I started racing seriously, on Forza. It’s not that i am ashamed to admit it, but looking back, I took it way more seriously than it deserved. Back then, a setup, or tune, would more or less change your car to feel anything between a beach buggy or a drag racer. This made it critical that you had the right tune for the right track, and without it, you were more or less lost.
The truth is, that you really can’t change the feel of the car quite that much in true sim racing, and I assume neither in real racing. Yes you can adjust springs, dampers etc but you can’t make an off-roader out of a Lamborghini or an oval racer out of a Hummer.
Naturally, what I was looking for when i started racing on iRacing, or even platforms like Assetto Corsa and Project Cars, were tunes that would make my car fit to the track. Coming from Forza, the wrong tune, would make your car feel like a slot car on a wrong set of tracks. I did find a few places to get proper setups, and they did make a difference, but not quite what i had expected. They made the car feel slightly different, but didn’t make me much quicker. So I was frustrated! That was until i signed up to an driving coach course, and i figured out that my problem was not the wrong setup, but that i did not know how to use the proper one.
Learn how to drive
What i learned was that i did not know how to drive properly, and i used the setups to amend this. I needed more grip, and more speed, because i under-steered all the time, and was slow on the straights.It was only after realizing signing up to an online racing coach feature, that i realized how bad i was at driving. For me it was VRS, but for you it may be watching a better racer stream, a you tube channel, or even watching replays. Here i learned that i was not pushing the car even closely to what the setup was supposed to help it with. Some corners that the coach could take full throttle, i was braking for and shifting down. We were using the same setup, but i was not really using it. The setup adjusted the settings, to be able to just about stick to the track, when going full throttle through most corners. I was not using that at all. I could just as well have a setup that gave me more acceleration instead and maybe done better than with the fastest setup.
What’s your problem?
It’s important to adjust your setup to solve a problem, that is making you slower, but it equally important to know what that problem is, and to put your car through that situation once you’ve adjusted the settings. Usually this will need you going through the lap several times, maybe even racing a few races, on it, to figure out what is holding you down. Once you figure out that you are losing grip on this corner, or what you are oversteering on exit of the other corner, you need to figure out what is worth adjusting. Figure out if you will gain more time by fixing one problem, than you will lose by not fixing the other, and adjust accordingly. First of all though, you need to find the limits of the car, and learn how it is supposed to be driven. Watch the fastest drivers and see how they drive on the track. What gear are they in, where and when do they brake? Can you do it better than them?
Know what to do not what you can
The baseline, pun not intended, is to learn how to drive. The setup will make you faster, only if you need the changes it will bring, but it might even make you slower if you don’t know what the changes are for. Besides picking the right tires and setting downforce, setups will only help you as much as you need them to. Setups are really important for top drivers, but they already know what they are doing, what they need and how to use it. For me, the biggest improvement, came when i found out how the car was supposed to be driven. I did not get faster by having the car that can do something i didn’t know it could.