One thing I get a lot is “you don’t listen”, you just do your own thing. Well, yes and no. I do listen to everyone, but I do also always make my own decisions. When it comes to car development, one thing I have learned is that some feedback is valuable while other is as pointless as a helicopter with an ejection seat.
When it comes to evaluating a new part, setup, or version of the car, feedback is good, but only really in order to see if my work has been successful or not. Did it turn out as I intended, or does something need tweaking. When it comes to new ideas, or figuring out things to try, feedback is also good, because many times other people think about things in a different way, and either they come with an idea I haven’t thought of, or they say something out of the box, that in itself is ridiculous, but it leads me to think of something that could work, and that I maybe otherwise would not have thought of.
But when it comes to determining what is better, A or B, it is completely useless asking anyone’s opinion. Let me explain why.
Testing a high performance race car is not easy. If you want reliable results you can’t just do it any old way, you need to have your shit together. 99% of offroad RC racers don’t have their shit together enough to where I think any test results they come to me with are reliable. This also applies to some of the best drivers in the world. Just because you are good doesn’t mean that you know what you are doing. Maybe you are just an exceptional driver.
This is how I test, and in my opinion if you don’t do this you aren’t getting the most of your testing, and probably aren’t getting valuable results.
1. You have to be at a track that is consistent. If you are at a track that is being watered for example, forget about learning and understanding anything new. You can set up your car better, but you won’t learn anything in my opinion. Oh this worked. Why? No idea.
2. When you are at a consistent track, you need to get in your groove. Obviously you need to be a good driver, or you need to have a good driver drive your car in order to develop a high level race car. Before testing something you need to get to your own driving level, which means you are in tune with what the car is doing, it means you can put it down time after time and do the same 5 minute run. Best lap, and overall times should be consistent. You should feel what a good lap is, and what it is. It’s crazy how close you can tell what a lap time is. I remember one day at my home track when my mechanic would tell me my lap time, but I told him what I thought it was first, and I got 3 LAPS IN A ROW correct, to the TENTH of a second. That is fucking insane! Obviously that already requires some luck, but you get the point. You know how the car feels, you got the lines down, you know what a fast lap is, your times are consistent. Only then, can you tell what the true difference is. Don’t waste your time trying to learn something before you reach this point. For me, if I haven’t driven in a while, I don’t even necessarily reach this point the first day back at the track! Also some days my head just isn’t in it and I don’t get there. I know when I am in tune, and when I am not, and testing only works when I am in tune.
There are a few reasons for those points above. If you don’t drive enough to reach your level, then your result is not reliable, because just the fact that you took a break, and then went back to drive made you faster. Think about it. Are you trying to tell me that at a race, every time we race the track gets faster, and the drivers adjust their cars the right way, as they improve on their times each round? No, they simply drive better. And it’s not just about learning the track. Your brain just needs some time to adjust I suppose. Drive a bit, take a break, drive again, your car feels better, even if you didn’t change anything. If you are trying to test while this is going on it is useless.
Another reason is, that if you aren’t familiar with the feel of the lap times, and the feel of the car, you will be prone to reaching a pre-determined conclusion. You will always have an assumption for what something will do, and when you aren’t in tune, the placebo effect is strong.
3. When you make a change, you need to isolate the thing you are testing from everything else that can affect the performance. Run back to back, don’t change anything else, don’t tune the engine, only change whatever you are testing. If point 1 and 2 are taken care of, then you will notice a difference if there is one, in time, or feel.
4. Note down the change in times, and what you felt, both are valuable. Sometimes it make sense to try a thing a few times back to back to get a real feel for it. Sometimes a change is faster, but a difference in feel is hard to determine, sometimes there is no difference in time, but the car is more comfortable to drive. Sometimes a difference is clear, sometimes it is subtle.
5. Repeat the same tests on a different day. After that, repeat them at a different track, in different conditions. This way you can understand what the change does on low grip, high grip, smooth track, bumpy track.
6. After you have all the information, you have to think about the results. You have to try to figure out why they are that way. The “why” is key, because when you figure that out, you will be able to think of an adjustment to do to improve the car further.
Doing this right is a lot of work, and it takes a lot of time and dedication. That’s why most companies don’t do it, and most drivers don’t know or understand how setup changes actually affect handling. It’s not overly complicated, but it requires you to think about what you are doing, and requires you spend a lot of quality time at the track.