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.

Egads — Look at what we can do!

Egads, it’s been a little bit since I’ve posted here. I’m quite sorry about that (or maybe you should be thanking me?).

Anyway, not too thrilled about that. As I’m sure you all know, life gets in the way. But oh, what a life it is. See, much like how I spent my June I’ve been biding my time doing interesting activities (OK, with the exception of moving). But I’ve started a wonderful lineup of classes, finished some good classes, worked more on cars, and generally have been having a great time.

At my last Solo event (autocross, as you’ll recall) I was very pleased with my performance. Not as pleased as I have been, but I made nearly 10 seconds of improvement from my first run to my last of four. I’m proud of that. But there’s still work to be done.

And then, as Rob can attest to, you have a moment where you realize that you can do that work. See, I spent the other day in the CU Math/Physics/Engineering Library reading Society of Automotive Engineer’s books. And other assorted books on cars handling. My S2000 was understeering a bit in corners when I felt that it shouldn’t have been. I know that I need a more aggressive suspension setup. No matter — Honda UK came up with an insanely well-recommended one. It’s roughly -1/-2 camber, front and rear respectively, with 0/.2in toe (also, respectively front and rear) and maximum caster on the front.

Great.  But suddenly I wanted to know why. I wanted to know everything about how to make a car handle. I’d just picked up some new tires in an amazing feat that can only be described as “Insanely meaningful”. I want to make the most use of them.

 

So I made a strategic acquision. See above. Race Car Vehicle Dynamics. I’d thought about it for a while. But suddenly it was time. One of Those Moments. If you know what I mean. If I had bought it earlier it wouldn’t be useful. But now I understand what it says. It’s over 700 pages of amazing. Suspension setups. Aerodynamics. Drivetrain setups. This is what winning is made of. And as much as no one likes to admit it, everyone wants to be the best at something. Maybe that isn’t winning themselves. But that could be the best damn suspension setup on the face of the earth. 

So we’ll see. I’m ever-amazed at what someone can do with a wrench, and if you haven’t found out what you can do with a wrench and some persistence, I invite you to find out.

 

 

Holy Crap Autocross

Autocrossing – known as Solo in SCCA (Sports Car Club of America) terms is many things. As a race, it’s time trials around a course set up exclusively for that day with orange traffic cones outlining the route, in a parking lot. It’s competitive – there’s nationals – and there are different classes, and different rules. It’s surprisingly fast. Think racing in the realm of 30-45 miles per hour. Maybe faster. Autocross is also one of those things though where you want to do it, but you never get around to it. Far too often I think it gets treated as “I should go, but I don’t know where to begin, maybe I’ll wait or do some upgrades to my car or get some new brakes at least” and then the season is over and you partook in no racing whatsoever.

What it should be instead is more like “Man, when can I get down to the bank to collect my $10,000 cash prize” because it really is that great.

This past weekend, I had an easy entry into it. I attended an autocross school on Saturday and then raced competitively on Sunday. What I found was this: It’s extremely fun. Extremely, extremely fun. Who doesn’t like driving cars? No one reading this blog certainly. If you have qualms about not knowing anything or anyone or the like, put them away. Everyone who autocrosses is exactly like you – which is to say AWESOME! – so don’t fret about it. Now, do read up on what working a corner is like and some basics for how to drive, but you’re wanted to there. People will be accommodating. And you’ll have tons of fun.

As far as me? Out of the kindness of their heart I got to drive an S2000 outfitted with R-Compound tires(I told you the people are nice). They’re amazing. I also got 907 points (out of 1000 – they normalize it across all cars that run) so I did really, really well for my first time out. You too should be there. If you’re in the Denver Area like me, check out http://www.rmsolo.org or http://www.scca.com.

One last reason why you should do autocross? Because when I sat down in my summer class on Monday, someone asked “So Matt, you’re a race car driver, right?”. Yes, yes I am.