Shaik it Up Part 2: The Ultimate Guide to Shocks
I sat down with Shaik Ahmad, the owner of FCM for an in-depth look at shock absorbers. This is Part 2 of a 3-Part Series.
Fat Cat Motorsport Gives you 5 Suspension Secrets
Earlier this week, we gave you the first part of our three-part Ultimate Guide to Shocks in a sit down with Shaikh Ahmad, the owner of Fat Cat Motorsports. Now we bring you Part 2. Shocks are complex and so is your suspension. Here’s more of what you need to know from the trophy-winning SCCA tuner.
Flat Ride Recap
If a car’s shocks were removed and the car went over a bump at a given speed, both the front and rear would bounce up and down until they return to being still. The frequency of this bouncing can be measured in Hertz (Hz) and is the first aspect of advanced suspension tuning that Shaikh utilizes. As the front encounters undulations in the road before the rear, the two oscillate out of sync with each other which can cause fundamental handling problems regardless of how good your other components are. Choosing spring rates that lock these frequencies together is the first part of the equation the guys at FCM use to dial in any machine from road to race.
Don’t Just Tune With Shocks
Getting caught up in the latest triple adjustable, 30-way suspension is often a trap. “You don’t want to only use shock adjustments to tune oversteer and understeer in a vehicle,” Shaikh said when asked how important of a role high-end multi-way adjustable shocks play in a suspension setups. “You’re going to end up overusing something. I don’t think you should ever just look to one component. Think of it as a whole.”
This is great advice that has been given to me by automotive royalty like Steve Nichols, who designed the McLaren MP4/4. Shaikh is definitely onto something with the way he approaches modifying cars. In fact, I’ve driven one of his early setups that featured modified Bilstein dampers and can attest to the fact his stuff really works. Performance over bumps was unbelievable on back roads that rattle your fillings in even the most exotic of sports cars.
"You need to see what your contact patches are telling you. They’ll tell you almost everything you need to know,” the shock tuning guru advised me. “And, along with video of your driving, you can cure and diagnose almost any handling problem you will run into. A lot of cars from the factory have terminal understeer—Porsche, Audi, and even Mazda are designed this way because of the bump stops. You’ll see higher front tire temperatures. Generally, the outside is much hotter than the inside.”
If you track your car and don’t own a pyrometer, it’s time to buy one. To be proactive, you want to measure temperatures at each track day event you run. Pyrometers will be covered in an article entirely on their own. For now, understand that they are a detailed way to record your tire temperatures.
Bump Stops—The Over Looked Modification
Bump stops prevent your shocks from bottoming out and being damaged. Think of them as a rubber door stop that can be tuned just like your springs can. Different stiffnesses allow for different handling characteristics when the shock comes into contact with them. Understanding what they contribute is vital in knowing how to tune. It’s a part you almost never hear about in magazines or in automotive reviews. Shaikh was quick to highlight a great example of how they can contribute to lap times. “A stiffer rear bump stop can help the rear of a car want to rotate which allows you to avoid ramping up your rebound adjustment to the point of reducing grip,” he informed. Every component has to be looked at when you upgrade your vehicle especially if you chose to use a mix of stock components and aftermarket components as many of us do. Understanding minor details like this can make a huge difference in racing classes where tenths are the difference between 1st and 5th in qualifying.
Front Roll Couple Percentage
Front roll couple percentage describes the amount of total vehicle weight that the front tires hold up during cornering. The higher the percentage, the more work the front end is doing in a corner. And, the more you increase this number, the more likely you are to experience understeer.
“Springs, sway bars and bump stops go into creating these splits,” Shaikh said before adding “In the case of a front engine rear wheel drive car you want a bit more weight transfer up front so you can get on the throttle earlier. You have to bias the front roll couple towards the front suspension so you can use the throttle to transfer weight onto the rear when you’re ready to do that.” For reference purposes, NASCAR racers will run around 75% FRC to help combat the massive power their cars produce. Increases in horsepower generally favor higher front percentages which anchor the car around the front end, creating a positive and stable driving feel as the driver gets more and more aggressive coming off of corners.
Shock fluid has large implications on performance. Not only do you need to make sure the body of your damper can displace enough fluid, but there’s the fine art to how much pressurize it. “No one tells you about this one,” Shaikh elaborated. “Every shock has a spring inside of it. That’s what nitrogen is—another spring inside the shock. Suspension has to overcome this gas force every time it needs to oscillate and move. It’s one of the most overlooked features in suspension tuning and you’ll never hear about this. Having too much pressure creates unnecessary forces on the suspension.” Shaikh uses trick internal piston designs to mitigate this allowing the shock to move freely and improve driving feel while still delivering outstanding feedback to the driver during on the limit cornering. It’s all down to a science at FCM.
Piston design will be the final chapter in this 3-part series, but for now, we can summarize by saying that suspension design is all about oscillation frequencies and looking at data to analyze things in an objective manner. From the smallest part like a bump stop to the largest part like a high-performance Penske racing shock, there is much more than meets the eye when it comes to system tuning. The quality of your equipment is just one part of the equation that goes into making a great handling car with the other component being how everything works together. Shaikh offers consultation and custom suspension solutions for an honest price that is indicative of the results achieved on track.
For more information visit fatcatmotorsports.com.