I have had a lot of experience lately with teams who for one reason or another lack that tad of performance needed to move up. It may be in the setup, maintenance, or driving style. The following are 10 tips that will help us finish this season on a winning note.

The approach to racing is a mental process first and a mechanical process after that. We need to decide what our goals are in the beginning, and the information presented here will help formulate those goals. We need to step back and look at the big picture, which includes where we stood with our competition during the first half of the season, our experience level at this point in time (our realistic expectations are directly tied to that), our level of readiness, and finally, having the right tools and equipment to get the job done.

If we race long enough, we will eventually stumble upon a setup that wins and may eventually provide us with that coveted championship. But racers are racers, and we all like to experiment. So we lose track of the setup that might have won the first race of the year. One very important aspect of race car setup is the 99 percent rule. When ours is the fastest car on the track and we're winning races, any change we make has a 99 percent chance of slowing the car down.

We must keep good notes and refer to those notes before, during, and after making any changes. We should reference how fast the car is on short runs and on longer runs. Two setups may be equal on shorter runs, but one may be more consistent and that is the one we need to stay with. Most teams are only after the fastest lap setup, but they'll get beat time and time again by cars that are more consistent and faster at the end of the race.

Alignment issues can hold a team back for a long time. Most teams work with spring rates, weight distribution, Panhard bar height, and so forth to try to solve setup problems. But if the alignment is off, no changes to the usual setup parameters will overcome misalignment. Here are a few common alignment problems.

Rear and Right-Side Alignment
If the rear end is not aligned properly, the car may be either tight or loose in all three phases of the turns.

One of the very first tasks in setting up a race car is to make sure all of the alignment issues have been corrected. The rear end should be at right angles to the chassis centerline, and the right-side tire contact patches should be in line.

Excess Ackermann
In the front-end geometry, there is a condition called Ackermann. This is an effect that increases the amount of toe-out in our race cars when we turn the steering wheel.

The opposite of Ackermann is called reverse Ackermann. That is an effect that causes a decrease in the amount of toe-out as we steer and can actually cause the front tires to end up with toe-in if the effect is severe. It is possible to have Ackermann in our steering system when we steer left and reverse Ackermann when we steer to the right.

With excess Ackermann designed into our cars, on purpose or not, we can gain a lot of toe-out, which causes our front tires to work against each other. When this is severe, the front end will push and no adjustment to other setup parameters will seem to help the situation. When running balanced setups that work the left-front tire, we must eliminate most of the Ackermann.

In the common asphalt setups of today where we use a larger sway bar and softer springs (BBSS), the presence of Ackermann effect could be even more detrimental. As we put more and more load on the left-front tire, the negative results of Ackermann become more detrimental.