Tuning Compromises: How to Achieve the Perfect Balance
After racing for 15 years and coaching the private and public alike I started to see some patterns. Some of these come from an educational standpoint and others are just cold hard facts you can only learn at the race track.
Tire Grip vs. Life…vs. Heat
It’s that last one people really forget. No matter what, a softer compound will not last as long as a harder compound. And neither compound will last as long in the hands of a driver who is fast compared to one who isn’t. Simply put, the faster you drive, the more heat you put into a tire. No exceptions. Tire choice is always a compromise that depends on how long you need a tire to last, the grip you need to cut competitive lap times, and how much heat you are capable of putting into the tire itself.
Downforce and Drag
A former test driver for David Bruns of open-wheel fame and a world-class Formula Atlantic driver, Steve O’Hara offered simple insight into the compromise of downforce. “Any appendage you scab onto a race car will add drag no matter what the shape or orientation of the wing is,” he explained. In cars that don’t have significant power to overcome the drag, it can reduce lap times on circuits with long straights. Slapping an APR-1000 wing to a stock S2000 is a great example of this, yet we see it at the race track because... race car. Underbody efficiency is incredibly important when it comes to overall aerodynamic effectiveness as well.
Intervals of Speed
Engines are a major component on the race track when it comes to lap times, but they get incredibly expensive just as fast as they accelerate. High horsepower engines require rebuild intervals that can make even wealthy enthusiasts feel like they’re setting money on fire. Fun can be seriously compromised by having to constantly spend money tearing open and rebuilding top ends and bottom ends. For most enthusiasts, it’s better to work on everything else before addressing improvements on power.
But if you have the money to blow and your sights are set on a big budget build for max speed, an important thing to keep in mind is that engines are about compromises. You need to understand with certainty what the point of your build is. Want to hit the track and the street? Then you will need to manage things like valve overlap and other factors that contribute to “driveability.” On a full race build you’re not idling at red lights nor concerned about passing smog, so you can focus on how the car performs under full throttle conditions only.
Weight Saving vs, Structural Rigidity
In building a roll cage, saving weight is something that can compromise structural rigidity. Achieving the perfect compromise is a balancing game. Paying top dollar for safety equipment is about more than getting good welds. It’s also about going to people who understand the x-factor of competition. Strength and weight are always at odds with each other in a race car.
Understanding where to compromise in racing is what separates good racers from great ones, champions from participants, and repeat winners from those who stand on the podium once in a blue moon. Many of the biggest compromises come in the tire and engine departments, but they are many more areas that require compromise in the process of building your perfect track machine. Getting them wrong can be costly, so avoid buyers remorse when you purchase parts. Always remember what the point of your build is and whether or not it helps in that regard. Hope you enjoyed reading.