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FESLA’s Blueprint for Track Performance: Optimize, Drive, Succeed

When we established our shop many years ago, we were thrilled to engage with a dynamic clientele passionate about club-level racing and track day experiences. This enthusiasm inspired us to launch our own motorsports program, featuring a diverse array of race cars. Our lineup includes multiple Formula 4s, the fire-breathing Pro Formula Mazda, and the exotic Ferrari Challenge and Lamborghini Super Trofeo GT racers. Our goal was to deepen our involvement in the North American racing scene.

FSE Racing
Our Lamborghini Super Trofeo flying at Buttonwillow Raceway Park.
FSE Racing track day
Come race with us at our private track days!
FSE Racing
Our Ferrari 488 Challenge Evo Racecar!

Southern California, with its abundant sunshine and dry climate, arguably boasts the most dedicated driving enthusiasts in the world. Today, we continue to welcome customers with a pursuit of going faster. Many arrive with newly acquired coilovers, spring sets, anti-roll bars, wings, and 200TW tires, all seeking to optimize their cars' handling and lap time potential. For us, it is always rewarding to assist our customers in building their dream track weapons.

However, race car setup is a remarkably complex subject, one that requires a solid understanding of vehicle dynamics and an unwavering tenacity to master. A race car consists of countless subsystems, each demanding expertise in various engineering disciplines to truly optimize. We often find it incredibly challenging for the beginners to grasp the intricacies involved, but have no fear, we are here to help.👍

There are numerous books, technical write-ups, and videos on suspension setup readily available on the internet. Today, let’s set aside the technicalities and focus on the mindset one should adopt when starting out.

  1. Identifying the Problem First. 🤔

To improve a car’s handling characteristics, it is essential to identify its deficiencies and form a clear problem statement. When driving consistently at the grip limit, even minor imbalance inherent to the chassis setup becomes magnified. 

You may find the car is understeering or oversteering mid-corner, which may require adjustments to the spring rates, roll center heights or anti-roll bars. You may also find the car feels sluggish during turn-in, and the front and rear feel somewhat disconnected - then a few clicks on the dampers might give you the desired transient response. Or If the car is unstable under braking, adjusting the brake bias to prevent rear lock-up, or increasing the rear rebound damping to decelerate the longitudinal weight transfer might be necessary.

The list of potential adjustments is extensive, but all these fine-tuning opportunities only arise when you are truly at the tires' grip limit. Reaching this level does require a significant degree of commitment and confidence. The driver must maintain a state of calmness, alertness, and keen observation while delivering the race pace. This demand, frankly speaking, is quite challenging for a novice. Yet unfortunately, it’s simply impossible to get the car truly dialed in if the driver is not there yet.

  1. Human Factor in Race Engineering 👨

Even more challenging is when poor driver input can easily lead to a misdiagnosis of the car's behavior. For example, a poorly timed brake point, mismanaged trail braking, or an early apex racing line can all create the impression that the car is understeering, when in reality, these issues may have nothing to do with the chassis setup. The perceived understeering is entirely induced by the driver.

That’s why we always recommend beginner drivers accumulate seat time with a near-stock, well-maintained vehicle. Admittedly, factory suspension setups are often compromised to prioritize ride comfort, yet they still provide a solid starting point when paired with the grip level of the average summer tires. For your first track day, the only modifications worthwhile are:

  • Brake Fluid: Upgrade to DOT4 or DOT5.1 brake fluid with a higher boiling point.

  • Brake Pads: Use brake pads with an elevated temperature range.

  • Tires: Choose endurance-oriented 200TW tires

These modifications will not necessarily increase your car’s performance ceiling, but they improve the thermal capacity, allowing you to drive consistently for many laps without encountering overheat, which is crucial for a satisfying driving experience.

  1. Treat Your Lap Time Objectively ⏲️

Contrary to popular belief, lap times are not always a perfect reflection of your driving ability or tuning strategy. It's common to be 5-10 seconds off pace from your theoretical lap time on your first day learning a new track. At this stage, your lap time is more a reflection of your familiarity with the track rather than your skill level. Once you are familiar with the track layout and can drive consistent hot laps, you will encounter many external factors that can significantly impact your lap time more than your own driving.

For example, here in Southern California, where many of our road courses are located in the desert, track temperature can vary dramatically throughout the day. Hot intake air has a lower density, which can significantly impact engine power, especially on modified street cars. Therefore, It's much easier to set a blazingly fast lap time during the first session in the cool morning than later in the scorching afternoon.

We built a BMW M2 racecar for a client for exclusive testing at Streets of Willow.

As the day progresses, you may also contend with sand, dirt, and debris on your driving line, as well as tire degradation, all of which can affect your lap times. A loose track surface means it takes longer for the front tire to generate lateral grip for the same steering input, potentially giving a false impression that the car’s understeering. Furthermore, if your run group experiences heavy traffic, you'll have even fewer opportunities to achieve a clean lap.

Therefore, when it comes to suspension tuning, we place a high value on driver feedback. We only compare lap times when they are achieved in similar conditions with minimal traffic. For the optimal testing conditions, contact us to arrange a semi-exclusive private test day at Willow Spring International Raceway or Buttonwillow Raceway Park.

  1. Be Careful with the Colorful Pictures 🔎

N0 Forged Wheel
Our N0 Forged Wheel FEA done in SOLIDWORKS. Static load and Von Mises Stress. We use FEA to identify areas of stress concentration to strategically add material.

Let’s be candid: today's automotive aftermarket is inundated with marketing gimmicks that prey on consumer desires. You might encounter products like racing wheels or wings claimed to be "FEA/CFD optimized" (Finite Element Analysis & Computational Fluid Dynamics) without presenting the detailed test results to the customers. For those who are uninitiated, these analytical methods are widely employed in the professional racing world and, when done right, can be incredibly powerful. However, the computed numbers can be easily manipulated by changing the testing condition. When these technologies enter the performance aftermarket, they are sometimes capitalized by aftermarket manufacturers and serve as marketing ploys aimed at boosting sales rather than providing a genuine expectation of performance improvement. 

One example of this is that wing airfoil CFD results are often quoted in freestream conditions. However, in the real world, the downwash over the rear hatch significantly reduces the wing's efficiency. As a result, the quoted downforce generated at a certain AoA (angle of attack) can be vastly different from the actual downforce. If you are unaware of this issue and utilize this inaccurate data for car setup, you may end up with much less downforce than desired on the rear axle. Consequently, your high-speed stability can be significantly compromised.

There's a saying circulating among design engineers: "If a material's tensile strength is tested in a laboratory setting, apply a factor of safety of 2. If those data are acquired from a salesman, then apply a factor of safety of 4." This adage reflects a broader truth that applies to many aspects of life.

At FESLA, many of us take pride in having experience working for professional race teams or hold degrees in mechanical engineering. This experience has given us insight into conducting proper engineering analyses and presenting the most accurate data to our customers.

  1. Optimization over Modification 🔧

The single most important factor affecting your car’s lap time is the tires. Everything else pales in comparison. Therefore, the simplest and most cost-effective way to improve your performance is by keeping your tires within their optimal operating temperature and pressure ranges, and ensuring they are at the correct angle in relation to the ground.

To start, a tire pressure gauge is essential. A typical 200TW tire has a relatively soft compound and generates heat quickly. For example, a cold pressure of 29 psi can increase to 35 psi after a few laps. Most club racers also use a probe-type tire pyrometer to monitor the temperature distribution across the tire's surface, typically measuring it immediately when the car returns to the pit. Additionally, professional race teams often employ infrared sensors aimed at the tire tread surface to monitor temperature in real-time, transmitting that data through live telemetry.

Never underestimate the importance of these practices. Attention to details always outperform costly mods.

As a shop, we derive a significant portion of our revenue from installing performance parts. However, we consistently caution against impulsive spending. We are more than happy to assist our customers with optimizing their existing car and closely evaluate the design and technical specifications of any parts you intend to install.👍


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