Driving techniques and suspension 101 for n00bs

I got bored tonight and typed this up. I see a lot of people on car forums I visit expressing their interest in racing but honestly don’t understand the basics of suspension and braking…

I posted this in off topic because it isn’t JUST ZX2 related.


Well, I figured I’d post a little something. so for those who think your car is great, learn to DRIVE it great. So lets go over a few rules to bring you to reality before we get into the actual techniques. I see people seemingly thinking they are god at autocross when they really can’t drive, bringing you to reality may help you learn to drive. I’m not saying i’m a perfect driver, but I respect my driving abilities and my car’s limits and the track i hit when i do autocross. I have 5 basic rules for beginners at autocross and rallycross.

Rule #1 - Your car has limits, life isn’t like the midnight club (that’s a video game…) and your car can’t take 20mph corners at 120mph like they appear to in the movies.

Seriously though, I have seen so many accidents in the newspaper locally of “Teenager wrecks such and such car after misjudging a corner at high speeds”. Learning the limits of your car is as simple as experimenting and not getting too cocky. Respect the fact that your car may be slow or fast. Live with it.

Rule #2 - The car does not make the driver, the driver brings the car to life. You can own a Pagani Zonda for all I care but it still won’t make you a good driver, learn to drive what you’ve got, even the people who have been running in stock divisions in autocross have been doing that for years. Many of them dominate their class with crappy cars not because the car has a secret but because the driver knows the car like the back of their hand.

Rule #3 - Listen to veterans. Even if you think you know it all and you go to a track, don’t pretend you are the “chosen one” like in the disney movies and that you’re going to show them all up. Listen to what people have to say, you might actually learn something for once. There are people that have been racing for years and years, if you’re a beginner chances are you aren’t necessarily the next magic racer, and even if you are, you won’t get that way overnight, listen to the veterans for advice.

Rule #4 - Manuals are the kings of racing for autocross and rallycross, automatics are okay but due to the forces of manipulation on your car if you want to get serious, learn to drive a manual and don’t be a pussy foot.

Rule #5 - If you lose, it isn’t the end of the world, don’t be afraid to come back and try it again. You got seat time and seat time = experience for driving. Some people will give you crap, realize that racing is competetive and many people are aggressive about it so learn to live with it and come back and try again until you can show them up. Losing doesn’t mean you’re a bad driver, you were simply outmatched, you’ll get better.

Now onto the actual techniques aspect of stuff for you guys. Lets go over shifting first because I hate hearing people shift like crap, it’s a pet peeve and I hate nothing more than to hear some kid thinking his riced out car regardless of what it is trying to shift and slipping it all the time and/or missing gears or shifting at the wrong time with a fart can on the back and hearing “Waaaaa Waaaacrackcrackmissagearstrippingagear waaaaaaaaaa baaaaa slip the clutch some more” … so lets go…

Shifting 101 - This can actually apply to automatics that have the ability to shift down into different gears, but for the most part I’m talking about a manual transmission.

  • Always downshift BEFORE you hit the corner if you aren’t already in the lower gear necessary to make the corner. The reason for doing this is to keep your car in it’s power band, I’m not sure if you’ve ever tried slowing down in 4th gear and letting your car drop to 1500rpms and trying to accellerate out of a corner that way but you won’t go very fast. Keeping the engine in it’s power band in a lower gear depending on the corner will allow you to accellerate out of a corner.

  • Redlining your car before you shift isn’t necessarily going to make you go the fastest every time you shift. If your car’s maximum power is made at 5000 rpms and you are shifting at 7000 rpms you probably aren’t obtaining the best power in the world and only puts unneccesary engine wear on the car. Different cars shift different ways. Learn your car, you don’t need to bounce it off the rev limiter to make power 100% of the time there kid.

  • Dumping the clutch isn’t always the best method to shifting. Powershifting won’t always get you there the fastest, if you’re car is crap you’ll probably break it in the process. Remember when shifting to watch and match rpms, make a nice smooth transitional crisp shift, dumping the clutch at super high rpms through shifting won’t make that big of a difference, you’re road racing, not drag racing.

  • Remember when taking off you don’t need to slip the clutch for 1000 miles, let it out at what feels comfortable, generally 2500-3000 rpms and letting it out in a slipping motion and then dropping it so it makes a smooth transition to give the car a boost off the line instead of making it to 2mph and then dropping the clutch…

  • Heel-Toe is your friend. It’s the technique of manipulating the clutch/gas/brake simultaneously, you need coordination to do it but once you do it and get it down, you’ll do it in daily driving. For instance as you slow down for a corner you want half your foot starting with your toe on the brake angled to where your heel is on the gas while your other foot manipulates the clutch pedal, as you are slowing down you are braking with your toe and blipping the gas with your heel and using the clutch pedal to engage/disengage to clutch while you go through the gears to downshift. This can result in a very good braking/shifting technique because instead of braking, letting off the brake and shifting and then on the brakes again you are using half the time to make one smooth transition to come out of the corner flawlessly, it’s quite beautiful when you get used to it. A similar technique can be used on a motorcycle but it’s a different thing to explain… we won’t go there.

Suspension 101 - Ok… so there is stock suspension, medium stiffness and hard as a rock suspension and inbetweens… there are struts, springs, shocks, bushings, camber kits, brakes, crossmembers, control arms, things like that that all play part in your suspension. I’m doing this for those of you who are new with the concept so I’m not going to explain every single thing for you, just how overall some of the basic stuff works and why this works works and this doesn’t, blah blah. So I’ll explain what something is and how you can improve it.

  • Body roll - You should all sort of know what this is, or if you don’t, you have definitely experienced it. If you go into a corner and you’re turning hardcore right at a high speed the car leans to the left, that’s physics and the car leaning like that is body roll. As a car’s body rolls at a higher speed the weight shifts due to this and can either cause a normal amount of traction, less traction or 2 wheels on the ground. If a truck takes a 20mph corner at 80mph it’s going to roll over, why? It’s center of gravity is high, with enough bodyroll it pushes itself onto 2 wheels and you guessed it, continues to roll… Cars are a bit different, they’re lower, they’re built differently, and I’ve never seen one roll at autocross… in fact I dare you to try it, it probably won’t happen.

Ways of decreasing body roll would be lowering the car with stiffer springs and also getting stiffer shocks/struts. If you were to take a stock shock/strut and hold it in each hand and push on it, you’ll probably be able to compress it and make it “squish”, now lets say your car is 2500 lbs, and you’re going through a corner and all that weight is pushing down on those springs and struts, it’s going to compress just like it did in your hands. So in getting stiffer springs and shocks and struts you decrease bodyroll which means if you’re in a slalom the lack of bodyroll from those stiffer struts/shocks and springs will make the car more responsive and more stable, less flex in the suspension.

  • Flex 101 - Well what the hell is flex? Suspension flexes? WTF do you mean? Well let me explain. Your suspension is held on by bolts, screws, whatever it may be but one thing is for sure, your suspension has something called BUSHINGS which are basically a rubber spacer that supports certain parts of your suspension and holds some parts in place. An example is going to be a sway bar (a big ass steel or metal rod that holds onto each opposite side of the suspension which helps with bodyroll) so these little rubber bushings hold it in place with steel brackets on the outside.

Well, I’m not sure if you’ve ever grabbed a bushing in your hand, i’m sure many haven’t, but generally they’re rubber. What does rubber feel like? Well, obviously it’s squishy. Well what could be bad about squishy things in your suspension? As your suspension moves and compresses/decompresses these little rubber bushings are “flexing” which means they are being pushed and pulled and distorted and smashed, they will “squish” in the suspension, which if you’re going into a corner and you’ve got about 20 bushings holding a lot of your suspension together you can imagine how much “flex” there must be in the suspension which means your suspension is not as stable, it’s able to move in ways that can cause the car to be less stable as it enters a corner. Flex = bad.

How can you improve flex with these things? TADA the worlds one and only Energy Suspension which makes URETHANE hard as a rock bushings to replace your stock ones. Now your suspension is held FIRMLY in place and there is a LOT LESS flex in the suspension. Your car is now more responsive and stable as you hit a corner, it makes a huge difference.

  • Camber 101 - Sounds like a tricky word doesn’t it? CAMBER, OMG CAMBER CAMBER CAMBER CAMBER F-U camber F-U. It sounds intimidating and if you play driving simulators like the GT series or Forza you’ve probably seen the word in your suspension setup, or if you actually do autocross or rallycross you’ve most likely heard someone talking about it. Well lets explain, camber is a measurement in degrees in how your wheels are angled. Let me show you.

From top to bottom here is a picture of a car in keyboard talk.

so each solid line on the left and the right is your tire, looking at the car head on, the front of your car. A perfect 0 degree camber would look like that, perfectly flat, 100% of the tire flat to the ground. Now that can be good and it can be bad. Lets jack up your can onto some jack stands, have you ever seen what the tires do? They do this…

----/ that’s right, the control arms let the tires move and your tires hang in the air and sort of point inwards. Now if your car were able to drive like that it’d be a bit funky because you’d notice the outside of the tire would wear awfully quick wouldn’t it? That’d be a positive camber, a LOT of positive camber. So what does NEGATIVE camber look like? Well, do the math, it’s the opposite.

/---- now in this case your cars inside of the tire will wear faster.

So what in the world will a camber setting do for your car, and how do you set it? Well, usually in doing a drop on your car, lowering it you actually end up with a bit of negative camber. Now the reason for that is usually that the car being lowered a bit is not riding the same way it would on the suspension, the suspension is actually a bit towards the top of the fenderwell, imagine the control arm at a different angle, your suspension before like this |----| is now just a bit tilted like this /---- but usually not THAT much. It’s so small it isn’t a big deal usually.

So as you hit a corner the bodyroll of your car is pushing on the opposite side of what direction the corner is. Example right hand corner, car leans left and bodyweight is on left side of the car, in the car leaning a bit your tire is actually leaning with the car, so what is your tire doing in a tight corner?

Lets show you… lets say you have a stock car with a 0 degree of camber. Your left tire is like this |---- and you hit a hard right corner, the body is leaning and your tire starts to lean a bit too. Your tire is now doing this ----- but of course not to the extent that the slash shows, but it is leaning a bit, so not 100% of the rubber is hitting that pavement, or is hitting it RIGHT. So why is a NEGATIVE camber a good thing? Because your tire looks like this … /----- so as you hit that same corner and the body ROLLS and your tire leans it ends up looking like this in the corner |----- well would you look at that, more traction and rubber to the ground… amazing. It’s more or less flat in the corners, what does that mean? More stable, more traction, well I guess that means you’re car will handle better.

Here, linked off of a website is a great picture of positive and negative camber so you understand. http://www.discounttiredirect.com/im...sNegCamber.gif

  • Brakes 101 - Why in the world do we want to talk about brakes? I mean i thought you weren’t supposed to brake if you have to in racing, it takes down your time. Well you’re wrong. Brakes make a BIG DEAL. In autocross and rallycross you’re going to be braking a LOT. Heat in brakes is your enemy, lets understand that. As you enter a corner you’ll obviously want to slow down first, so as you hit multiple corners in autocross and rallycross your brakes are going to heat up, how can you stop this? You can’t, but you CAN cut down on how much they heat up with a few simple good things.

Better brake PADS. Forget that organic crap, that’s for mommy vans and sissy cars. You’ll want to go with something that is a good quality brake pad, such as a ceramic brake or a kevlar brake pad. Kevlar can be known to chew up rotors so that’s up to you, but a good quality set of ceramic brake pads are a night and day difference between that organic soft crap that you buy at pep boys for fifteen dollars and the fourty or fifty dollar pads you buy that are ceramic. Ceramic cools better, is harder, and uses a different material in the pad, it stops more efficiently over a period of time and stops more responsively.

Rotors are your friend. When you touch the brake pedal your calipers force the pads to compress onto a rotor also known as “that big metal round thing that my brakes go over”, here’s a picture of one…


Now a regular rotor is a solid piece of metal, so as the brake meets with it, there is constant friction, what does friction cause? Heat.

I’m sure you’ve seen these on race cars, these are crossdrilled and slotted rotors. They look pretty sexy…


So what is so great about these? Well, a “vented”/slotted and drilled rotor actually helps release the gasses that are created during the heating process of when the friction is applied to the rotor causing heat. If you can dissipate heat you have a less hot brake pad and a less hot rotor, and well… that’s not hard to understand. So the cooler the brakes are, the more consistent your stopping is, in other words your brakes will brake better, longer than if you had a solid rotor.

There is a lot more things I could go over but these are a few basics to help those of you who have expressed your interest in racing and for those who don’t know much and want to learn.

I hope this helps someone. And if someone wants me to post more I’ll post more, because I said it would be a small post and it isn’t :slight_smile: :lol: :lol: :lol:

wow… bored nun?

Great post, this should probably be stickied, there is alot of good information here and I DIDNT read the whole thing

I second that question.
There is alot of good info. I get bonus points because I did read the whole thing :stuck_out_tongue: Only because I am killing time here at work but I will still be expecting my plate of yummy cookies in the mail. LOL


I liked it…and I want some cookies too.

  • Darron

what ever happened to all the links i posted up at zx2-riders? i had a ton of links describing deriving techniques, corner weighting, and other ideal setups for racing. this is an awesome thread! dan (miscad) should find all my old links and add to it :wink:

Hey if you got more to add to it add to it :slight_smile:, by all means. I just see so many people express their interest in racing but don’t know where to start so I figured I’d assist and yes… i was very very bored.

I work 10 hour days, 4/10s and today it’s been SLOW and yesterday i was sick and the day before that was SLOW SLOW SLOW so I have nothing better to do to be honest.

try going to http://www.zetecinside.com

that’s graham blackwell’s site…he’s got a mean zetec powered fiesta over in the UK. there’s tons of links to other sites on there, including places to buy GB cams and ITB’s :wink: also try grassroots motorsports for info on racing. and the SCCA has a TON of info on racing technique.

i know u were sick but u must have been really board
good info :wink: it should help a lot of new autoxers