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.
For 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.
Now 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.