Alignment is Everything

I’ve found myself in (business) organizations with entire meetings around some magical thing called “Alignment”. That is — everything is pointing in the direction that it’s supposed to be pointing. I’ve often written those meetings off, and depending on their greater context, I may continue to do so.

But suddenly, I can’t write them off. Earlier this month I stumbled upon a tire Deal-Of-The-Century. An hour spent with my impact gun and a pair of (very crappy) jacks, the S2000 was rolling on the best rubber the Department of Transportation slaps their accolades on. Even from that, the difference was amazing. The steering response, the road feel. My bushings are 75,000 miles old, but man, I felt connected to the tarmac some 13 inches below my feet.

There was still more to be done on the performance front though. I felt that I wasn’t extracting every ounce of grip from my suspension. So I needed an Alignment. An aggressive one. So there came the fun part. I hit the forums (namely, S2ki) researching suspension setups suitable for autocross and occasional track driving. I picked some numbers based on Race Car Vehicle Dynamics, comments from The Internet, and other various amounts of research. Maximum Front Caster, Zero Front Toe, .33 degrees total rear toe, and -1 and -2 degrees caster respectively.

What I wasn’t expecting was the difference. According to my alignment printouts, I only got half a degree more of caster (which is  basically steering response), about +.3 degrees of front toe (back to zero — which again helps with turning response) and half a degree and a whole degree more camber (respectively). Relatively minor changes.

WOW. It’s like a new car. Even just going through some turns or making slalom-like movements in a parking lot felt like the difference between night and day. The funny part? It’s still subjective — except Camber, which is almost a direct correlation to grip. Toe is what steering response feels like — and it depends on what you want. It’s a tradeoff between straight-line performance and steering response. Same with Camber and Caster too. But I think I picked good numbers. I can’t wait to race now.

Consider this as a closing thought though — everything else is like aligning a car. I briefly present to you a math problem. On a typical car, you have something like +- degrees of camber to adjust (-2 to 2, maybe), maybe 4 degrees of caster, +.30 inches to -.30 inches of caster, and the same camber and toe on the rear (no caster on the rear, unless you have some horrific rear steering system).

So, with a reasonable granularity of adjustment, on a per-axle basis, we get: 40*40*60*40*60 or 230 million choices. (disclaimer, I’m not getting a math degree anymore).

Maybe spending time for a proper alignment of any sort is worthwhile.


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