Track Car Suspension: How It Works And How To Adjust It

Suspension is made up of several different components working together, and how it is set up will greatly affect the way that your car drives. Having a good understanding of what suspension is and how you can adjust it is key if you want to become a better racer.

The suspension in a track car is a system of tires, shock absorbers and springs all linked together, helping to balance the comfort of the ride with the performance and handling of the car.

The suspension system of normal cars is important, but in a track car the suspension needs to be tuned far more. The way it is tuned will have a significant effect on the way the car handles, and as ride comfort is less important, it can really be used to maximize performance.

A Detailed Overview Of Car Suspension

A Simple Explanation

Car suspension systems are made up of several different components all working together. These include things like springs and shock absorbers, along with everything that connects them together. The main role of suspension in a car is to balance the quality of the ride with the performance and handling, and it can be altered to favor either of these.

Suspension can be tuned to suit more comfortable rides or to suit maximum performance. The former is usually the case in normal cars, and the latter in race cars. It can be tuned to be loose or stiff, with loose suspensions offering a spongier ride, often more comfortable, and stiff suspensions favoring higher performance but less comfort.

A Generalization

This a generalization however, as it is not simply the case that road cars have as loose suspension as possible, and race cars as stiff as possible. It really is a scale, and adjusting the system between the extremes allows for a lot of customization.

The suspension in a car can be adjusted in many different ways, and race car drivers will tune theirs to their specific driving style. Before we look into the different ways that suspension can be adjusted, lets briefly go over the differences between road car and track car suspension.

Differences Between Road & Track Car Suspension

Road vs Track Cars

Suspension in road cars is tuned to provide maximum ride quality – and thus usually comfort for the driver and passengers – while still maintaining reasonable handling. Road cars drive across things like potholes and speed bumps on a regular basis, and these can make for some very uncomfortable driving experiences. Thus, the suspension needs to be tuned to minimize this discomfort.

This is usually achieved by using relatively loose suspension, and in the case of 4x4s that are intended for some off-road use, the suspension is often very loose to allow for the traversing of rough terrain. However, this still needs to be balanced with the handling that the car offers, and so there is a limit to how loose the suspension can be.

On The Other Hand

Track cars are made to race around fairly uniform tracks with reasonably flat ground. This means they don’t need to worry too much about going over bumps and thus comfort becomes less of an issue. Obviously, the ride has to be bearable for the driver, but the performance of the car is much more important. Thus, race car suspension tends to be stiffer.

Race car suspensions are also made to be more adjustable than road car systems, due to the fact that different drivers will prefer different setups. Some modern cars do allow for variable suspension, and you will often see variable ride heights. This does allow for a decent amount of adjustability, but race car drivers will control even finer aspects of their suspension to maximize performance.

So, race car drivers obviously benefit from gaining an understanding of how suspension can affect their driving. But how do you set your suspension correctly?

How To Adjust Your Suspension

Main Components

There are a few main components that can be adjusted on your car to change the suspension. Two of the main components that can be changed are called dampers and springs/coilovers. These are fundamental components in the suspension system and changing each one in different ways can drastically affect the way the car feels and how it handles as well.

The dampers and the springs in the suspension system work together, and without dampers the car would continue to almost bounce up and down continuously after each bump. Dampers thus do exactly what the name suggests, dampening, by dissipating the vertical movement of the car to prevent this constant bouncing.

Usually Stiffer Is Better

Stiffer suspension is usually favored in race cars, but it is not quite as simple as loose and stiff. The different combinations of the components within the suspension system will have an effect on the ride and the performance, and there are several components within the dampers and springs that will allow drivers to tune it to their liking.

The dampers can be changed to more race specific dampers, and this can allow for the most adjustment and thus the biggest improvements in performance. The springs can be adjusted too, and they are usually found in many different forms quoted in spring rates. Different ratings will be suitable for different driving styles, and so choosing the right one for you is key.

The spring rate is effectively a measure of the resistance of the spring during a bump, and how it reacts to it. This plays a key role in setting the ride height of the car, as if you use very soft springs the car will naturally be closer to the ground, and so the ride height needs to be increased in order to compensate for this and prevent the chassis from hitting the ground.

Ride Height

The ride height is essentially how far off the ground the chassis naturally sits. You will want this to be as low as possible without the car bottoming out, which is what happens when the bottom of the chassis hits the ground. The ride height of the car will have significant effects on the performance of the car, and we will discuss what can happen if it is not adjusted correctly below.

Other Components

These are not the only two components that can be changed however, as there are also parts called anti roll bars that can be fitted, and you can also adjust the bushes and the top mounts which will also affect performance. Aside from that, there are also various linkages that can be swapped out, as well as the tires too. Tires are in contact with the road, and so play a vital role in handling.

The tire compounds and pressures will have an effect on the way the car handles through the grip they provide, but they will also affect the ride height as well. They can be altered in the process of corner weighting too, which we will discuss below. However, the way that the tires sit on the road surface will also play a key role in the handling, and this is called the camber.

The Camber

The camber of the car can be set to be positive, negative or neutral. Each of these is essentially the angle at which the tire sits in contact with the road. Positive camber involves the wheels being angled so that the top of each wheel is further out than the bottom, with negative camber being the opposite. Neutral camber puts the tires in flat contact with the road, and usually a slight positive or negative camber is favored.

We will discuss the effects of positive and negative camber below, but first we will go over the effects of altering the rest of the components within the suspension system.

The Effect Of Alterations

Changing The Dampers

Now, let’s look at each component in more detail and discuss the effects alterations can have. The dampers in particular can have a significant effect on the ride quality as they can alter the ride height. Higher ride heights will make for more comfort, but also a higher center of gravity. This can greatly reduce the cornering ability of the car, and so race cars tend to opt for lower ride heights.

This change in ride height and thus center of gravity will also have an effect on the weight transfer of the car. Lower ride heights reduce the amount that the weight can shift, making for more consistent driving and usually better handling in the corners. This is not the only component that will affect the consistency of the driving, but it is often the most influential.

Too Low

Having too high a ride height will cause the car to struggle with weight transfer, but having too low a ride height is also not a good thing. If the car naturally sits very low to the ground, even small bumps may cause parts of the chassis to come into contact with the ground below, and this can cause damage to things like splitters and fenders, or even the engine and exhaust system.

Another interesting effect that ride height can have is known as corner weighting. This is the process of essentially changing the amount of spring resistance at certain wheels to make up for uneven weight distribution. This is a useful adjustment for race cars, as it allow for fine control over the weight distribution of the car, which has a significant effect on the cornering ability of the car.

The Bump

The next adjustment that can be made is with what is known as the bump of the suspension. This affects how quickly the damper is compressed, and higher values make the car twitchy when it goes over bumps in the road. However, this will make it more responsive, and if the bump value is much lower it will compress slower, making it more comfortable but less responsive.

The same kind of thing happens when the rebound of the damper is adjusted, which is how quickly the damper returns to its original position after going over a bump. Once again, higher values means it returns very quickly, which is usually preferred in race cars, with lower values making for what is known as soft dampers and usually less performance.

Changing Each Individual Component

However, race car suspension usually allows for adjustment of each individual component, so the driver can get a mix of both hard and soft damping to suit their liking. There is also a component called an anti-roll bar, which is used to reduce the amount of weight transfer that the car experiences. This is achieved through thick tubing within the suspension system for added rigidity.

Anti-Roll Bars

The anti-roll bar is one of the most useful components in the suspension system, as they can be used at both the front and rear of the car independently. This allows them to be used to control the susceptibility to understeer and oversteer, which makes them very useful for race car drivers that have a specific driving style that favors over- or understeer.

Anti-roll bars can be altered without changing any other components of the suspension system, and so can really allow for a lot of fine tuning. Changing them too far towards one extreme, usually called soft or hard, can result in a loss of handling ability in the car. Too soft and the car might be prone to bottoming out through a lowered center of gravity.

Take Care With Adjustments

However, if they are set to be very stiff then the car will struggle with corners, and in some cases the inside wheel might end up lifting off of the ground. Thus, it is vital to make sure that this component is tuned as carefully as possible. Usually however, a softer setting is preferred, as this tends to correspond to a more balanced car overall.

The Bushings

The bushings are small components in the suspension system that are often made out of rubber. Swapping these out for polyurethane bushings will make them last longer, as the rubber ones deteriorate over time. This makes for more responsiveness, and more consistent driving. Changing each of these components in turn can all be conducive to consistency if altered correctly.

The Camber

Finally, considering the effects of the camber, we will deal first with positive camber. Positive camber is used in heavy vehicles as it means less turning of the steering wheel is required for turning the vehicle, but in race cars too much of it can be problematic. It can cause excess wear at the outside of the tires, and it can cause understeer in the middle of corners.

Negative camber is often favored, as it allows for maximized grip when cornering. However, it also comes with its own share of problems when used incorrectly, with the main being increased wear at the inside of the tire. It can also affect the braking capacity of the front tires, and the acceleration capacity of the rear tires. Thus, it requires a lot of fine tuning at the front and rear of the car.

Neutral camber allows for a very balanced approach to grip and power distribution. Ensuring flat contact with the road surface allows for enhanced grip, but at cornering extremes, such as those on a race track, the inside tires can have a tendency to lift on the inner edge. Thus, as with every part of the suspension system, it is all about finding the right balance.

Final Thoughts

The suspension system in a race car is made up of several different components, and each one can be adjusted to suit specific driving styles. There are many differences between road car suspension and track car suspension, but the main one is in the adjustability. Race cars tend to allow for much more adjustment of the suspension system.

There are several key components that can be adjusted within the suspension system of a track car that will have a large effect on both the ride quality and the handling. The way the front of the car is set up in terms of suspension will usually vary from the rear, and there are a lot of potential issues that can arise if the system is not set up correctly.