Chapter Four: The Basics
By now, you should have a mechanically sound car, a feel
for proper driving techniques, and a way of recording changes that you
make to your car’s set up. Now you’re at the track, you’re
ready to get your car set up, but the question is where to start?
Out The Track
are a lot of things on your car that you can change to affect the set
up but there are two things that you cannot change, the track itself and
the weather (which we’ll get into in a bit). If it is a track
you race at often, then maybe all you need to do is familiarize yourself
with the layout if it has changed. If it is a track you have never
visited before, you should take your time and look at it a little more
get a feel for the layout. Note where passes are likely to occur
and get an idea of what line you want to run. Watch some of the cars
on the track and see what lines they are running. If you know any of the
racers at the track, find one who you know can finish near the top every
time they race and see what driving line they are following. Whatever
you do, don't pay attention to the guys who are crashing a lot, they're
still getting used to the track!
note what kind of surface it is.
On-road tracks may
seem to be easier to judge than dirt tracks, but they can be just as
tricky, just because they are "supposed" to be smooth. Is
the surface smooth concrete or cracked and old asphalt? Is it dirty
and dusty, swept and blown, or fully treated with traction additives? If
it hasn't been sprayed with additives, will it before racing starts?
Are there certain sections of the track that may have imperfections
like a big bump in the middle of a turn or a particularly rough area
in a good passing section? Make a note of these before you head
out for the first time.
For off-road tracks
you'll need to see if the dirt is loose and loamy or hard and packed.
Ask other racers if the track usually ends up blue-grooved at the end
of the day. If it is a multi-day race, ask what to expect by the last
day of racing. Usually off-road tracks end up either very sticky with
a deep blue groove or rutted and rough at the end of a 2- or 3-day race
event. Sometimes off-road tracks are sprayed with water between rounds
or heats, which will affect the traction and tires needed.
drivers make a habit of finding out what the weather forecast is for the
day or weekend of their races. This helps them get an idea of what
they may expect. With today’s temperature-rated tires, this becomes
even more important. If it is supposed to be extremely hot, you can
probably leave those cold weather tires at home. If you have a temperature
gauge (or you can borrow one from a Nitro driver), take a track temperature
reading every couple of hours and record it in your notes. Note if
it is overcast or clear skies because cloud cover will make for a cooler
track even if air temperature is the same.
races may be affected by rain, but even on-road tracks may habitually
run in the wet. Find out before you go, and ask an official at the track.
with what you know
set up that you have on your car for your first run should be something
that you are familiar with or a “base” set up. If you have some set
ups that you have used in similar conditions, go with one that worked
best. If you are just starting out getting a set up on your car or
the track condition and/or weather are different from anything you’ve
encountered so far, start with the stock set up that is recommended by
the manufacturer’s instruction manual when you built the kit. This
will at least give you something that you can drive around the track without
much trouble and provide a good starting point.
slow, go fast
you first get out on the track, you’ll want to grab a bunch of throttle
and show everyone just how fast you are. However, restrain yourself
from doing this. Start out slow and get a feel for the car on the
track. Slowly drive the line that you scouted out earlier when looking
at the track. This lets the tires warm up, you get a better feel
for the track, and you also find out what cars to watch out for if there
are several cars on the track. As you feel more comfortable with the line,
slowly begin to drive a little faster. If you start hitting things,
slow down a little and begin to slowly increase your speed again. The
purpose of this is to get a feel for how the car is behaving on the track
as well as to find a fast line around the track.
you’ve gotten up to racing speed, check and see how your car is performing
compared to the faster cars on the track. If you can, wait for a
faster car and follow it. If you know other drivers at the track, ask
them to wait for you so you can practice together. Practice using your
peripheral vision to watch the other car as you drive around the track
taking mental notes. Is there a certain section where you are gaining
ground? Are there other areas where the car isn’t as fast as the
others? Are they taking a different line that is giving them more
speed through a section? Don’t be afraid to try different lines to
see if you can catch up to the faster cars.
is no certain number of laps or length of time that you should be on the
track for this. If you know the car is almost impossible to drive
after a few laps, pull it off the track. Note what problems it is
having and pull it off the track. If you feel the car is close, try
different lines and see which one is producing the faster times. Note
where you want the car to improve and what you want to improve (i.e. do
you need more steering because the car is pushing into the corner or is
it a little loose in that tricky chicane section?).
you have had some time on the track, found the racing line that is quickest
around the track, and taken notes on how the car is performing, it is
time to start making changes. But first, you need to know what forces
are acting on your car and why it is doing what it is doing.