Your Car Setup Process: Ready to Go Beyond Tips & Tricks?

Improving your car setup processes might sound dull, but refining your techniques can more quickly improve your handling, confidence, and lap times than nearly anything else. You’ve probably come across countless resources that discuss car setup concepts, but many of them fail to provide a clear process for applying those concepts. You’re not alone. Everyone is looking for that magic formula or insider tip that will give them an edge. But what if the key to success on the track is actually a lot simpler?

In this article, I’ll help you understand the importance of process and experimentation, and how to transition from trial and error to purposeful testing. Put this into practise and you might be surprised how quickly you can improve your results.

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Demystifying Suspension Setup

Suspension setup is complicated, and it’s easy to get lost and frustrated.

Many people are after the secret sauce solution, but the truth is that there is no magic formula that will give you an advantage on the track.

Even for myself as a professional engineer, with years of experience designing and optimising suspension systems for road and racing cars, it remains a tough challenge.

This is largely because your suspension system is so interrelated – change one thing for an improvement here, and it will make something worse over there…

That said, this complexity and challenge also make it an exciting and rewarding part of motorsports.

So how can you tackle improving your suspension setup more reliably?

Well, in my experience, what you need is a process that will help you apply the concepts you’ve learned in a more practical and effective way.

Car setup process - You learn from experiments

The Best Approach Is Experimentation

While it may sound less exciting than discovering new tips or tricks, focusing on improving your car setup process will really help you in the long-term.

A simple mantra I like to adopt is:

“You don’t learn from experience. You learn from experiments.”

The best teams I’ve seen are always the ones who can learn the fastest.

By learning how to design better experiments, you will soon be able to answer any performance or setup-related question.

When applied to your car setup process, then, in my opinion, this is your key to gaining complete clarity on settings and direction.

The adage “teach a man to fish” comes to mind, so here’s how…

Moving from Trial and Error to Purposeful Testing

Instead of relying on trial and error, approach your car setup with what I call “purposeful testing.”

Have a goal every time you are on the track.

Make every session, practice day, and lap count by setting goals and objectives to help you to be continuously learning.

Even if you don’t have much time, or are limited to only a couple of runs, just having a clear goal makes every minute you spend on the track ten times more valuable…

Oh, and it need not always be an engineering goal. It’s okay if that goal is to “dust off the cobwebs” for the driver. Just make sure your goals are clearly stated BEFORE you get in the car.

To get started and succeed with a better car setup process is actually easy too. All you need to do is create a plan and record the outcomes of each test. Simple!

For example, here are some tips on getting started with adding driver feedback to your session notes.

We can be guilty of over-complicating everything we do in motorsports. Don’t let note taking be one of them.

Designing Experiments Becomes Your Car Setup Process

Although I delve into this process in much more detail in my tyre tuning course, the key takeaway here is to empower yourself to become better at designing experiments for yourself.

The goal is to enable you to answer your own questions on setup, without having to rely on the often-vague paddock folklore.

Though well-meaning, this folklore can lead to confusion and doubt among drivers and their crew.

For example, ask yourself: “If I want to know the best hot tyre pressures to run for a perfect setup, what experiment can I design that will help me achieve that?”

In that example, I’ve had success with a “pressure sweep” but there are lots of things you could try, and that is the point…

Rather than relying on whispers in the paddock, you want to be able to take charge and be more confident in your own ability to diagnose problems and make informed decisions about how to improve your setup – even your driving approach.

Help Your Future-self

Whenever I’m worried about “wasting a session” by considering trying something new or different, I try to remember that without attempting something different today, I’m going to be no better off tomorrow.

Much of this is about being okay with the feeling of potentially “sacrificing” a session to significantly help reduce some level of uncertainty.

I like to think I’m helping my future self, and, whatever the outcome today, they will very much appreciate that we made the decision to try and address this issue now.

Quickly, this also allows you to focus solely on maximising the aspects that will get you the most significant performance gains. This enables you to ignore all the rest – it’s a relief!

As one racer who took the tyre course put it:

I have been an amateur racer for almost 25 years, I definitely learned more in this course than I have learned over my entire career.

…and that’s because he started to apply a systematic and methodical approach to his setup. He is now designing his own experiments that help him answer specific questions about his car’s performance.

You can start by simply writing out everything you want to know, and then thinking through what experiments you can devise that would give you confident answers to them all.

Conclusion: Better Car Setup Process Through Experiment

While it may seem counterintuitive, the true secret to success in motorsports might not be hidden in obscure techniques or tips.

Instead, for you, it could lie in mastering your car setup process through purposeful experimentation.

Embrace this mantra, and, in my experience, you’ll soon find yourself better equipped to confidently tackle nearly any performance challenge you face on track.

It sounds so simple when you read it but no-one seems to do it in practise – make your car setup process your competitive advantage.

Good luck and have fun with it!

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