    1. What’s wrong with a general guide, My goal on basics is the same from real life to any sim or racing game I have ever raced on. The only thing that changes from sim to sim are the actual values it uses, the goal is the same from sim to sim, just like it is IRL from car to car. They all have different intricacies and values but the goal and result are always the same regardless. Physics don’t change and most sims do a pretty good job of modelling basic physics.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I appreciate this type of article and encourage Maple to do more. At the same time would appreciate links to Maple’s setups based on these theories for the various sims so that one has a baseline to work from.

    There are two types of race drivers and this applies to sim racers too:
    1. The guy who drives and makes constant adjustments along the way to maximise a setup to suit his style and the race conditions (eg. enduro or sprint) while extracting good speed and grip from the setup and in the end is very fast – technically knowing exactly what he is doing (typically a pro driver)
    2. The guy who is given or finds a a setup which he feels suits his style, maybe makes small tweaks to suit his rig or imagination, and then drives as hard as possible but really from a technical perspective knows very little of why a setup is good or bad (typically an amateur or gentleman driver)

    Despite simming since the late nineties, I fall into the latter category.- still quite clueless about setups – thus any help appreciated!
    Thanks Maple


    1. The goal of this series is going to be to get people to learn how to build their own setups from scratch, however I will be uploading baselines after each race much like James did for RD races early in the year. Obviously being that I get paid to build setups and am working on getting an engineering degree I’m not just going to give sets that take hours to make away for free before races. Everyones driving style is different and no setup is ever perfect for different people, but I am more then willing to answer individual questions about how to get what they want out of a setup

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s cool. I’m just saying it’s theory until applied to the game your trying it on. Part of why I read PRC. It’s been established you know Iracing setups. I’m sure you know real basics. But they only matter if the sim takes the changes well. Seeing these techniques applied to a game that hasn’t been tested yet would be nice.


  4. $10usd per setup basically for anything but iRacing, and the lower end iRacing cars. Anything for big events or A class cars is $20 on average. NPAS I’m exclusive to one team so I can’t give any sets for stuff still on the NPAS schedule.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. what is this? an actual article with real content that people can use? This is disgusting.

    Please go back to throwing shit against the wall and smearing yourself and everything in a 25ft radius please.


    Liked by 1 person

  6. “Toe in general is added for stability to the negative on the front and positive on the rear”

    That’s some kunos-style explanation right there, haha

    Anyways, good article. I would argue that tire pressure deserves attention early on in the setup process and is a less track-dependent variable than some others.


    1. Why delve into the engineering aspect if no one a) doesn’t understand it and b) makes explaining it overly complicated? It’s enough to know what it does, unless of course you are an actual racing engineer working for a top-tier pro team.


      1. haha no that’s not what I meant. I meant the way the information is arranged reminded me of the specific phrasing kunos uses in their setup menu tips for that adjustment. Due to translation, it’s a little more difficult to read than it needs to be, even if it does make logical sense.

        I’m just bitching at maple specifically about grammar.


    2. Ya I’m not the greatest writer yet and I’m trying to keep it as simple as possible, but I agree I forgot Tire Pressure though that would be something I do after camber caster and alot of it depends on long run so its not that early in the process for myself, I’ll blame this on iracing bad habits since you pretty much just start at minimum on everything all the time.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah that’s a good point, it takes time to really see what the tires are doing, especially if you are already close to the right pressure.

        Also, don’t worry about the writing, it’s fine. I honestly don’t expect you to analyze every sentence when you have paragraphs of information to explain.


  7. Great start, but I would definitely like to see follow ups. I have a lot of book knowledge of what various suspension adjustments are and generally what they do, but sometimes have trouble connecting the dots when driving a racecar at speed around the track.

    Some follow up articles tying specific setup changes to car behavior would be most appreciated…


    1. Great point.
      Getting a feel for the changes right or wrong via some posted setups would be a great idea.
      So using one of the base setups James posted earlier then post one with specific changes with some points to note about why its an improvement or not.
      I hope that makes sense?
      Might be too much work when you can earn some good money at iracing but ill be sure to enjoy it.
      Thanks for the write up!


  8. I’d be interested in seeing an article on how to ‘read’ tracks, or ‘account for different parts of the track, and corner types’ as you put it. I’m planning to run in /ovgt3/, and while others are flying around Interlagos, I seem stuck in the ‘midpack’ times of 1:32s, so learning where to find speed on-track would be nice.


    1. Run this with rear wing at 1 should be your base for anywhere. Does 129.9-low 130s at interlagos. As for that particular mod the car doesnt seem to benefit from extra downforce as far as wing is concerned and even if you run max rear ride height it doesn’t seem to affect much. Perfecting downforce just comes down to trial and error but interlagos is considered a high downforce track, and considering we are running the miniumum there because of areo balance you can just assume minimum downforce is the way to go at any track unless we got to a place like monaco where straightaway speed is completely irrelevant

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s actually what I’ve been using, it feels much better than what I came up with from scratch, and I’ve been tweaking different things in small amounts trying to find more speed or stability, but only recently cracked 1:31 in solo practice (off the server). If that setup can do those laptimes, then I guess it’s down to driver ability, and I just need to ‘get gud’, as they say.


  9. Very helpful article. I especially like how you consider dynamic camber changes, something I have neglected badly until now. I would ove to see more article like that.


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