There are two ways that you can get feedback on what your car is doing.
Most obviously, there is the feedback provided through the seat of your
pants—what your butt is feeling in the cockpit. A second opportunity for
feedback is how it looks from outside of the cockpit. The idea being that
the more information that is available, generally the more informed the
decision. The only caveat to consider is the principal of “garbage
in—garbage out”. If you are going to seek an opinion on what the car is
doing from someone spectating make sure you have a knowledgable, dependable
source. Ideally this person is a crew chief or crew member, but could even
be someone in the stands. I’ve seen drivers unable to find a knowledgable
source turn to the assistance of a video camera. Finally, don’t forget to
include fact as an important form of feedback. As important as subjective
feedback is, don’t forget to include objective data points like tire
pressures, stagger, ride heights, etc. The bottom line is you want to make
sure that ample, quality feedback is available to analyze the car’s
One pitfall many drivers fall into when assessing their car’s on-track
performance is emotion. It’s a fact that we all participate in this sport
because it is an adrenaline rush. Often the harder the adrenaline is
pumping the harder it is to think logically. For this reason it is often
helpful to slow down before you start assessing the situation. Climb out of
the car and cool down for a few moments. Once you’ve slowed down, follow a
linear thought process, i.e. don’t put the cart before the horse. I’ve seen
more than one driver (and crew) attack a car with a set of wrenches before
ever discussing or stopping to think about what the car is truly doing.
Start by simply focusing on recording or communicating what the car is
doing—give no thoughts to what changes are needed to improve the car’s
handling characteristics. It is helpful to break your analysis of the car’s
handling characteristic down into bite-size bits. This is most easily
accomplished by breaking the track down into logical sections.
Breaking the Track Down Section by Section
Analyzing your cars handling characteristics is best acomplished by focusing
on specific sections of the track. At each of these specific sections of
the track the car is required to respond in a specific way. Additionally, a
car’s characteristics in one section of the track effect subsequent sections
of the track. In chronological order, the sections to consider are corner
entry, cut-zone, middle, acceleration zone and corner exit. Let’s take a
look at what is happening in each of these individual sections. If you are
working with a crew chief, crew member or some other person that you have
asked to observe your car’s handling on the track, it is helpful to have
them reference the same sections of the track. The sections of the track
listed below are the consensus of several articles on set-up and handling.
Most of the experts on set-up break the corner down into between three and
The corner entry is where the car begins to transition into the corner.
This could be where you begin braking, letting-off or at the very least
preparing your car for the corner. In many instances this will be the point
where you are just beginning to provide some input to the steering wheel.
The cut-zone is the section of the track where you begin agressively
pointing the car towards the corner’s apex. This is where you really start
providing significant steering input. In many instances, the initial phase
of the cut-over section sees the brakes heavily applied, but pressure
trailing-off as you move through the zone.
The middle of the corner contains the apex. This is the point where the car
takes a set and changes direction. Remember this doesn’t necessarily mean
the physical center of the corner. There are instances where the apex is
well before or after the corner’s physical center. Generally steering input
is at it’s maximum at this point and ideally there should be no braking at
this point. In most cases the car is actually starting to accelerate
through this section.
This is the section of the track just pass the middle. It is the segment of
the corner where the driver really starts to “get on the gas”. The hands
are unwinding through this section as steering input heads towards zero.
This is the final section of the corner where the driver approaches full
throttle (or maximum throttle position, since in many instances full
throttle results in wheel spin). Steering input should go to zero in this
Basic Set of Terms to Describe the Cars Characteristics
Just as it is beneficial to examine the car’s handling characteristics
across pre-defined segments of the track, it is also helpful to come use a
pre-defined, simple set of terms to describe what the car is doing. While
this set might not describe everything the car is doing, it will get you
This is the term used to describe a car were the front end gets a better
grip on the track than the backend. The result is that the back-end wants
to come around—so the front end is pointing down towards the inside of the
track. A car that is extremely loose will give the driver the sensation
that the car is going to spin. The loose condition is also commonly
referred to as oversteer.
This is the term used to describe the opposite. This is when the rear end
gets a better grip than the front end. The result is that the front end
want to push up the track or go straight when the driver turns the wheel.
The driver may say, “the thing just won’t turn”. It will feel to the driver
like the car is plowing up the track, headed for the outside wall or edge of
This is definitely an uncomfortable one for the driver and is at the extreme
of being tight. This is where the car gets so much grip on the right rear
that it begins lifting the left side of the car. In extreme cases, a car
that is tight enough that it is bicycling might actually flip.
This is a term used to describe when the entire car is moving up the
track—basically a four wheel drift. It is not the the back-end is trying to
come around, or that the front end is pushing up the track—it is the
instance when the whole car moves up the track. Neither the front or the
back is getting a good grip.
also important to remember that you analyze the car’s performance in a
linear process because each section effects the next. For example it would
be wrong to look at what the car is doing at the corner’s exit without first
looking at what it is doing in the middle of the corner. Also give ample
thought as to the cause of the condition—is it the way the car is reacting
to the track or the way the driver is reacting to the track. For example,
does the car really have a push—or is the driver entering the corner in a
way that induces a push. There are some excellent sources that will assist
in deciding what changes need to be made to a car that is experiencing one
of the above characteristics in a given segment or segments of a corner.
Being able to clearly communicate or describe what the car is doing is more
than half the battle.