The Star Mazda car is relatively simple to set up. It’s a medium-technology car, and has enough settings and adjustments available to get a good taste of what it takes to tweak the handling.
Just a word of warning - setups are very personal, so setups that work for an alien driver may not work for you at all. It’s important to know how to adjust setups to make them work for you.
One big key when making adjustments to this car is to not pay attention to the first one or even two laps coming out of the pits. The tires are still cold, which will cause the car to oversteer badly and have little grip in the corners until the tires are up to temperature. Only make adjustments based on lap 3 and beyond.
I follow a pattern when setting up a car at a new track, and it’s pretty straightforward.
1: Create your starting point
I generally start with a middle of the road setup and take it for a few laps to set a baseline. Try the following:
Tire Pressures: 12.5R / 13.5F
Wings: 14F / 14R, 21 / 18, or 31 / 26 – more on this later
Brake bias: 52%
Ride height: .550 F / .600 R
Springs: 800 F / 700 R
Bumps: -10 F / -10 R
Rebounds: -16 F / -16 R
Toe: -1/16 F / +1/16 R
Camber: -2.1 F / -1.3 R
2: Find the Right Aero Balance
Where you set the wings is dependent on the track, and on where you want to be fast. If the track has long, sweeping corners and long straightaways (Spa, Road America), you want the wings to be a low as you can handle. If the track is a decent mix of fast and twisty (Road Atlanta, Zandvoort) then try the medium wings. If the course is highly technical with many slow corners (Mid-Ohio, Brands Hatch), then try the high downforce wings. You want the aero package to allow you to get through the corners quickly, and have enough straightaway speed so that you’re not a sitting duck. Nothing to it, right?
To find the aero balance, I always try to take the car through corners paying attention to the mid-corner handling. If the car is understeering, add front wing. If it’s oversteering, take out front wing. A good rule of thumb for balanced wings is front wing (f) is rear (r) times .7 plus 4.
f = r * .7 + 4
If you are always getting passed on the straightaway, lower both wings.
This is how the car behaves when you’re gliding in the middle of the corner. You’ve come off the brake, but you haven’t got back on the gas yet.
After the wings are adjusted, my primary adjustment for fine tuning is the ride height. Lower means more grip and more drag. Too low means bottoming out, and instability over bumpy parts.
If the back end wants to slide out on you, then either raise the front or lower the rear.
If it doesn’t want to come around the corner, then lower the front or raise the rear.
If it’s a really bumpy track, like Sebring, then start with higher ride heights all around such as .650 R / .600 F.
4: Corner Entry
This is all about how the rear of the car behaves under braking and for the initial turn-in. You want it to want to turn, rather than plow straight ahead. The gross adjustment for this is the rear ARB and/or brake bias, but I find that I rarely need to adjust these.
If the car is sluggish to turn in, the stiffen the rear rebound or soften the front bump. Try it 2 at a time until you have gone too far, then dial it back 1.
If the car wants to swap ends, then soften the rear rebounds or stiffen the front bumps.
If you have gone as far as you can, but it’s still oversteering, then move the brake bias forward (53% or 54%). If it still feels like you’re driving a snow plow, then move the brake bias to the rear (51% or 50%). In both these cases, change the bumps back to -10 all around and start the corner entry analysis again.
5: Corner Exit
This refers to how the car behaves once you hit the apex and beyond. When you put the power down, what does the car do?
If the back end wants to snap loose all the time, soften the rear bump or stiffen the front rebound.
If you step in the gas and have to come off it to avoid understeering off into the weeds, then stiffen the rear bump or soften the front rebound.
Changes for Race Setup
Lower all tire pressures a half or even a full pound. Running a full race will build higher pressures, so you need to start a little lower to keep them in the right range. Also reset the ride heights to be the same as without fuel minus one click, so that as fuel burns off it doesn't go too far over the qualifying setup heights.
At tracks which require a loose-on-entry setup (Okayama for example), try to get it a little more balanced to start since they tend to get more loose as the tires wear. Other tracks that require a loose-on-exit setup (Phillip Island) remove 2 clicks of rebound from the rear (or add 2 bump to the front if rebound on the rear is already at -24).
Generally, this will make these setups last for the duration of a full race run. Sometimes it takes a few races before the car is just right, so be patient and never stop developing the setup.
All Done, Right?
This is not a comprehensive setup guide. I’ve ignored toe-ins, cambers, castor and springs. All of these have an effect on the car as well, but I find that in almost all cases, the settings I start with work well. Your mileage may vary!
So those are the steps I take to balance out a setup. Patience and practice are key. After you’ve run a full season, you’ll find you are recycling a lot of setups, and it gets progressively easier.
As you get more seat time in the Star Mazda, you’ll find that your old setups tend to be tight, and you’ll want to tweak them to oversteer a little more. Brake modulation and throttle control will make loose setups more drivable, and that’s when you really start to get fast.
See you on the track!