Does Under-Steer Make You Feel Under-Performed?

I’m going to sound like an old man when I say this, but back in my day, cars were set up to be tight-handling. Most often it was because as a weekend warrior, we wanted to spend the time on weeknights adjusting a car for the next week, not fixing it from when you looped it and backed into the fence. So yes, just like the overused and tried-and-true adage “loose is fast” goes, so are you on the edge of out of control. We learned how to drive a tight-handling car before we could get comfortable with a looser, more rotating setup.

Think of the opposite then: if loose is fast, is tight slow? Strictly compared to each other . . . yes. That’s what adjustments are for: fitting a car to your driving style. However, when it comes to fixed-setup races, cars are intentionally tighter-feeling just so they are more stable throughout a race, promoting enjoyment for all. Fixed-setup sim-racers drive tighter-handling cars, just like we used to do.

So what happens in these races when the green flag drops and the car is tighter than Dick’s (Berggren) hatband? Are you really up the proverbial creek without a paddle? Not necessarily. There are specific ways to combat a tight-feeling race car by altering your driving style.
First and foremost, it is absolutely vital to recognize the whens and whats of a tight car. A driver doesn’t have to be Leonard Wood (no relation) to understand the effects of changes to shocks, springs, bumpstops, cambers and sway bar preload on the front-end geometry, but a good driver can use his feet, hands and harness to understand the car’s tendencies on the track.

Veteran racers will undoubtedly know the following mental checklist, but for beginning racers, here goes:

Is the car tight on entry? It is, you say? Hmm…is it when you turn the wheel or when you depress the brake? If it’s from the brake, check your left foot, or crank the brake bias adjuster to the rear a quarter of a turn at a time while you’re on the straight. If the tight feeling is from the wheel, back-up your braking zone and enter the corner with a little less speed. Slow is fast, and if you go slower into the corner, you won’t:

Feel tight in the center of the corner? If so, the first thing to ask is if you’re trying too hard. Remember, putting it in easy will make it come hard off. If you do it right, the car won’t be:

Tight on corner exit? The most common rookie error, and one I fought my whole racing career, was pinching the car low on exit and not allowing it to unfurl the chassis up off the corner. A car that’s tight on exit is likely because the driver is trying too hard  That’s not to say it’s a bad thing, rather that another extra moment off the throttle or a little less crank in the wheel will make the car feel and bite a whole lot better.

Is the car increasingly tight to the apex of the corner? The more you turn the wheel, the tighter it gets. Ugh. Slow in, slow off. Just won’t turn. Just like most iRacing fixed setups after a few laps. Can’t make any time with a car like this. Or can you?

(Fig. 3: Does a traditional corning line (red) look familiar? if not, go to the iRacing driving school. You’ll also learn why a late entry (blue) could be faster in some corners.)

So how are you supposed to make time around a long, slow, steady-state corner like Loudon with a slug of a setup that wants to knock the wall down?

Diamonds.

If the car doesn’t want to turn with steering input, then give it less wheel! Diamonding a corner is a classic trick drivers use to combat a tight setup, especially when the car just . . .won’t . . . turn.

Why does it work?

Think of a traditional racing line through a corner: High in, low center, high off. In order to get the car to turn to the apex of the corner, more steering is needed to get it there: exactly what is causing your car to push!  Diamonding is pretty much the opposite of high-low-high: Low in, high center, low off. You’re essentially turning the corner into a sharper radius and steeper angle of attack in the center, but the entry/exit is much straighter, allowing the car to not feel the stress of the culprit causing the understeer for nearly as long as if the corner were taken with a more traditional line.

Fig. 4: Diamonding (red) isn’t the ideal way around a track (blue), but it does make the best of a bad situation.)

Conversely, diamonding a corner will force the car to turn more sharply in the center of the corner, and this will require a slower corner speed. However, this trade-off will have its benefits: a straighter line off the corner won’t heat up and abuse the RF tire as much, and therefore will aid in the car’s handling. Also, you’ll be able to get in the throttle sooner, making you harder to pass off the corner.

Please, keep in mind that diamonding a corner isn’t meant to be an offensive, aggressive driving style. It’s strictly an option to make the fastest laps possible with the car you’ve got under your seat, and hopefully maintain your position on the racetrack until you cross the finish line.

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One Comments

Good thorough explanation. Nice job!

DW Jump
August 1st, 2013 at 12:43 pm

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