Creating Balance in your Car Setup

NOTE: Along with this article, we’ve introduced the new Car Setups category to the sidebar, placing all articles relating to tuning your pretend race car under one roof. Check it out!

Now that everyone should know the basics, either from me, or the many other sources out there, it’s time to get into what makes a setup handle well, and what will make it good on the long run. I can’t tell you the number of times, even in the NASCAR Peak Anti-Freeze Series where people have had setups that are really fast for ten laps, and then turn into junk!

That’s always due to one of two things, either a completely messed up contact patch, or usually a setup that is not balanced.

There are many options out there to show what adjustments do what for each part of the corner, but many people get it wrong or interpret the adjustments incorrectly when it could be simplified.

iRacingSim64 2013-05-25 15-41-58-63For example, a lot of the time people will use shocks to adjust handling, which is fine in fine tuning situations, but a lot of the time you can ruin a very good setup but overusing shock adjustments to fix something that is wrong with the base of the setup itself. Yes, it’s true if your car is loose on entry, you can stiffen front shocks, but you can get the same result by stiffening rear rebound, or the front springs themselves, without ruining the way the car acts over bumps. Many options and tweaks have the same end result, and it’s the same reason so many people can have completely different setups and still be the same speed. Most problems won’t show in the first ten laps though, that over stiff front shock is one of those things that is going to be the difference.

What makes a setup balanced? Well this is what you may hear most people refer to as tight, loose, understeer or oversteer. Tight/Understeer is when the front of the car has no grip, Loose/Oversteer is when the rear has no grip. It’s very important to break a corner up into sections to get a car to handle perfectly such as entry/middle/exit, and this is what truly gives you a superior car after the tires start to wear, and the faults in handling really show. A perfectly neutral car depends on driving styles, what sim you are in, and what your tires are trying to tell you.

How do we achieve this? Well as always, tires are a wealth of information and always a place to look, but driver feedback is very important too. Tires will tell you in a general sense if the car is prone to understeer or oversteer, and hotter rear tires will result in oversteer. Driver feedback or telemetry wheel position will tell you where exactly the car is exhibiting certain handling characteristics.


In general I try to use front springs to adjust entry to middle, Swaybars/Anti-Roll Bar for middle, and rear springs for exit as those things will have the most effect on the car in those certain states of the corner.

For the Entry to Middle – Stiffening the front will increase understeer and softening will increase oversteer, And for Middle to Exit increasing rear stiffness will increase oversteer and softening will increase understeer.

Shocks should be used to control the speed at which the car transitions from section to section and corner to corner as well as not losing grip over bumps by being too stiff. If you are finding turning left to right causes your front end to want to change quicker than your rear, and causes the rear to step out, try stiffening the front bump stiffness or rear rebound. On the oval side you have crossweight as a prime tool for balancing, and again many people use it incorrectly. This should be used for long run balance only. More banking equals more crossweight, less banking equals less crossweight. The more crossweight the more tendency the car will have to lean on the right front tire and wear it out faster, so if you find your car trying to mow the wall down after ten laps, try dropping this a percentage or two.

pho2Now on road courses it’s almost impossible to get the car perfect for every corner, but wings and other aero bits come in real handy here, as aero will greatly effect high speed cornering over low speed cornering, it is very much possible to get a car that is mechanically balanced in low speed tight corners but would be likely to oversteer at high speed to handle just as well in high speed corners. More rear wing equals more understeer as it creates more rear downforce, but also causes more drag, so keep that in mind that anything you add to the front or rear  must be taken out of the other side of the car after optimizing aero efficiency on your baseline.

A lot of people like to use caster, or camber, even tire pressures to adjust how their setup handles; this is bad! These are things the should be optimized already, and all you are doing is costing yourself tire wear which equals seconds as the laps go by.


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!

Your GT3 Preseason Baseline Setup for Game Stock Car Extreme is Here!

Despite an off-season that saw the European Endurance Center throw a hissy fit and cancel their comprehensive GT3 mod for Game Stock Car Extreme, 4Chan of all people have gone right ahead with their plans for a second GT3 season within the highly acclaimed Brazilian racing simulator, releasing an updated version of their league-prepared GT3 mod they gained notoriety for earlier this summer, and opening the server for preseason testing. We’ve already made ourselves a nice baseline setup; hopefully this will give those struggling or unsure of what to tweak next a place to start. GT3 SetupThe setup above is exactly what I used to take the top spot on the preseason leaderboard at Interlagos with the BMW Alpina B6 GT3. For those not participating but are curious as to what a properly fast setup feels like, go download the mod and try it out for yourself. You might learn something!

The B6 GT3 marked Alpina’s official return to racing in 2011 following a 20-year hiatus and competed in the FIA European GT3 championship, where the company fielded two factory entries against models from Ferrari, Aston Martin, Lamborghini, and Porsche. The model you see above was ripped from Need for Speed Shift 2: Unleashed by the European Endurance Center. With nearly 50 drivers posting a time, the top fifteen entries are as follows: top 15

Reader Submission #32 – Modern Sims need to re-invent how we approach Car Setups

A fantastic Reader Submission has come in today from Ruben Lopez, who after reading our lengthy article on The Evolution of Broken iRacing Setups, was inspired to write his own piece on car setups relating to Project CARS, and sims that will inevitably be released in the future.

attachment.phpSome days ago I read here on PRC a great article about iRacing setups. I have never played iRacing, but still the stuff I was reading sounded familiar enough. It seems that, in every racing game you play, there’s a God-mode setup that gives you an absurd speed boost. And that setup is usually far from similar to what that particular car needs in real life. In your article it was not a pretend racer like us but an insider with actual real life setup experience confirming how the ideal values on iRacing would make a particular car terrible in real life, and how ideal real life values did simply not work on iRacing.

Without having any setup experience myself at all, I can point to similar flaws in other games. In Project CARS I’ve seen cars that go faster with extremely low pressures and overheated tyres than with sensible pressures and the correct tyre temperature. Or cars that transform into infinite grip spaceships by lowering and stiffening to the max every suspension part. Adding negative camber and toe to the very edge of the bars also seem to have no downsides and you just get faster and faster.

I don’t know if we still don’t have powerful enough hardware to simulate this stuff, or if it’s developers lacking “know how”, but this seems to be present -to different extents- in pretty much every racing game, be it a simcade game or something like iRacing that aspires to mimic real life as much as possible. I don’t know where the problem lies and I don’t care too much either, but while the situation doesn’t improve, the current way racing games handle their setup sections is just not ideal.

Instead of being given a reasonable baseline setup that the player can try to improve to get a bit better balance and a couple of extra tenths, we’re always given ridiculous default setups that are miles off the pace. Then you have to start a long trial and error process to see what’s broken in that particular game and car and exploit it once you find it. So you start driving a car that is clocking laps similar to its real life counterpart, and you end up with a spaceship beating the real times by huge margins, and with a driving experience that has just nothing to do with the actual car. I’m talking about stuff like an unlicensed GP2 car going flat out through Campsa Corner in Montmeló circuit at Barcelona and clocking laptimes good enough to lead a F1 race.

Another common problem is that the ranges for some parts are poorly selected, and the ideal setting is in one of the extremes of the slider… If I can race a car with 20% brake duct cooling opened in Bahrain International Circuit at 45C degrees, it means everything above that level is just useless and should not have been included. You can be sure the default value will be way above that for no good reason. So you have a slider that just has a “fast” side and a lot of useless values.

I have discussed this with other sim racer pals and some say that the game should reward you for driving hours and hours to prepare a race, and that it is OK default setups being seconds off the pace as they have to be easy to drive for people the first time they use a car. I just don’t agree at all. These default setups are usually WAY harder to drive too on top of being slow, and I don’t think unlimited practice time should decide the race winner. Sure, you can’t expect to be fighting for a win if you just jump in the car for qualifying. But the opposite situation is ridiculous too, you shouldn’t have to drive 10 race distances to find what’s broken and capitalize on it. 

I DO like having to drive to tune my car and I enjoy the preparation for an event. It’s nice finding by yourself that small change that improves the car balance and makes you gain some confidence. But when it all becomes a contest to find the broken parts through extensive trial and error, that’s just not enjoyable.

I was gobsmacked to read in your article that there are guys being paid to create iRacing setups. That alone tells you all you need to know about how ridiculous the situation can get.

I feel bad moaning about a problem I don’t have a solution for, but I’m sure there are better ways to handle this. Just by reducing the range of each part to useful values the situation would improve a lot. I mean, why you give me a huge slider for the spring rate if in your game stiffer means faster everytime, with every car? Making double sure the ideal values are close to the real ones would also make everything far more intuitive, but this is probably harder than it sounds… Still, if you can’t achieve decent levels of real life fidelity, the setup feature is not adding anything good to the game.

As it is now, in most cases the setup feature causes more trouble than the enjoyment you can get out of it, and not a lot of games give support to those wanting to escape this bullshit (like lobbies where custom setups are not allowed). I’d like to know how you feel about this topic guys! 

6885855018_32359f7570_bAt some point, Maple has told me he’s going to write an in-depth setup article on here, so prepare your collective anuses (anii?) for that.

All real life setups are exploit setups; real world car setups are constantly evolving and designed to get around whatever rules the sanctioning body has laid out. Coil binding in Stock Cars is essentially an exploit setup – designed to get around the ride height rule during tech inspection, only for the nose to be pinned to the ground by the wall of air going over the nose of the car at speed.

coil bindingThe reason the extreme exploit setups work is because of poor coding. The NASCAR games by Eutechnyx are a prime example of this. On Daytona and Talladega, both in real life and in video games, you want the front end of the car sitting higher than the rear end of the car so the huge rear spoiler is taken completely out of the air and doesn’t slow the car down. In the real world, it’s possible to go too low and bottom out the car, which will cause a wreck sooner rather than later even though you’re at two tracks where handling isn’t a priority. The Eutechnyx games never punished you for bottoming out on plate tracks, meaning you’d see absolutely ridiculous setups where the front end is pointing almost skyward.

The reason you could get away with this? Nobody coded in any elements to make you wreck when bottoming out like in real life. Most dev teams don’t have any proper mechanical engineer as a staff member, which is pretty counterproductive, as when you’re dealing with cars, you need someone on the crew who understands the physics of a car in order to model it properly. The stuff that dev teams miss by not having a mechanical engineer on the staff is eventually what gets exploited.

You’re right about baseline setups. They should indeed be in the ballpark of an ideal setup to begin with, and devs really need to get on this. This is one of the main reasons I’m so quick to share setups on here; the default garage menu values and setups for almost all racing sims are atrocious, and unless you fully know what you’re doing (I’m 80% there), you’ll have no clue where to start. It’s really something most dev teams could outsource to the community – find a couple fast guys and give them a full list of what they need to develop. Heck, for some games like R3E, I don’t even have track specific setups. I run the same setup everywhere and just tweak the sway bars based on how it feels out of the box. Nothing stopping the Sector 3 guys from using that setup across all the different cars it works for, and just making it the default for each track.

Fixed setup lobbies are definitely the way of the future judging by iRacing’s participation levels, but, as someone who is comfortable in the garage menu, it’s very hard to sit down and say we need to lock this adjustment and keep these adjustments open. To me, all adjustments you can make in the garage area are equally important and locking down the setup aside from just downforce levels or brake bias doesn’t really work. It’s like trying to solve a math problem only using addition – you need the other three operations.

Your Baseline Setup for DiRT Rally’s Rallycross Expansion is Here!

The much-anticipated Rallycross expansion for surprise hit DiRT Rally dropped on us today, bringing the world of Codemasters’ new hardcore rally sim some desperately needed additional content. And we’ve got a rocksolid baseline setup for you, just in case you need that extra little boost on the track:

RCX Baseline

With this setup, you’ll ideally be looking for a 38.6 at the full layout of Lydden Hill.

The update is a mixed bag, with only two tracks and three cars added to the sim, you’ll see everything the hefty download has to offer in a little under half an hour if you’re a quick learner. The AI, even on Very Hard, is a tad slow, and there are some FPS slowdowns if you hit the wrong tire barrier or slam into another AI car a bit too violently. And unfortunately, there is no multiplayer component to this update, meaning you’re restricted to comparing times with your buddies for now.

The update is free, so there’s no reason not to check it out. I’m still having issues with the game’s shader model, so my experience looks nowhere like the YouTube videos you’ll see of the game, but the important thing is that it drives really fucking well, and both circuits will only increase the hype for future additional content and the inevitable inclusion of head to head multiplayer.