“You’ve got oversteer in the entry, mid corner and and exit phases.”
This comment from my coach made me realise just how little I was aware of the balance of my car.
As I’ve spent more and more time on car handling, I’ve progressively been able to manage the car regardless of how it’s handling.
When you’re learning track driving as a beginner you’re really just learning to get the car to the limit of its available grip. Once you get there, you begin to experience understeer and/or oversteer in the entry, mid and exit phases of the corner.
The car with a raised front, moving the balance of the car to the rear.
When you start to nail your car control, everything becomes huge fun. You just want to spend a day messing around, drifting and building your confidence.
Eventually though, you have to get on with the process of getting faster on track and unfortunately, sideways into and out of a corner isn’t the fastest way.
This is where the set up of the car plays a huge role in your progression. For you to be able to move forward, you need to be aware of the behaviour of the car, and you need to be able to describe it.
What does a good setup actually mean?
By improving the balance of your car, you’re sending grip to the tyres that need it the most.
This results in faster lap times.
Think about it; if you’re driving at the limit of grip available, at that particular point you’re driving as quickly as the car can go with that front to rear balance. If you’re limited by grip in a certain area of the car (the front or at the rear), increasing the grip available in that area will increase the speed you can use.
The car is understeering into the corner. Adding more steering lock just drags the front tyres across the tarmac. Not good.
A front limited car (not enough grip at the front) might be very difficult to turn into the apex of a corner, or go wide on throttle in the mid to exit phase of a corner.
That’s because the front tyres break traction and slide across the track surface. In an extreme example, you’d find yourself turning the steering wheel, but the car doesn’t turn as much as it should for the amount of steering lock you’re using, as shown in the image above.
This is called understeer, check out the guide in our Driver’s University.
You can manage a car with limited front grip by trail braking more into the corner and being more patient on the throttle during the mid to exit phase. This is only effective upto a certain point as you don’t want the car to be like this, so a setup change is a much better solution.
As this is a clearly limiting factor you’re compromised, giving up laptime.
Correcting a moment of over-rotation (oversteer) with opposite lock in the mid corner phase.
A rear limited car (less grip at the rear) might be too keen to “rotate” in the corner. This is because of lower rear grip, making the rear tyres lose traction before the front tyres.
As our University guide to oversteer explains:
“This causes the rear of the car to slide and pivot around the front, therefore, literally ‘over-steering’.”
You can manage a car with oversteer in the corners by slowing down your entry, trail braking less and lifting off the brakes very smoothly, applying the throttle smoothly in the exit and correcting with opposite lock.
It takes some confidence to get absolutely right but you do get comfortable with the feeling very quickly. The trick is to practice and try to predict when the car will oversteer. You’ll feel it coming as the weight transfers around the car.
Remember though, changing your technique can only do so much. It’s really the setup of the car you need to address.
How do I know what my car is doing?
After learning car control technique, understanding what your car is doing is the most important thing you need to learn next.
When you first start you can get out of the car after a few laps and barely be able to remember anything. It’s completely normal, you’re “at capacity” on the circuit meaning there’s little space in your mind left to record all of the details of the circuit.
I try to pick one slow, medium and high speed corner on the track and record how the car in the entry, mid and exit phases.
You’ll probably also have video; watch the entire session and watch what you’re doing with the steering wheel.
Eventually understanding what the car is doing becomes instinctive but it definitely helps to see the difference.
Rear Limited vs More Balanced Car
I’ve prepared a “before and after” video of my car in two different setups. Watch the steering wheel to see what the car is doing:
In the first session, my car has global oversteer. It oversteers in the entry, mid and exit phases of the corner.
You can see that it’s a compromised car. In the second session, we’ve resolved much of this problem (oversteer mid corner in turn 2 is my technique more than the car).
It’s all a bit more balanced and as a result I can be more confident and most importantly, fast.
I’m not a mechanic, what can I do?
One of the biggest takeaways I’ve had this season is that you’re completely surrounded by people that understand the car you run and have been running cars themselves for years. Giving feedback is really hard and takes a while to get right. If you’re not sure (it’s OK to not be sure!) then ask a driver coach to help you work on this area until you both agree your feedback makes sense.
If you’re a novice, it’s incredibly useful to understand setup, but it’s much more effective just to ask for help. If you’ve got a car that behaves in a limited way, then you need to tell your mechanic.
Rather than attempting to suggest the solution yourself, explain the problem, and ask for help. Watch the video together as that can really help. When you make a step forward in setup, the difference in laptime and your confidence could be huge. Good luck!
About the author
Richard Baxter is an amateur driver having run in Radicals, Funcup cars, Mazda MX5’s and Classic Formula Ford