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The Three W's

Race car handling terminology

This is a brief primer on race car handling terminology. We often have drivers asking for help trouble shooting a handling deficiency but are unable to articulate what they feel into actionable information. Handling issues may have separate cause and effect or overlapping issues. This is why isolating each issue and using terms that a setup specialist can understand will help in determining a strategy to correct them.

The first step in setting up a race car and either fixing it yourself or communicating with the crew chief, engineer or tech who will make the changes is identify the three key components of the issue. What, Where and When, "The Three W's". All handling issues have these three components. Leaving one unidentified can make determining a strategy to correct it impossible. Always tune your competition setup on tires that are the same type and as fresh as you will race on. Setting up on worn out low grip tires will not yield good results for fresh high grip tires.

What
The sensation the driver feels. 

• Loss of grip front (tight/understeer), rear (loose/oversteer) or both equally?
• Linear (predictable) or non-linear (unpredictable) breakaway?
• Upset when bottoming suspension?
• Upset when topping suspension?
• Continues to bounce over bumps or settles quickly?
• Front or rear brakes lock first in a straight line?

When
When symptoms are present. A car can behave just fine in one condition but not in another.

• Accelerating, coasting, maintenance throttle or braking?
• With engine braking or without?
• Transitioning left or right (wheel moving) or steady state turn (wheel not moving)?

Where
The portion of track or turn where the issue presents itself.

• Entry, middle or exiting turn?
• Straights only?
• Positive camber, level or off camber?
• Bumpy or smooth section?
• Fast, slow or all sections?

Example report
Issue 1: Car oversteers on fast right hand corner entries, no brakes. Fine everywhere else

Issue 2: Car is unstable in straight line braking, tail wanders, fronts lock before rears.
Issue 3: Car turns in neutral and fine, but is too sensitive to throttle mid turn, OK exiting turn.


If there are several overlapping issues, it is best to work on one at a time. A brand new build or one with many recent updates can take several sessions to achieve the handling behavior the driver wants. One key differentiator between drivers is the ability to learn what makes the car the most competitive, even if it requires a handling trait the driver feels objectionable. Train yourself to pay attention to the car and conditions to more effectively diagnose handling issues. In other words, learn what is fast and adapt accordingly. Do not make the mistake of forcing the car to behave a certain way regardless of tire wear or lap times.

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