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Old 02-17-2009, 07:42 PM   #1
Butt Dyno
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Default Suspension tuning: post your philosophy

It has come up a lot. How do I make my car handle better?

As many many smart people have pointed out, and as is the general rule for anything remotely complicated:

It depends.

I'm going to take a crack at drawing a roadmap for people to start with. I am seriously not that smart, and I hate math, so it won't be that complicated. I invite others to offer their recommendations. I submit to you, the wisdom of Koni Lee:

Quote:
As with about anything in life, I am a firm believer that one should keep your eyes and ears open to any info that you are interested in and see what you can learn. If it works for you, great. Keep it and use it in your model, practices, etc. If it doesn't work for you, don't follow it but it wouldn't hurt to file it off in the background just in case later info might help clarify for you. If it just flat doesn't work for you then discard it. Don't put any one person on a mountaintop as the "all knowing" because the one thing you know for sure is that he doesn't know it all. He who proclaims the loudest to know it all is the likely one you should be concerned about or at least what his agenda might be. I prefer to think of it a ladder scenario. Learn from those above you on the ladder of knowledge of a topic and help those on a rung or two below you. If you feel or claim that you are on the very top rung you are likely misguided and may have reached a dead end.
So, here is my best guess at how you make a car handle better. This is an opinion piece more than a suspension tuning guide. I hope it helps someone.

1) Pick a goal.

Here's the concrete goal everyone has for their car:

-I want to enjoy driving it

Here's an incomplete list of abstract goals you can have for your car:

-Gotta be able to transport people in relative comfort
-Gotta look good
-Gotta kick ass in the canyonz, yo (sorry)
-Gotta be a good autocross car
-Gotta be a good track/HPDE/race car
-Combinations of the above

Pick something attainable. In other words, don't build a car for the purpose of doing 10 track events a year if you've never done one and you're a little short on funds. The reason I specifically mention attainability is that it can suck driving a track car on the street.

But you cannot go anywhere meaningful just by throwing parts at the car!

A lot of people do the engine stuff first. Engine stuff, for the most part, is additive. If you put an intake on, and get a tune, you'll get more power than if you just did one of those things. But suspension parts do not work this way. Throwing parts at a car without having a clear goal can cause you to spend lots of money and not get anywhere. There are plenty of parts out there to spend money on, but if you don't start with a target you are guaranteed not to get there.

A lot of people say "I have coilovers, I have swaybars, I have strut braces... now what?" The answer is, you tell me! I look at it this way. Your car can either:

-Not handle the way you want it to at all
-Almost handle the way you want it to
-Handle the way you want it to

If you're in the first position, you might need parts. If you're in the second position, you might not. If you're in the last position, you don't. If you're changing or adding suspension parts, it should be because you're trying to fix something, not because you are trying to spend $3K on your suspension (unless you're trying to win car shows, where more is better) or because you think that a lower cross sideways brace thingie is actually going to make your car handle noticeably different.

Now, you might never be "done". I know I'm not. But if you've been at this for a while and you're not at least close, that is a sign that you are not well focused, or you're not doing enough research or you're not listening to advice or all of the above.

Just remember concrete goal #1. You are trying to enjoy driving your car. If you've bought some suspension stuff and you are happy with how the car feels, good! Don't feel the need to spend more money or bolt more crap on. It probably won't help that much, and may make things worse.

2) Recognize that EVERYTHING is a tradeoff.

The most famous illustration of this concept: Good, cheap, fast, pick two.

Stiff springs limit body roll. They also can hurt ride quality.

Stiff rear swaybars can make the car feel more neutral. They can also make it more likely that you'll put the car into a telephone pole. Sideways.

Metal suspension mounts limit slop in the suspension. They can also make lots of noise.

ALK's help out our crappy Impreza suspension geometry. They also completely ruin your autocross classing.

There are lowering springs out there that will make your car look sweet. They will also make it handle very poorly, and possibly ride very poorly.

The really nice coilover setups can handle stiff springs, and not be too bad on the street. They're also going to probably set you back at least $2000, maybe more.

Double adjustable shocks (independent compression/rebound) let you fine-tune your setup. They also offer you way more options to set your car up badly

Everything is a tradeoff. Roll stiffness, safety on the street, ride quality, noise, longevity, tunability, user-friendliness, cost (big one)... you never get all of those. You gotta give something up.

3) Start researching.

You may have just gotten your tax refund. It may be burning a hole in your pocket. The idea of sending $1000 of it to some company selling shiny looking parts seems appealing. But hold up. Remember #1? You gotta have a goal. And if you're asking "does this part that I want to buy help reach that goal" you are asking the wrong question. Start at the goal and work backwards to the parts.

To expand on this a little, we see a lot of threads in here that ask questions like this:
"Which lowering springs are better? Tein S-techs or Cobb?"
"Which coilovers are better? Megan Racing or BC?"

When you frame the question like that you have already eliminated 95% of the options out there. A thread like this, however, is more open ended;
"Looking to start autocrossing. Suspension ideas?"
"Want to get rid of fender gap. What springs?"

You have a goal - you have some guess at what might be involved in helping yourself reach that goal - and you are open to listening to advice. That is the best way to ask questions.

For researching products, you should always keep in mind when you are reading reviews that the reviewer may not have the same goals as you. (Arnie says this a lot. He's right!) For instance, there may be a bunch of good reviews of a cheap set of coilovers. But do those people care about ride quality or are they just looking to dump their cars? There may be a great review of a $3K set of Motons, but unless you are trying to get the last tenth of a second out of a race car, they probably do not share your goals.

Some quick notes on searching:

-When you are thinking of keywords to use while searching, try to come up with the most specific term you can think of that applies to what you're looking for. Searching for "suspension" "drop" "springs" etc probably won't get you very far. A rule I use when researching is, try to hit the home run first. Search for "koni ground control camber". If you don't get any hits, try "ground control camber". If you don't get any hits then, try "ground control"... etc etc. It's always easier to deal with smaller result sets than larger ones.

-Remember that you can search in *just* thread titles if you want. You actually have to click the link in the top right though, not just the little "Search " thing in the blue bar. In the dropdown list underneath the search keywords, change "Search entire posts" to "Search titles only". If you do this, you can get good results even if you are using a more general search like "fender gap".

-Remember too that you can search *just* this forum, or just any other forum. Again on the Advanced search page, use the select list in the bottom right. Hold down control and click if you want to select more than one. That way you don't have to search through the classifieds and a bunch of crap you don't want. For instance, I often search both Suspension and Motorsports when I am researching camber plates and things like that.

4) It's cheaper to do it right the first time.

Just trust me. I have been through a lot of setups to get where I am.

-stock
-stock + Prodrive springs
-Ver7 STi RA
-Ver7 STi RA + STi pinks + camber plates
-JIC FLTA2RS
-Koni/Ground Control setup (current)

In the two years I've had the Koni/GC setup, I have changed some aspect the setup (alignment, ride height, tires, spring rates, swaybar sizes) at least a dozen times. You can follow my insane suspension tweaking in my project car thread.

It is no fun to spend $1000 or $1500 on something and hate it later when you could have spent $2000 and gotten what you really wanted.

5) Tires are the #2 "handling" mod.

The amount of grip you have is going to be ultimately determined by the amount of grip your tires have. A car with coilovers and winter tires will not be as fast around a track as a stock car with a good set of summer tires (unless the winter tire car has the #1 handling mod).

That does not mean that your car will be more fun, necessarily. My old Miata was more fun on crummy all seasons than it was on summer tires because the limits were so much lower, and thus, more easily attained. But the Impreza is no Miata - we have meh suspension geometry and most of them weigh north of 3000 lbs. So having good tires is key.

6) The driver is the #1 handling mod!

This can't be emphasized enough. The best way to make your car handle better is to put a good driver behind the wheel. The best way to learn your limits is to do it in a safe environment, whether it be karting, autox, track days, rallyx or whatever. It's not worth dying on a backroad, in the "twisties" or worse yet killing someone else because you made a mistake. If you do take out your urges on public roads make sure you keep it in control. If your tires are squealing, if your brakes are smoking, etc etc you are doing it wrong.

7) There's more to "handling" than lap times (unless there isn't) and "handling" means different things to different people.

If you are not in the autox/track/rallyx camp and you just want to chuck your car around sometimes, your priorities may be different. Usually when I speak of "good handling" I mean "would be fast around a track". But sometimes when I speak of "good handling" I mean "makes you smile as much as a bone stock 15 year old Miata on crappy tires" (a surprisingly high standard, if you've never driven one. And if you've never driven one, you owe it to yourself to at least try it).

8) It's perfectly okay to just want to lower your car to make it look good.

Just realize that most of the folks on here are very much "function over form". This is the technical section, after all The most important thing is that you are upfront about the fact that you are worried about looks. As discussed in #1, you need to have goals. Aesthetics can be a goal too. You just need to prioritize it with things like handling and ride quality. If looks wins, that is okay.


OK, enough preaching? Here is my oversimplified suspension tuning guide.

Get the right tires for your application.

If you live in Alaska, these may be Blizzaks. If you are doing time attack, these may be Hoosiers. Either way, make sure it makes sense for you and your list of goals.

Get the right alignment for your application.

This may be stock. This may be tons of negative camber. It depends. But if you are doing anything that involves hard cornering you are going to want to set the alignment up so that you are not driving on the sidewalls. Alignment is also an excellent and often overlooked mechanism for changing the car's balance. As a *general* rule, adding static negative camber adds cornering grip because when your car leans on the tire, more of the tread and less of the sidewall is on the pavement. You can infer what that means: Adding negative camber to the front will increase front grip, and adding negative camber to the rear will increase rear grip. Depending on your goals and your other modifications, change this accordingly.

Get enough roll stiffness for your application.

This may be stock. This may be 750 lb/in springs. It depends. But if you are doing anything that involves hard cornering you are going to want to limit body roll in some way so that your porky Impreza is under control. One factor in this is what sort of tires you're running. The stickier the tire, the more roll stiffness you need to make effective use of that tire.

Swaybars (or anti-swaybars, or anti-rollbars, or stabilizer bars) and springs are the two biggest (only??) contributors to roll stiffness.

Corollary: If you go much stiffer than stock you will need aftermarket shocks/struts/dampers. Or you are buying a full coilover kit, which comes with a set of them.

Get whatever adjustable stuff you need for your application.

This may be stock. These may be remote reservoir eleventy billion adjustable Ohlins. It depends. Every adjustment you give yourself is another opportunity to set your car up wrong. This is why even though I do a lot of autocross I only have single-adjustable dampers rather than fancier double adjustable ones. It's one less knob I have to turn. But if you will be doing lots of tweaking, coilovers (ride height adjustment), adjustable shocks, adjustable swaybars, etc etc may start to make sense.

Before buying more stuff, tweak the stuff you have.

If you buy stuff and it turns out that it doesn't meet your expectations - ask first!

There are lots of cheap or free adjustments that have a really noticeable impact on handling:
-Tire pressures (often overlooked)
-Alignment (camber, caster, toe)
-Ride height (often, IMHO overlooked)
-Shock/damper settings
-Spring rates
-etc

The setup has to match you, and your goals. Sometimes you'll buy stuff, and you'll be close to happy, but not quite there. In this situation, you are better served to exhaust all your options with your existing parts before buying new stuff. The first time I changed my rear camber setting based on my own best guess I realized that the problem with my old setup was not the parts, it was how I had configured them.

Everything else.

Everyone has a few pet modifications that they really like. I've heard a lot of good things about swapping bushings, for instance. I really like my Grp N engine/transmission mounts. You get the idea. In my opinion this stuff is typically not as important as the other stuff, but that doesn't mean you won't notice it. Some things are very high on the "bang for buck" scale because they are cheap and they fix something that is overly sloppy or soft about the car.

Here's a list of some of the more popular ones:
-engine/transmission mounts
-ALK or caster-offset bushings
-harder suspension bushings (whether they be rubber (Grp N) or poly, or metal for the hardcore)
-short shifter / shifter bushings / shift knobs
-cowl stays aka fender braces (for the Uncle)

And as I said above - if you like the way your car handles, don't feel like you *need* to throw parts at it. You might make things worse!

That's my first draft, certainly open to feedback and I would love to see what other folks would recommend.

john
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Last edited by Butt Dyno; 02-19-2009 at 08:27 PM.
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Old 02-17-2009, 08:04 PM   #2
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I like this.

I kept switching back and forth between choosing cheap BC coilovers and spring/strut combo.

I realise buying coilovers you can't be like the guy advertising the ovens, "Just set and forget!"
Apparently their maintenance is unpredictable and a little pricy!

Tokico d-specs and tanabe springs would be better for me.
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Old 02-17-2009, 08:25 PM   #3
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nice

so, what coilovers should I get?
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Old 02-17-2009, 08:26 PM   #4
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Great thread, ButtDyno. I have been doing everything in here, so most of it has been review. But this is definitely good for the suspension beginners!

Last edited by chazly413; 02-17-2009 at 08:26 PM. Reason: cant spell great..
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Old 02-17-2009, 08:35 PM   #5
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I would say that tires are the #1 suspension mod.

When i switched to real summer tires, the first thing i realized is that they were sticker and stiffer than my suspension could control nicely. Corners which wouldn't roll much on the all seasons would tip the car over and bounce it around like crazy (relatively - i'm sensitive to these things). This is with the stock 2.5i wagon suspension.

Then, when i built my coilovers, i found out that the new suspension was realistically too stiff for my soft blizzaks with huge, tall sidewalls. I had (have) this bounce i kept trying to tune out until i realized it was just my tires. Bumping up the pressure got rid of most of it. Putting the summers on killed it entirely.


I guess my point is you should figure out what tires you're going to be using, and then take that into account when doing other mods. Tires are an intrinsic and important part of the suspension, and should be taken into account first.






EDIT: didn't read. er, my bad. Weird order.

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Old 02-17-2009, 08:40 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sniper1rfa View Post
I would say that tires are the #1 suspension mod.

When i switched to real summer tires, the first thing i realized is that they were sticker and stiffer than my suspension could control nicely. Corners which wouldn't roll much on the all seasons would tip the car over and bounce it around like crazy (relatively - i'm sensitive to these things). This is with the stock 2.5i wagon suspension.

Then, when i built my coilovers, i found out that the new suspension was realistically too stiff for my soft blizzaks with huge, tall sidewalls. I had (have) this bounce i kept trying to tune out until i realized it was just my tires. Bumping up the pressure got rid of most of it. Putting the summers on killed it entirely.


I guess my point is you should figure out what tires you're going to be using, and then take that into account when doing other mods. Tires are an intrinsic and important part of the suspension, and should be taken into account first.
i'm with you on this.. but most people that mod dont want to "waste" money on a wear item like tires and cheap out..

but i think its essential to know what kind of tire you will be running on before setting up spring rates etc.
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Old 02-17-2009, 08:51 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mla163 View Post
nice

so, what coilovers should I get?
The one's that look slamtastic!
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Old 02-18-2009, 12:09 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mla163 View Post
nice

so, what coilovers should I get?
Whatever tucks your tirez y0! Hellaflush!



Made some minor tweaks based on feedback so far. I also remembered while driving home from Arlington that I hadn't mentioned anything about getting aftermarket shocks if you go with stiffer springs. Shrug. It's a beginning.

I don't want to be the only one preaching in this thread though - if you have something that works for you that you can shrink into a forum post, post it!
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Old 02-18-2009, 11:18 AM   #9
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Something to add: Us internet people can sit here all day long and recommend different springs, struts, and titanium reverse double chamfered quick release bolts, but it would be silly to buy something just based on what you've seen online. Talk to the manufacturer, talk to the distributors, talk to other owners - make sure all these people's goals line up with yours. Then arrange for some test drives and/or ride-alongs. The same is true when you've got your new shiny struts installed and want some advice on setting them up - ask someone who knows what they're doing to ride with you and make some adjustments. Keep in mind that what you're getting here is that person's ideal settings, and might not work for you, but you can at least use these points as a starting point.

I also just came to the realization that I've had more spring/strut/tophat setups than you, and in less time. I just switched back to a previous setup that I liked, and I'm really happy. Another important lesson is - if something doesn't work, don't be afraid to go back to what you had before.
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Old 02-18-2009, 09:55 PM   #10
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I'll take Good and Fast. Good information, well put and non-abrasive. Prolly won't stop the kajillion posts about how to fit 315-35-17's and s techs on a wagon with a bov runnin' meth and nos through 4" straight pipes on ms109 with a stock ecu. Long time fan of sorting out what you're pushing before you work on what you're pushing it with.
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Old 02-18-2009, 10:58 PM   #11
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Retitled the thread to direct it a little more where I was aiming for.
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Old 02-18-2009, 11:17 PM   #12
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Since you're inviting tuning philosophies....


Due to the fact that our cars are pigs, we can't do what Chapman told us to and "Simplify and add lightness". However, we can definitely Simplify and Add Stillness. This has turned into the over-arching goal of my suspension progression.

To whit, I find that bushings, geometry improvements, and chassis bracing are the best places to spend time and money. Sometimes, the bushings fix geometry issues (ALK), sometimes they fix dynamic alignment issues (Group N lateral and trailing link bushings remove the passive rear-steer [which steers the wrong way, btw] from the suspension), and sometimes they make the car react to your control inputs more reliably (steering rack bushings). Chassis bracing does much the same thing if you think about the unibody of the car being one big bushing between your butt and the road. Geometry changes allow us to fix things that are actually wrong with the car (why do I suspect a lot of the geometry was designed in response to a Focus Group?).

In the end, driving comes down to a conversation between your body and the 4 contact patches keeping it on the road. Simplifying and adding stillness makes it easier for you to talk clearly to your tires, allowing you to push harder, run deeper, and drive safer.



It also doesn't hurt that all the bushings and chassis braces are things you feel just as much at 1/10th as at 10/10ths. Makes you feel like you got your money's worth.
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Old 02-18-2009, 11:18 PM   #13
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I'll take a crack at something i feel isn't discussed enough.

How to pick your spring rates:

Bear in mind that i am just a newb at this, but i think i'm right here.

Springs do two things, they keep your car off the ground and they change the balance of your car from front to back. The first, keeping your car off the ground, is the one i'll talk about - the second is largely preference and depends on other things like sway bars and such.


So: Your spring rates should be as soft as you can get away with for the conditions you will be driving the car in.

A lot of people seem to think huge spring rates are needed, even for a DD with narrow summer tires. This, in my humble opinion, is a crock of turds. Every time you increase your spring rate, you reduce your suspension's ability to do what it's supposed to do - keep the tires on the ground during weight transfer. Weight transfer in any condition, be it from turning or bumps or whatever.

In my opinion, you should run just enough spring to keep you off the bumpstops during your most demanding task. That leaves your suspension supple enough to do its work.

You may need stiffer springs if:
You get stickier tires, since sticker tires mean higher lateral g's.
You run a tighter track, since sharper corners mean bigger and more sudden weight transfer.
You get more downforce somehow.
You expect smooth, clean pavement.*

You may need softer springs if:
You run less sticky tires. Big springs will just overwhelm the the tire.
You run a smoother flowing track with slower weight transfer.
You expect big bumps or uneven surfaces. Gotta keep that suspension moving.

Note that the first thing i mention in both lists is you tires. Your tires play a HUGE part in picking your springs. They both dictate the maximum amount of grip (and thus, weight transfer) and have a spring rate of their own. Your suspension and your tires are additive. One directly affects the other.



It's also my opinion that your springs are for roll control, and your swaybars are for roll tuning. Again, more suspension independence is better than less.




*smooth surfaces allow less suspension movement, which makes for more alignment control. Public roads are NOT smooth in any way. I'm talking about fresh, groomed pavement.




Somebody feel free to jump down my throat if they don't agree.

Last edited by sniper1rfa; 02-18-2009 at 11:25 PM.
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Old 02-19-2009, 12:11 AM   #14
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not trying to be an arse or anything but this really has nothing to do with suspension tunning... this is more of a build.. you wouldn't call putting a cai or an exaust on ur car engine tunning... tunning would be more in the area of changeing sway bar setting sizes, alignment adjustments, tire presure adjustment. bound, re-bound, spring preload,spring rates(i know spring rates were descused) lalalalala newho still an intresting read thanks
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Old 02-19-2009, 12:18 AM   #15
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This is well within the non-American definition of "suspension tuning".
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Old 02-19-2009, 12:19 AM   #16
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My thoughts are here: (clicky) Hopefully the forum works.

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Old 02-19-2009, 12:33 AM   #17
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not trying to be an arse or anything but this really has nothing to do with suspension tunning

Shens. Any change made to a system such that it better performs the action which you require from it is "tuning."
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Old 02-19-2009, 12:37 AM   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sniper1rfa View Post
Shens. Any change made to a system such that it better performs the action which you require from it is "tuning."
Yes, but the first post really is more of a suspension parts selection guide rather than process to actually detail suspension "tuning".

Research =/ Tuning.
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Old 02-19-2009, 12:54 AM   #19
irish44j
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nice writeup John. If it's ok with you, I will probably link this to the stickies on a couple of the Nissan forums where I'm a moderater.

btw, lol at you referring the WRX as "porky." You know what I used to autocross in
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Old 02-19-2009, 07:46 AM   #20
rallymao
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a must read for any newbie. just great.
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Old 02-19-2009, 11:51 AM   #21
martine_wedlake
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As a response to the discussion about choosing spring rates...

One thing I'd like to throw out there, for good or bad, is that I choose spring rates based on my driver style/talent. I find stiffer springs much more controllable than soft -- I think it has to do with the amount of roll and pitch I experience as a driver through the corner transitions and especially in sweepers. I just feel more comfortable having a more solid connection to the tires for gauging the weight transfer and tire loading. I give up raw traction to get this extra level of control.
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Old 02-19-2009, 02:43 PM   #22
Dubstar112
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Well let me start by listing my basic mods

RCE Yellows
AGX's
27/29 whiteline fsb
stock rear
COBB endlinks f/r

I have had people ask me if my car pushes a lot.. and to answer that.. Yes if you are not driving perfectly. The stiff front bar requires a bit of precision when going into a corner. You know it works when you have back to back corners and the transition is like that of a train on tracks. I went with the RCE Yellows because they advertised a bit more spring rate comparatively in the rear to other brands. This is a sound idea because its spring rate I dont have to add via rear sway bar. Making the rear end a little more predictable in all circumstances. The rear AGX's are set at 2-3 for ax, and the front runs a bit stiff @ 3-4 depending.. Ive auto x'd with my rears as high as 4... and keeping the rear end softer gives my car the loose feeling coming into corners.. so depending on what Im going for .. crazy turn in point'able or a super tight handling batmobile. With my 6 speed swap and DCCD controller I usually turn it to about the half way position on auto.
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Old 02-19-2009, 04:06 PM   #23
Element Tuning
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Buttdyno,

For having to generalize this topic you've done a good job. As you mentioned race winning setups and comfortable are on the opposite sides of the spectrum and for each person there is a compromise somewhere between them.

If I had to give one piece of advice I would say be truthful to yourself in terms of what you really want. If you just go to an occasional track day for the fun of it or you've been in HPDE2 your whole life then lean more towards the comfortable setups and rely more on swaybars for roll stiffness. If your goal is to win then your suspension choice is not going to be comfortable on the street (no matter what you're told). Comfort level is subjective however and I will tolerate a stiff ride for a trophy!
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Old 02-19-2009, 04:18 PM   #24
sniper1rfa
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Element Tuning View Post
If I had to give one piece of advice I would say be truthful to yourself in terms of what you really want.


Quoted for truth.
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Old 02-19-2009, 04:54 PM   #25
flyboymike
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Very interesting discussion. My personal philosophy with suspension tuning is that the dampers are the real heart of the setup. If you make a poor choice here, there will be comfort issues on the street and control issues on the track. It's the one place you should not be looking for a bargain. I also don't care whether they come in a pretty powdercoated aluminum tube with fifty billion ways to make height adjustments or not.
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