Thursday, December 29, 2011

Car Prep on a Budget (Part I): Log It and Pocket!

So… you’ve gotten that über gizmo for Christmas, ate far more than you should have, and got to see long-lost friends and family, but you’re still not satisfied. I know you all too well. Unless your über gizmo is installed with a varied assortment of metric sockets and spanners in the garage, while drinking beer with buddies, you are undoubtedly thinking about how you can manage to sneak some new car modifications past your significant other.

See, I told you that I know you… all too well.

You see, there’s a common theme amongst us performance driving brethren (and sisters); we all want to eek that extra 10th, whether it means lightening your car, installing the newest and hottest, finding extra horsepower, learning new techniques, or minimizing your belt size (save this one for your New Year broken promises bin). This series will delve into various options that will gain you a few 10ths while keeping some $10s in your wallet.

Sure, you can buy a set of Motons or a custom ramped locking differential, but let’s start somewhere more reasonable. Today, we’re going to talk about keeping a log. This will help you improve your car setup, regardless of the car and type of performance driving that you do.

This is undoubtedly your single most bang-for-the-buck thing you should be doing. Face it, we all make mistakes on car setup, every time we go out to the track, drag strip, or autocross. Even F1 teams are constantly experimenting, keeping track of setting changes, and learning from it. The only way to minimize repeat mistakes is to keep an active log of changes you make, and how they affect your setup. I have a simple Excel spreadsheet that I fill out after each event, with a simple set of data points to capture, along with a notes column. My columns are Date, Event type, Location, Weather, Tires, Tire Pressure, Camber, Modifications, Car Feel Index (1-9), and Notes:

I usually have multiple entries for each event so they’d capture the car settings I play with. The more entries you put in, the better the data points for your analysis. When I first started my log, I did back fill some memorable events, of particularly bad/good experiments.

As you continue to attend events, you’ll have the single most valuable asset in your arsenal. For your next event, start a log. For the event after that, refer to your past log entries to find similar events, and what did (and did not) work for you. Also, before you install your next mod or tweak your existing setup, refer to the log. You will continue to hone your setup to its optimal potential. Lastly, remember that mistakes are good - just as long as you log them so you can avoid them next time.

Next up: Tire Pressure