Autocross Fundamentals: Getting The Most Out Of Your Car

Autocross Fundamentals

With eEuroFest coming up, we will be having a lot of newcomers being introduced to performance driving on the autocross, as well as plenty of people that are definitely total pro’s (as in, hold my apple juice and watch this).  Either way, hitting the autocross in your own car is one of those things that is extremely easy to do, but much more challenging to do well.  If you don’t want the faster guys tailing your bumper, there’s a few things to keep in mind when doing an autocross event for the first time.

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1. Stage Zero.  This is the easiest one, and the most difficult at the same time.  Having a car that runs properly is essential to being quick on the AutoX.  If you are misfiring, have a weak fuel pump, have crushed bushings, smooshed engine mounts, clogged air filters… will have a bummer of a time. The other cars around you will be coming up on your tail while you wallow around trying to keep pace.  Makes sure all your fluids are topped up and please, don’t leak oil onto our track.

2.  Suspension Bushings.  Autocross is specifically designed around the idea of keeping speeds low and G-loads high.  That makes it a handling sport, and means one of the most important things you can pay attention to is your suspension. Particularly, making sure your suspension bushings are in good shape.  Squishy worn out bushings make handling feel loose and indirect.  Bushing deflection will ruin your perfectly dialed in alignment as soon as enter the first corner.  We sell piles of Powerflex Bushings to autocrossers to combat deflection and maximize the contact patch of the tires.

3.  Suspension Shocks and Struts.  This is an easy one, if your shocks or struts are blown or leaky, then you’re going to flop around the track like a tired sturgeon.  We’re proud to offer a full KONI product line, direct from the manufacturer, making it a great choice if you are looking to get into sport driving.  The KONI Sports are actually adjustable, allowing you to dial in your rebound damping for the perfect handling.  How often do you have access to so much autocross time that you can do a run, make a small adjustment, then do another, and continue on to the perfect setup?  eEuroFest will have plenty of that going on.

4.  Tires.  Even though coming in at number 4, once you get the above three things under control, literally nothing is more important to the Autocrosser than tires.  So much so that many tire manufacturers are making street sport tires made specifically for the Autocross.  We carry the Nokian zLINE A/S, which is an excellent Ultra-High Performance (UHP) All Season that would do great on the AutoX, but if you are really serious you can upgrade to a set of Dunlop Direzza Star Specs, Hankook RS4’s, Toyo Proxes R1R’s, and the BF Goodrich Rival S’s, just to name a few.  These will warm up quick and stick you to the pavement like you’ve never felt before.  As an added note, reducing unsprung weight by using the lightest set of wheels possible should be a top priority.  Here’s an article all about unsprung weight.

5.  Tire Pressure.  Tire pressures can tune the handling of your car by a huge margin, and keeping an eye on dialing in the correct pressure can earn you a lot of speed on the track.  Before you go out for the first time, set your tire pressure to exactly the recommended unloaded pressure.  Do your laps and then immediately after pulling off check your pressure with a good tire pressure gaugeThe friction of the pavement and rubber squealing and sliding around will increase the temperatures by a large margin.  As you increase temperature, the pressure will go up.  Soon you will find your tires bulging with air, and your contact patch shrinking down.  Lower the pressure back down to the OE specification outlined in your door jam.  As the tires cool, you will find your tires will get low on pressure.  Don’t worry, once you hit the Autocross for another round of laps, you will find your tires to be grippier and happier at their correct pressure when hot.

You now have a baseline to start altering handling characteristics with tire pressure.  A slightly lower tire pressure will grip better but less response, and a slightly high tire pressure will cause the tire to slide easier but feel jittery.  If you are trying to dial out understeer, you may try and raise the pressure in the rear, helping the rear end to rotate.

If you have a tail happy oversteery car, you may want to lower tire pressure by a psi or two in the back to try and get better contact patch.  A lot can be done to alter the handling of a car with tire pressure, so remember to bring a tire pump.

6.  Weight.  Lose the junk in the trunk.  If you have someone to watch your stuff, get rid of all the crap in your car so it’s completely empty.  That means spare tire and kit as well, you want every pound of weight out of the vehicle to make it handle the best.  Losing weight is like adding power, with the benefit of better handling, so there’s no reason to be as light as possible.  Also, if your seats fold down, do it.  It will slightly lower your center of gravity.

7.  Visibility.  Anything dangling from your mirror?  Yank it and toss it in your glove box.  You will need every inch of view angle to spot your line and drive fast.

8.  Brakes.  If you find yourself driving around the autocross and not using your brakes, you are slow.  To get the most speed out of your car you need to be doling out quick pedals jabs for both the throttle and your brake.  Don’t ride your brakes as this will cause them to over-heat.  Instead, quick forceful jabs will slow the car down in the shortest amount of time without generating excess heat from riding your brakes.  Get a feel for the threshold of locking your tires up.  If your car has ABS, you could hit your brakes as hard as you can and your ABS will do the rest.  How many places will you be able to try this out other than the eEuroFest Autocross?

9.  Driving line.  Finally, at the eEuroFest Autocross, we will put out cones to show the best generalized racing line.  Depending on the type of car, this will change slightly, but in general you should be driving from cone to cone to make for the fastest line.  It will feel jerkier, but the idea is to maximize the amount of on-throttle time.  Wide swooping lines might feel fast because your tires will be squealing, but if you take sharper turns you can make the straight-aways longer, and thus be able to put full power to the ground for a longer period of time.  This is called ‘squaring off’ a corner.  High powered, heavier cars will tend to do this more because they have to use their power as their advantage.  Lower powered lighter cars will do this less because they aren’t at risk for spinning tires for getting on the power too quickly and rather have to keep momentum.

Do you have any tips for autocrossers?  Post them in the comments below!



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