Basic physics tell us that quicker lap times and winning the traffic light drag races are more about grip and balance than outright power. Masters of the art of chassis tuning such as Lotus recognized this decades ago, and their range of perfectly matched sports cars are the pinnacle of this philosophy proving that any Elise can kill most cars through the twisty stuff…
But what can the humble driveway tuner learn from these chassis setup gods? Sure, at the most extreme levels, tuning a chassis is about heavy calculations, mathematical equations and the interaction of materials in complex ways that have caused heated debates as long as the automobile has been used in anger, and enough books have been written to fill entire libraries. You see, everything on your car is inter-related—suspension, brakes, steering, tires and weight distribution. These are just a few of the factors to consider when getting that balance just right.
Luckily for us, many of these calculations have been done for us and the arguments already had by the manufacturers of the finest aftermarket parts and it’s a question of mixing and matching components to transfer power to the street—but as everything is connected, where on Earth do you begin?
To begin, understanding the principle that in any form of performance driving the bottom line always comes down to the contact patch of the tires in relation to the road surface is key. Too many people spend bucket loads of cash on power upgrades, when in reality some of the wisest ways of spending your hard earned dollars are through modifications and upgrades to the parts than actually transfer put that power down and make it stick.
The other important notion to get your head around is that making an adjustment in one area can drastically affect the balance elsewhere—quite often messing it up massively—and sometimes just identifying a poor handling issue can prove, let’s say, tricky.
Is My Car Poor Handling Then?
No, not necessarily. Manufacturers spend billions of R&D dollars on making their ranges handle well out of the box, and who are we to dare to argue? In actuality, it’s all about compromise.
Very few of us spend our entire lives on the track, and the same said manufacturers have to build cars for everybody and every situation—a tough job. But to sweeten up your handling to gain those vital extra tenths of a second, we have to identify what those compromises are and eliminate them—the only way to do this properly is through serious seat time to identify the weaknesses.
Once you have it’s about making modifications in an incremental fashion to identify what works and what doesn’t. I know I’ve said this before, but I really can’t stress this enough—one alteration can hold the key to everything else, but in the same way, one extra turn of a spanner or 5mm difference here or there can be counter-productive to the point of turning your car into a pig. In this respect probably the best tools in a chassis tuner’s box are a pencil and a pad—noting what works and what doesn’t one at a time will unlock those magic mods that allow you to enjoy your valuable track time (or drive home from work) to the fullest.
Looking closely at chassis tuning offers a range of benefits to both you and I, including: 1) A well-setup chassis can make an average driver look a lot more like a track god as if your car’s easier to handle at speed you’ll set quicker times; 2) Your tires will last longer under extreme torture; 3) Your car will stay in one piece longer as you’ll stand a much greater chance of avoiding the barriers.
Now, for a short disclaimer: This guide is in no way a quick fix to all of your ride’s handling issues. But what it will do is explain what’s what under the skin of your car, how it affects the behavior of your car in certain ways and in certain situations and what you can do about it…