Things you should know about alignments

When it’s not a post about time attack, you’ll notice most of this site is dedicated to suspension related things. That should make sense given that this site was started to counter the “hellaflush” trend of ruining suspension. In previous post about bushings and coilovers and ride heights, I mentioned alignment quite a bit, but realize I’ve never actually talked much about it in detail, so here goes.

Simply put, the alignment is what direction the wheels and tires are pointed. Straight, right?

Well, sure, that is the general idea, we definitely want all our wheels/tires to be pointed in about the same direction, usually straight ahead relative to the chassis. There are a few things we are usually concerned about- minimizing tire wear and optimizing the contact patch and traction.

Toe and camber are two alignment terms you’ve probably heard, and while they aren’t the only parts to an alignment (we’ll get to some other ones later) they are definitely the most important. Toe is the direction the wheels are pointed relative to the car and zero toe means the wheels are pointed exactly straight. Camber is the angle of the wheel and tire to the ground, and zero camber means the tire is standing straight up. So, then, having zero toe, and zero camber all around means all the tires are rolling straight and the tread is evenly loaded. That should do it, right, I mean, why would you not want that? If the camber isn’t zero, one edge of the tire is loaded more heavily, and will wear faster than the other. If the toe isn’t zero, the tires will be scrubbing slightly as you drive down the road. Either one means more tire wear.

If all you wanted to do is drive down straight highways all the time, then yes, zero camber and toe would be ideal. But sometimes you drive around corners.

When you turn the car, the suspension moves, the body rolls, and the tires flex. What this means is that your contact patch, which was flat on the ground, has changed. Now, instead of using the whole tread of the tire to generate cornering force, only the outside edge and maybe some of the sidewall is doing the work. Clearly, that is not ideal.

This is where camber comes in (and suspension design). Leaning the wheel and tire in a bit, giving it negative camber, will get the tire closer to flat in a corner and put more of the tread in even contact with the ground, which increases traction. In nearly all cases, it’s good to start with a bit of negative camber. How much depends on a lot of things. Most important, what the car is being used for. A track or autocross car is obviously going to require a different alignment than a daily driver. Additionally, the tires and suspension are other big factors.

So where do you start? Well, first take a look at the tires. Is the tread worn evenly all the way across, or does one side seem worn down more or faded? If one side is obviously worn more than the other then the camber should probably be adjusted and the toe should be checked. You can get it in the right ballpark based on the type of driving done and keep an eye on the tires from there. For commuting and highway driving, minimal camber is needed. Driving on a race track with sticky tires, probably quite a bit will work best. Fun driving in canyons, somewhere in between. How much is minimal? I’d say -0.5 to -1 degrees. How much is a lot? Over -3, up to -4.

There is, of course, a better way to figure this out, especially for performance/track driving where optimizing grip is most important, and that is the tire temperature probe. A tire temp probe and a notebook are two of the most important tools you can bring to a track day. By measuring the temperature across all the tires, you can find out how the alignment, tire pressures, and suspension setup should be changed. Hotter on the outside of the tread for example means that corner probably needs more negative camber. If the front or rear tires are significantly hotter that might mean a change to the springs or swaybars is needed.

I think that gets through the basics of camber adjustment, so what about toe, and other stuff like caster? Toe, as we mentioned, is the way the wheels are pointed relative to the car. In most cases, this should be zero, so all the wheels are straight, but there are some cases when changing it can be useful. A little bit of toe in, where the fronts of the tires are closer together than the rear, tends to add stability in a straight line. That might be desirable on a drag racer or land speed type car. Toe out on the other hand does the opposite, and will make a car kind of twitchy and willing to change direction. That could help in an autocross situation where speeds aren’t really high but changing directions quickly is important. Another thing is that having camber will result in a thurst force- the tire will want to go the way it is leaned. Counteracting this with some toe can result in reduced tire wear, especially with a lot of camber.

In addition to toe and camber, there are some other alignment things you might have heard of- Caster, and a related suspension angle- steering axis inclination. These two only apply to the front suspension and have to do with the steering geometry. The main purpose of caster is to add a self-centering force to the steering. It does that by “leaning the suspension back” so that as you steer, the tire leans over a bit as well, which means the axis the tire steers about is in front of the center of the contact patch. That lean has another benefit, and that is that the tire leans a bit as you steer as well. So when cornering, you get a little bit of extra camber outside.

Compared to caster, steering axis inclination would be the angle of the steering looking from the front. SAI is important mostly because of something called scrub radius. A zero scrub radius means that the center of the tread is the pivot point when steering. Zero scrub, or close to it, is desirable so that bumps and uneven road surfaces aren’t exerting a steering force on the tires. Caster and SAI are generally not adjustable on a stock car, but can be changed to a slight degree with aftermarket parts like offset bushings and adjustable arms and top mounts. Generally speaking, more positive caster is a good thing, and we want to minimize SAI while maintaining close to zero scrub. If you’re paying attention, you might realize that wheel offset is important here, since it moves the center of the tire and changes the scrub radius.

What does it all mean? Well, a car’s suspension is a complex system, and if you want the best performance,and getting the alignment right is a very important part of it all. You can’t just throw on a set of $800 coilovers and bring it to firestone for a lifetime alignment and call it good.

The other thing you should know is that the alignment changes when the suspension moves, and also when the ride height changes. Most cars have fairly limited adjustment, so it’s not uncommon to need additional parts to get where you want to be- camber bolts, top mounts, adjustable links, etc. What;s needed depends on the car and suspension layout.

All this means is that it’s really important to find a shop or alignment/suspension guy that is familiar with your specific car if you want to start changing these things.

 

 

New records at Global Time Attack x Super Lap Battle 2017

Lately in US time attack, it seems all the progress has been happening in street class and FWD. Part of that I think is due to the high bar set in unlimited and rule changes in mod/limited. When the Hankook Ventus TD came out, there was a huge drop in ltd class lap times, with a bunch of cars going between 1:44 and 1:48 in 2014-2015. The one that really stands out is Professional Awesome with a 1:42.694 in 2015. After that, the TD and flat botttoms were banned, and we’ve seen a definite slowing down of times. They’re pretty much back to where they were 10 years ago and now street class is going that fast.

Unlimited class teams like Sierra Sierra, Lyfe Motorsports, FXMD, and GST built incredible cars, set records, and then have not been back to superlap for years. The new crop of cars have been getting closer to the overall, but at Buttonwillow, and many other tracks, old records still stand. This year the stage was set for a potential new fastest time and a great AWD battle between Jager Racing/Yimisport, Andy Smedegard, and Professional Awesome, But Jager and ProAwesome were plagued with mechanical issues during the event. Andy appeared to be able to run consistently and reliably both days and put down a best time of 1:40.051, which was enough for the overall win and is the 3rd fastest time ever. Mark Jager and Jeff Westphal in the Pro Awesome Evo both managed a few good laps after installing new engines overnight, but were not able to improve on previous times. I hear Jeff was on pace for a sub-40 when engine 2 blew up and the evo burst into flames coming out of the esses.

photos by Yia Lor

Street, like ltd/mod, is another class where tire technology resulted in big jumps in lap times. First, it was the Advan AD07 and 08. Then the Hankook RS-3 came out we saw a few seconds of improvement. Now we have the Bridgestone RE-71R, which might be sticky enough to be used competitively in limited. In 2015 Tony Fuentes went 1:48.802 on a set in an S2000, which is still the overall time to beat in street class. Street AWD has been a little more exciting, with the record changing hands every year since 2012. First it was Alex Peng with a 1:54 beating the 2010 time set by Martin Musial’s no-expenses-spared AMS evo X. Then Brian Bengali improved on Alex’s time in the same Massimo Power evo. 2014 saw Mark Jager take the record in a Subaru after a long line of evos, and then last year it was Cody Miles in his Airlift Performance STI. This year, Markos Mylonas edged out the old time by half a second with a 1:49.353 in his Snail Performance WRX.

FWD is another category where a lot has been happening, with new records in unlimited and ltd the last few years. In unlimited, Chis Rado’s time from 2010 in the wild, front winged, 1000hp Scion seemed untouchable. Then, in 2015, Dai Yoshihara managed to top that by over a second in the fairly mild Spoon Sports Civic. That Civic got a pretty big overhaul, going to a center drive position and bigger turbo among other things, and while they improved by a second, did not quite get a lap at their full potential. Last year, William Au-Yeung brought his Civic from Canada and set an even faster time of 1:43.3 which is notable as the first FWD car to go faster than the HKS EVO. This year he took that car (with some pretty significant improvements, especially in the aero department) to WTAC in Australia and finished 2nd in Pro-am. We’re looking forward to seeing what it can do at Buttonwillow.

James Houghton, another Canadian, was last year’s runner up and only a few tenths behind Will in his Integra. He was back this year, got the win, and took a full second off Will’s time with a lap in 1:42.288. Only about 6 cars have ever gone faster than that. This Integra does more with less and proves there’s much more to going fast than sticking a huge wing and splitter onto a 1000hp car (although those things all certainly help).

Going down to mod/ltd FWD, we’ve seen a similar story. Tim Kuo and Sportcar Motion held the top spot for years until a Canadian came down and took the win. That was also Will Au-Yeung, but in his other really fast fwd time attack car, an Acura RSX. Then Chris Boersma has won and set a new record the last two years, which now stands at 1:48.424. That’s not just fast for FWD- excluding the Ventus TD times it’s among the fastest limited cars regardless of drivetrain.

So here’s a roundup of all the class records at Buttonwillow, with new ones in bold

URWD: 1:37.520* – Billy Johnson – FXMD NSX – 12/8/13 ETA
UAWD: 1:38.967 – Jeff Westphal – GST Impreza – 11/14/14 SLB
UFWD: 1:42.288 – James Haughton – K-tuned / Lavigne Integra – 11/10/17 SLB

LRWD: 1:44.456 – Cody Kishel – Excelsior Corvette – 11/14/14 SLB
LAWD: 1:42.694 – Jeff Westphal – Pro Awesome EVO – 11/12/15 SLB
LFWD: 1:48.424 – Chris Boersma – Boersma Racing Civic – 11/10/17 SLB

SRWD: 1:48.802 – Tony Fuentes – Honda S2000 – 11/12/15 SLB
SAWD: 1:49.353 – Markos Mylonas – Snail Performance WRX – 11/10/17 SLB
SFWD: 1:52.122 – Chris Boersma – Boersma Racing Civic – 11/14/14 SLB

ERWD: 1:55.518 – Dom Bautista – Honda S2000 – 11/12/15 – SLB
EAWD: 1:56.325 – Craig Peyron – Outlaw STI – 11/14/13 SLB
EFWD: 2:01.314 – Pradana Wilianto – Godspeed CSX – 11/14/13 SLB

 

things you should know about ride height v2

It’s a pretty common train of thought that lowering a car improves the handling, because of the lower center of gravity. From a physical standpoint, that is true. Lower, wider, and lighter are all keys to improving how a car handles and reducing lap times. But that is not the whole story. Mostly this is because the suspension is designed to operate at a specific ride height/travel range- the one the manufacturer set. So when we go outside of that, some problems can arise.

When it comes to handling performance, it’s very important to keep the tire in optimum contact with the road. What that means is we want the whole tread to stay flat on the ground, and not see any sharp spikes in load. So, for example, going around a corner, we don’t want the tire to get leaned over onto the outside edge, and if we hit a bump in that corner the suspension should be able to absorb it smoothly. To do those things, we need a suspension that is aligned and functioning correctly.

The most obvious problem that comes up with a lowered car is suspension travel. The wheel and tire can only move up so far in the body before hitting the bumpstops, or ever worse, contacting other parts of the car. Tires can rub on the fenders. wheel wells, and wiring harnesses, axles hit the chassis, ball joints and rod ends can run out of articulation.. When that happens, tires get cut up, fenders are mangled, and parts can break. Imagine a tire blowing out or a ball joint snapping off in the middle of a corner.

And then of course there’s the issue of bottoming out the suspension travel. When that happens, you suddenly get a big jolt through the tire and chassis, and a big reduction in stability and grip. There you are, cruising around an onramp, when you hit an expansion joint and are suddenly headed for the guardrail.

Just from that, you should get the picture that you need to be careful when lowering a car. There are a lot cheap, readily available parts out there on the market that can cause these issues, such as springs that are too low and too soft and cause a car to ride the bumpstops constantly, and adjustable coilover systems that can be adjusted so low that axles, fenders, and tires get destroyed. Many of these come from reputable, popular brands, too, so if you want aftermarket suspension parts it’s important to get them from a knowledgeable vendor and have them installed and set up properly.

Still, a car can be lowered without causing much harm. Stiffer springs compress less given the same load, so can make up for a lower height. This has to be moderate though- most car suspension won’t have much more than 3″ of bump travel (and often less), so lower a car 2″ and what’s left? Almost nothing. The suspension is bottomed out just driving along. However, shorter shocks, some adjustable coilovers, and even different upper mounts or control arms can overcome this my simply moving the whole travel of the shock farther up. Then fenders can be rolled and wheel wells clearanced so you get adequate travel and nothing rubbing.

There you have it, right? Get some shorter shocks, stiffer springs, make sure nothing is rubbing, and you’re good to go. Looks cooler at car shows, friends, neighbors, girls, and forum bros will all be impressed, and you’ll probably win super lap battle.

But, of course, there is more to it. This was getting a bit long though, so I’m splitting it into two parts.

things you should know about coilovers

Lately we have read quite a few incorrect comments online about suspension and coilovers, so we decided to write something about it.

Firstly, let’s go over a few suspension basics. There are a few popular suspension arraignments, mainly the Macphearson strut, double wishbone, multi link, and solid axle. Basically every modern car is going to be one of these designs, but that’s not what this post is about. Regardless of the layout, there will be a spring to support the weight of the car and resist roll and pitching movements, and then a damper, or shock absorber, to control the motion of the body and suspension. Without shocks, the body could oscillate freely on the springs and that would not be good. Continue reading

History of the Buttonwillow Track Record

The first Super Lap Time Attack event in the US was way back in 2004 at Buttonwillow raceway. I wasn’t there, but if you were to track down an old guy like John Naderi and get him liquored up I’m sure he would tell you all about it.

Since then Buttonwillow has been the benchmark for fast time attack cars in the US. Sometimes I wonder what would have happened to time attack if they had picked a different track. Something not in the middle of nowhere, with better facilities and nearby hotels and entertainment (spring mountain?). Would we have something more like WTAC by now or would RTA have imploded earlier and set things farther back. Maybe the cheap track rentals and $40 motel 6 rooms help keep things accessible. It’s not Eastern Creek or Tsukuba, but  Buttonwillow is what we have.

Ok back to that first Superlap in 2004. The Sun Auto Cyber Evo was there with Tarzan driving, and crushed the competition with a time of 1:48.906. The next fastest time was 1:54.2 (also by Tarzan, he was driving a bunch of cars that day).

cyber_evo
1:48.906 – Tarzan Yamada – Cyber Evo – 2004-2007

Continue reading

Top Times at Buttonwillow CW13

Yeah, I know I have the top 40 already, but that leaves out many of slower categories and class records. So here are the top 5 in each class. Some of them go way back

Unlimited AWD

1 – 1:38.967 – Jeff Westphal – GST Impreza – 11/14/14 SLB
2 – 1:40.051 – Andy Smedegard – Gridlife / RSMotors Evo – 11/10/14 SLB
3 – 1:40.417 – Cole Powelson – Lyfe Motorsports GTR – 11/14/14 SLB
4 – 1:41.046 – David Empringham – Sierra Sierra EVO – 11/9/10 SLB
5 – 1:41.309 – Mark Jager – Jager Racing/ Yimisport STI – 11/11/16 SLB
Continue reading

New records at GTA Superlap Battle 2016

SLB was another good one this year and there are some new track records, here they are

Street AWD
new record: 1:49.864 – Cody Miles – Airlift STI
old record: 1:50.206 – Jager Racing sti

Limited FWD
new: 1:49.834 – Chris Boersma – Boersma Racing Civic
old: 1:51.789 – Will Au-Young – PZ Tuning RSX

Unlimited FWD
new: 1:43.365 – Will Au-Yeung – PZ Tuning RSX
old: 1:45.585 – Dai Yoshihara – Spoon Sports Civic

Full results can be found here on the GTA website

All track records have been updated here

GTA Superlap Battle 2015 unofficial results

Been watching facebook and the live feeds and here’s what I’ve come up with. New records in bold.

Unlimited RWD:

01 – 1:41.925 – Cody Kishel – Corvette Z06
02 – 1:45.541 – Graham Downey – Blacktrax Honda S2000
03 – 1:49.958 – Tom Tang – Honda S2000
04 – 1:57.468 – Danny George – Mazda Miata
EX – 1:56.700 – Ryan Novak – Ferrari 360

Continue reading

Buttonwillow time attack track records

Updated for 2017

Unl RWD: 1:37.520* – Billy Johnson – FXMD NSX – 12/8/13 ETA
Unl AWD: 1:38.967 – Jeff Westphal – GST Impreza – 11/14/14 SLB
Unl FWD: 1:42.288 – James Haughton – K-tuned Lavigne Integra – 11/10/17 SLB

Ltd RWD: 1:44.456 – Cody Kishel – Excelsior Corvette – 11/14/14 SLB
Ltd AWD: 1:42.694 – Jeff Westphal – Pro Awesome EVO – 11/12/15 SLB
Ltd FWD: 1:48.424 – Chris Boersma – Boersma Racing Civic – 11/10/17 SLB

Str RWD: 1:48.802 – Tony Fuentes – Honda S2000 – 11/12/15 SLB
Str AWD: 1:49.353 – Markos Mylonas – Snail Performance WRX – 11/10/17 SLB
Str FWD: 1:52.122 – Chris Boersma – Boersma Racing Civic – 11/14/14 SLB

Ent RWD: 1:55.518 – Dom Bautista – Honda S2000 – 11/12/15 – SLB
Ent AWD: 1:56.325 – Craig Peyron – Outlaw STI – 11/14/13 SLB
Ent FWD: 2:01.314 – Pradana Wilianto – Godspeed CSX – 11/14/13 SLB

*some people don’t like that FX did it at an extreme speed time attack event instead of SLB/GTA or RTA. Their next fastest time is 1:40.379 at SLB 2012, which would also be a URWD record.