How To Start a Setup Process of a Race Car in Simracing
By Jonathan Uyan
It is not an easy task for a new driver to find a good way to figure out how to approach to racecar setups, let alone learning all the technical intricacies of the suspension, aero/drag efficiency, front/rear/body/diffuser down force relationship and most important of all; tire physics. But they need to start somewhere, and that somewhere is learning how to drive the car properly in the early stages of testing. Especially if the driver is going to commit to race in a competitive way throughout a championship. Through a systematic way of learning car behavior and setup process one can manage this in a feasible time. A team effort is always helpful if you have teammates, or if you are in a league like CMS where members are more than happy to chip in with suggestions. There can be big advantages when pointed in the right direction, but on your own you still have a lot more options to go after as self-improvement objective.
The end goal here is squeezing best performance from yourself and the car you are driving, and also getting used to a routine that should help remove self-doubt while finding what type of chassis you are more inclined to be happy and/or comfortable with. And the ultimate way to do that is to become as one with your car, feel it as if it's part of your body or your extension.
One caveat here while talking about extension (and the goal) is to make sure the car is attached to you and you control it, not the other way around! So that, you don't feel like being dragged around frustrated. This happens with some drivers and their driving style, dictated by the car's habits, something obviously is not what we want. This is the #1 reason why we always test different models to find best suited cars for us.
Speaking of drivers (also including very fast or alien ones) there are 3 major distinctions of driving styles and the car behavior they like to have; Oversteery, Understeery and Neutral. There is also another one that I myself mostly fit in, and I call that one: Neutral-oversteer. It is still a neutral style but driver is comfortable with the front end rotating slightly more than normal (on its own) when power or brakes not applied, hence the neutrality of it.
I don't want to get into details of this and I'm sure most everyone knows their own tendencies. And those usually will choose a chassis that will have these 'behaviors' already built-in to them (so to speak). Choosing the right car is a chore and must be done properly, unless you are a diehard fan of an "X" brand and can't live without it.
Finding a car that fits your driving style is important because you will be eliminating a clash between driver and the car once you are down the setup road. As a consequence, you can make it your extension, which will help you push it to its limits much easier and can achieve better consistency.
Once you drove available cars and found what you think most suited your driving style, there are few things you should do to start the initial test process.
Here are my suggestions that is mainly for rFactor2 but most of it applies to general approach in any commercial simulation:
1- Testing Grounds
Find a track that is a good representative of various corner types as your test track. There are quite a few that fits this description. Suzuka usually is my first choice; it has the Esses in sector 1 that is highly technical and is an excellent measurement tool for understeer tendency of the car! It has medium-fast corners that you need to ride over curbs, it has the hairpin, the Spoon corner in sector 2 has off-camber, almost double apex medium sweeper characteristic. And then world famous 130R with a high-speed kink that will definitely test any car's high-speed ability of handling and down force quality.
Next is setting the track conditions and rubber amount.
- Use 75% of fuel load: When seeking to learn chassis' habits, maximum or low fuel loads can be misleading. A balanced amount of 3/4 of a tank should be close to its tendencies as to how those high and low loads will lead to.
- No acceleration on track rubber amount: Leave it at static so there is no change in grip levels of the surface for this test purpose.
- Rubber file: Most tracks have pre-built rubber options like green-low-medium-heavy-saturated. Usually heavy or saturated is what you want to test with as it's close to race day conditions. Rubber amount on surface will change car behavior a lot and lack of it -most times- result in completely different handling than what a car can deliver. So, testing a car at a green track basically useless for any logical purpose.
I should also mention that the rubber options that come with tracks are AI built rubber files and they do not fully represent normal human driver lines. Causing a sharper switch between racing line and offline rubber. Best way to do is to obtain a saved rubber file from an older race session, if possible. This is not an easy find by the way but I wanted to mention this to highlight the difference between rubber file types and they do make a difference when testing, especially in semi-wet conditions if you are preparing a wet setup for instance. Grip level difference will be much more pronounced in these conditions (AI built ones) and car will be spinning a lot easier when one side tires are placed on offline during semi-wet conditions.
- Weather conditions: Since the purpose is to learn about the car first, there is no need to convolute the process with changing weather elements. A mild temperature of 20° ambient and sunny or lightly cloudy setting is ideal for testing for all segments. All sessions are divided up to 5 segments that can be script. All these segments need to be set to same to prevent temp change.
2- Starting Point
Start with a good base setup, if available. If not, things are going to be more complicated until you figure out what the car wants as far as setup 'direction' goes, and have to play with some settings to establish a base setup. Starting a setup process from scratch is a very tedious job that takes a long time, and a subject of its own. Once you have a starting point established with the base or default setup, advancing forward should be with small adjustments. Formula itself is simple test the changes made, record its improvement then repeat with more setting changes.
3- Mindset of How To Learn Car Behavior
Assuming you have a base setup (you have my base setups as defaults in both WSC91 and WSC22 packs, hope they will be helpful in many tracks) you will be arriving to an important juncture; making yourself comfortable with the base setup and try to work with it without any complaints. No matter how strange or difficult it is to drive the car on hand you need to learn to drive it. Lap times and speed are not important at this stage, focus is on learning how the car behaves at every corner of the test track and getting used to them. Have to learn how to keep it on track surface and slowly get used to keeping it on preferred/optimal line eventually. This is extremely important and neglected by many drivers. Immediately feeling not so happy with what the car is doing and start playing with setup adjustments is very common misunderstanding of the procedure by impatient or inexperienced drivers. If you do not know the car's identity, how can you try to tame it? And knowing/understanding a chassis takes more than few laps around the track, even if you are an experienced driver.
There is no set measurement for this by the way; some drivers can get very comfortable with the chosen car/setup combo, and for some it may take a long time. There is no crash course for this, if you are slow in processing things in a simulation environment you must take your time for every step to do it right. The goal here is to establish a solid starting point before making setup changes, so the changes made are easily felt, and in detail.
4- Design of Control
After you get used to the base line your lap times will improve and eventually you will reach a plateau that you cannot lap any faster consistently. This brings you to a point that you are very familiar with the car's behavior and how you can negotiate each corner at that particular track. One and pretty much only good measuring stick for this reaching to a "good level" is; the driver should be able to clock 5 consecutive laps all within 0.5 sec of each other. This is of course after your tires reached optimal temps. In rFactor2, this happens within 1.5 to 2 laps at a regular length track. Very much in line with real life new tire scrubbing and max performance values.
If there is a corner that you are struggling with (almost every track has one) you need to seek and find the best way to attack that corner with the setup on hand, to be able to say “This is it, cannot go any faster thru there anymore”, and make sure it is not spoiling your laps any more than necessary.
Once you achieve the consistency (5 within 0.5) You are now ready to make setup changes for the first time. This is going to be extremely tedious and you have to show patience. The utmost important lesson is making one adjustment at a time and make sure it is not exaggerated in increments. In other words; do not make too big of a change, especially in suspension and steering values.
5-Evaluation of Progression
It's time to start making setup changes and see if you can make the car more suited to your style. If you are not good with setups and feel uncomfortable making changes even just to play with it, time to resort to setup guides. I have provided some guides and other useful info in VWSC "setup and handling guides" channel, but there are many more out there on the internet/social media.
Up to this point you have been working with the car to get a sense of it's handling habits, now it's time to see if it will cooperate to go in the direction you would like it to behave. After starting with the setup adjustments there will be various indicators that you are doing better, or not, in car control! Either way you need to record everything to see your advancement with the chosen car.
Few more tips on this:
- Always record lap times and data (fuel consumption, tire wear, tire heat ranges), take notes of certain corners. This is useful if you take long breaks and come back to it.
- Separate your setup changes by naming and numbering them. So that, this also becomes your record keeping on your progression. I usually go with the car name/ track name and /R01 number. Then rename every change with R02, R03 etc. "R" for race setups. I then differentiate qualy setup with "Q", wet setups with "W" and hybrid setups with "H", which will be useful later once you are advanced in setup process.
- It is very important that you make small increments in adjustments and test. Because you are now very familiar with the base setup behavior and you have your 'consistent' lap times recorded, it will be easy to see/feel if the handling is improving over the base setup.
- Improvement can be measured in two ways in car handling;
1- Faster lap times in a consistent way (not just a one hot lap, but "5 within 0.5" still apply)
2- Same lap times but easier to drive!
Achieving same lap times with less fighting with the car is also an improvement on its own. This will also be reflected in lap time gap variances as proof that handling is better.
- If there is no improvement, you need to go back to previous setting. And try a different adjustment. If one of the two improvements there then you keep it and save the setup as latest setup.
- Make notes of the setup changes made to see what is working in this particular car that help improve handling.
- Unfortunately, there is no way around putting necessary time and effort in this process. Getting on track and clocking laps is important in getting better in understanding the cars. The suggestions I make in this article should make this on-track time more valuable than just turning laps with no particular aim.
- Once you start getting really comfortable with the car, it will get a little easy to predict what setup adjustment can be beneficial to improve times when visiting different tracks. Again, don't forget your measuring stick; 5 consistent laps within .5 sec is how you are gauging it, not personal best times.
-Obviously all this is just a 'Starting Point' There are many more variables in setups that will challenge you! Changing grip levels, changing ambient temperatures and rain, visibility in wet or dark, or even worse in dusk or down, are all there to give you hard time either one at a time or all at once. But once you get a little better understanding your car and what it needs you will love all these challenges, guaranteed.