Don’t Expect Miracles From Your Setup

A good setup in sim racing can mean a lot in the right hands, but many of us will benefit more from practice.

Most of us have seen YouTube videos with titles like “1:47.338 Ferrari 488 GT3 at Monza with Setup”. The lap time referenced is unusually fast, and many of us infer that we might be able to achieve an equal time using this setup. But this is rarely the case.

Setups aren’t meant to be a panacea. The aforementioned video probably also showcased incredibly aggressive racing lines, plus elite level throttle and brake application that most of us aren’t immediately capable of. And this is paramount; the driver factored more into that lap time than the setup.

Setups worthless?​

So does this mean setups are worthless in sim racing? Of course not. A bad setup can cause even highly skilled drivers to struggle on track, and a great setup can help the same highly skilled drivers win races. But don’t expect to jump straight to greatness if you’re not already a competent sim racer. An example of a case where a setup could make a significant impact on your driving experience is if you are consistent within a few tenths lap after lap and just out of striking distance of your competitors. But if your lap times vary significantly and you’re further down the running order, the problem may lie elsewhere.

Going from a baseline or generic setup to a setup tailored to a specific track does hold the possibility of improving your lap times. But you should consider replacing that possibility with the near certainty of benefits of practice. Especially in a case where you’re new to your car or track, spending a few hours getting a feel for the car’s tendencies and the flow of the track can have a massive effect on your lap times. And in the case where more practice is needed to learn the car and track, introducing new setups may actually hinder your learning if they are designed to produce only short-term results, like a qualifying setup.

Make your own setup​

A good strategy to employ regarding setups is to work toward building your own. This can be an intimidating prospect for many of us, but starting with even small adjustments to tire pressure, fuel load, and aero can have a positive effect immediately. These tweaks plus ample practice will have more positive effects on speed and control for new or inexperienced sim racers than choosing a random setup from the internet.

So don’t ignore your setup, but don’t expect instant greatness either. For newer or less consistent drivers, practice will have a greater effect on your average lap times than a setup you discover on the internet. Use setups as a complement your performance once you have experience with the car and track, not as a crutch for situations where you haven’t practiced enough.
About author
Mike Smith
I have been obsessed with sim racing and racing games since the 1980's. My first taste of live auto racing was in 1988, and I couldn't get enough ever since. Lead writer for RaceDepartment, and owner of SimRacing604 and its YouTube channel. Favourite sims include Assetto Corsa Competizione, Assetto Corsa, rFactor 2, Automobilista 2, DiRT Rally 2 - On Twitter as @simracing604

Comments

Fat-Alfie
Premium
What a really well-written article :thumbsup:Thought-provoking, reassuring, and excellent grammar - everything one could hope for from an article on RD :D

It has also convinced me that I need to practice a great deal more before I start getting too hung-up on setups. Cheers!
 
There are many fixed setup competitions in RaceRoom and you will find the same guys at the top of the standings as in the free setup competitions. Nothing can replace practice. And I think it makes us progress to learn to adapt our driving style to a car which doesn't exactly response as you expect it to.
 
I pretty much understand at this point that no matter what I do to the car it's not gonna change the fact that I'm still an inconsistent driver :roflmao: if anything, I learned more about braking and turning points than setup parameters from those alien-like hotlap videos.

The only game I can think of where I find the setup changes to be somewhat beneficial towards my sector times is DiRT Rally 2.0. At least I know I don't have much of a consistency issue there.
 
Article is alright, but in my experience in qualifying for semi-pro to pro level competition, the setup is worth easily a second in the cars people usually run. If you don't run the meta setup you will be far off. The worse implemented the car, the bigger the gap is. Optimal setup in Barcelona on the GT-R GT3 in AC1 was to slam the rear and drag it on the ground just to get less pro-lift on acceleration and a lower roll center; because the physics implementation was broken. There are probably a lot of cars in all of the sims with broken physics implementations that require strange setups like that.

No amount of driving skill is gonna overcome the barrier of competing against objectively better setups, but it's easy to fall into that trap and refuse to adapt your driving around the optimal setup, which is ironic when the point is to be a "better driver".

In some sims with really bad default setups (AMS2, at least early on?) you might need to break out the spreadsheets just to make a car that's even remotely in the pocket. Not an issue with good content though.
 
Setups is not a myth, depending on how good default setup is, plus how it fits driving style, race track, and perhaps optional tires, setup can be very important.

But definitely it is better to feel the car at default very well, before "screwing" it up. And driving style, understanding and learning car at first. Some people dislikes cars in first minutes they drive them, and never tries to break through, it is huge mistake.

By the way. Aero and tires aren't small things. In fact they are biggest. They are in first order of what makes the car generate grip. But yes, it makes sense to start from that when starting a setup. Other stuff is obviously fuel load and gear ratios.

Also, fixed setups makes me sad.
 
Davide Nativo
Staff
Premium
This is all fine assuming you have a decent base startup to practice. Not an issue with ACC, but in other games sometimes the default setup is just undriveable, so you have to start by fiddling settings.

This.
I always remember my early days in Grand Prix Legends, full of frustration because of the fact that the cars were undriveable. The default setups were just atrocious. Then, I came by Alison Hine's setups and the cars were transformed, I was totally in control and turning in laptimes good enough to win races.
This was not because the setups made me an alien, but because I got so used to driving the cars on eggs that when when I finally had control over them it all became easy. Without practice, nothing would have changed, I would have been more comfortable in the car but still very much last on the grid.

An optimized setup can shave seconds off your laptime, given that you have a complete understanding of your car, what it does, what it needs, what it wants, and the track. So again, the key word is: practice.

The problem is that people, especially newbies, think that setups will basically grant them talent. You either have it or you don't. It's not like a magic wand. There's no brush in the world that will turn you into Rembrandt, no guitarre making you a Hendrix, no shoes that will let you run like Bolt, and nobody would be foolish enough to believe that something like that could exist. So why do we believe it for setups?
 
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Article is alright, but in my experience in qualifying for semi-pro to pro level competition, the setup is worth easily a second in the cars people usually run. If you don't run the meta setup you will be far off. The worse implemented the car, the bigger the gap is. Optimal setup in Barcelona on the GT-R GT3 in AC1 was to slam the rear and drag it on the ground just to get less pro-lift on acceleration and a lower roll center; because the physics implementation was broken. There are probably a lot of cars in all of the sims with broken physics implementations that require strange setups like that.

No amount of driving skill is gonna overcome the barrier of competing against objectively better setups, but it's easy to fall into that trap and refuse to adapt your driving around the optimal setup, which is ironic when the point is to be a "better driver".

In some sims with really bad default setups (AMS2, at least early on?) you might need to break out the spreadsheets just to make a car that's even remotely in the pocket. Not an issue with good content though.
I've been thinking along these lines as well - that some setups are probably 'gamey' in that they make the car better /in the game/ but wouldn't work in real life. Some of us need to figure that out because I believe not all the cars in AC were built equally. Of course it's still mainly the driver, but there's a real-world setup, and a 'game' setup as well. :)
 
M
Premium
Agree with the article and the comment that as long as you have a good base setup. People saying there is a lot of time in a good setup in the right hands may not have read the target audience of this article.

So many times someone will ask for a setup and 30 mins later they are no faster. Many tracks have one corner that done right will gain you everything a setup would - for your average racer.
 
BP
Premium
Article is alright, but in my experience in qualifying for semi-pro to pro level competition, the setup is worth easily a second in the cars people usually run. If you don't run the meta setup you will be far off. The worse implemented the car, the bigger the gap is. Optimal setup in Barcelona on the GT-R GT3 in AC1 was to slam the rear and drag it on the ground just to get less pro-lift on acceleration and a lower roll center; because the physics implementation was broken. There are probably a lot of cars in all of the sims with broken physics implementations that require strange setups like that.

No amount of driving skill is gonna overcome the barrier of competing against objectively better setups, but it's easy to fall into that trap and refuse to adapt your driving around the optimal setup, which is ironic when the point is to be a "better driver".

In some sims with really bad default setups (AMS2, at least early on?) you might need to break out the spreadsheets just to make a car that's even remotely in the pocket. Not an issue with good content though.
Totally agree, and sadly this also applies to the driving style as well: in both setup and driving inputs you have to learn to pretty much exploit the shortcomings of the physics engine of said sim to be pro-level fast (which is still notoriously difficult for most, but is not always the realistic approach).

Learning to drive this way is more important than setup, but the crazy setups you refer to make this style sustainable over a race (tyres don’t die after 5 laps).

All that said, if you’re not aiming to be an alien, the article is spot on with the exception of sims with horrible baselines like @LeSunTzu said.
 
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What a really well-written article :thumbsup:Thought-provoking, reassuring, and excellent grammar - everything one could hope for from an article on RD :D

It has also convinced me that I need to practice a great deal more before I start getting too hung-up on setups. Cheers!
Agree 100%
 
Totally agree, and sadly this also applies to the driving style as well: in both setup and driving inputs you have to learn to pretty much exploit the shortcomings of the physics engine of said sim to be pro-level fast (which is still notoriously difficult for most, but is not always the realistic approach).

Learning to drive this way is more important than setup, but the crazy setups you refer to make this style sustainable over a race (tyres don’t die after 5 laps).

All that said, if you’re not aiming to be an alien, the article is spot on with the exception of sims with horrible baselines like @LeSunTzu said.
To be completely honest, it's like that IRL too from what I've heard from race engineers. There is no "proper smooth driving style" that anyone who is fast drives with. All of the high level driving I've seen abuse the strange curves of the tire or some feature/shortcoming of the chassis/aero package to get a lot more performance out.

Issue is that the consumer has no idea whatsoever what is realistic and what isn't so they might see some strange behaviour that is totally alright and think it is bad; in fact simulation car developers themselves might be compelled sometimes to think something is wrong with their car when the optimal way to drive is strange. The farther back you go in age of the car and the less information there is, the more likely this'll happen I feel.

Generally if you have a reasonable slip, load, camber and heat sensitivity, very much of this kind of strangeness will become unoptimal though. Perhaps simply because either axle overheats from doing it. Sometimes it is needed and in fact some tires just don't heat up IRL if you don't drive "wrongly" and slide the front a lot or something.

Good heat behavior especially removes very much of the abusing of real tire behavior, namely that you still maintain very good lateral grip even when slipping the tire past optimal angle. However with realistic heating, your front axle will generally overheat and lose grip from doing this. If, however, like in ACC and many other sims, the heat behavior is very bad, you can for example slip the fronts excessively, using the realistic lateral slipcurve, and achieve practical performance that you shouldn't be. The solution, however, is NOT to make the realistic lateral slip curve weaker.
 
my experience has been about 1s worth of difference from default, really depends on the sim however. It could be 2+ ( ams2, pc2, rf2 )
 
It's wrong to judge people to ignore setup. Most people play the sim for the interest of setup. The worst part is most of them aren't interested to a glorious life of a no lifer virtual racer.

Sharing "setup don't matter" gives a bad name to the community. Some peeps run in circle effortless with auto-win setup, cause default is so bad. If it's bad for 20% of the game content(regardless of the popularity). It's high enough to share it's "wrong & evil intended" to promote setup don't matter.

Promoting realistic driving to go fast is wrong. Corner entry is difficult to simulate. Obviously peeps shouldn't expect miracle. Input wrong to go faster is a common thing in games.

Setup matter & there's no such thing as driving style(drive wrong to go fast). It's auto-win effortless against peeps who got trolled.
 
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BP
Premium
To be completely honest, it's like that IRL too from what I've heard from race engineers. There is no "proper smooth driving style" that anyone who is fast drives with. All of the high level driving I've seen abuse the strange curves of the tire or some feature/shortcoming of the chassis/aero package to get a lot more performance out.

Issue is that the consumer has no idea whatsoever what is realistic and what isn't so they might see some strange behaviour that is totally alright and think it is bad; in fact simulation car developers themselves might be compelled sometimes to think something is wrong with their car when the optimal way to drive is strange. The farther back you go in age of the car and the less information there is, the more likely this'll happen I feel.

Generally if you have a reasonable slip, load, camber and heat sensitivity, very much of this kind of strangeness will become unoptimal though. Perhaps simply because either axle overheats from doing it. Sometimes it is needed and in fact some tires just don't heat up IRL if you don't drive "wrongly" and slide the front a lot or something.

Good heat behavior especially removes very much of the abusing of real tire behavior, namely that you still maintain very good lateral grip even when slipping the tire past optimal angle. However with realistic heating, your front axle will generally overheat and lose grip from doing this. If, however, like in ACC and many other sims, the heat behavior is very bad, you can for example slip the fronts excessively, using the realistic lateral slipcurve, and achieve practical performance that you shouldn't be. The solution, however, is NOT to make the realistic lateral slip curve weaker.

Fair enough, I'm definitely not a driver IRL, and I'm always willing to learn more ways to get faster. I'd say I'm slightly faster than average but far from alien pace, but something in iRacing this year started to give me hints at the approach some aliens take to get those extra tenths. They introduced a open wheeler this year that's a prototype, and with it a tyre model that reacts to heat differently to all previous tyres in that sim: from what I understand running excessive temps through this new tyre (even for short spells) starts a curing process that causes available grip to plummet extremely quickly (whereas previous tyres would wear a bit more gradually)...most alien drivers stayed away from the car (for several reasons beyond the tyre model), until a world championship event was recently anounced.

I got to take part in a few races with some of these highly ranked guys in prep for the championship and what happened with one or two of them is they'd qualify 2 - 3 seconds faster than VRS pace (popular setup shop with high ranked iRacing drivers setting times)...then set esentially similar pace (+0.5 slower) in the race for about 4-5 laps and then struggled to keep the car on track, as the grip fell off dramatically, and crashed out about 6 laps into a 30 lap race. Based on what I observed, my guess was they regularly put insane heat into tyres on other cars, did the same with this one but it's not sustainable on this model of tyre and it caught them offguard. In other words, they have a good understanding of the typical formula for being "alien" in that sim, but that anomaly of a tyre messed with that. Of course they figured it out with slightly slower pace and most likely setup tweaks, but it was a glimpse for me of what I had suspected.
 
What a really well-written article :thumbsup:Thought-provoking, reassuring, and excellent grammar - everything one could hope for from an article on RD :D

It has also convinced me that I need to practice a great deal more before I start getting too hung-up on setups. Cheers!
Although if I had to put on my proof reader's hat, there is a small omission in the last sentence. :whistling:
 

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