I was recently asked: at what point should I start making setup changes to my car?
There is no clear-cut answer to this, but in my opinion, the earlier, the better!
As a novice driver, you will experience exponential progression in your lap times simply from improving your car control skills, learning the racing line, and growing your confidence.
Even though I've had a good bit of setup knowledge since before I started driving on the track (carried over from my younger years racing radio-controlled cars), I rarely changed the setup on my track cars for the first few years, and I regret that.
I wanted the least amount of variables while my lap times were still dropping rapidly (due to my inexperience). If I did a new personal best time, it was because of my driving, not because of something I changed on my car. (I also had minimal adjustment available on my E30, but, still.)
As my driving skills plateaued, I returned to the car. By that point, I was a consistent enough driver to understand and appreciate the result of an alignment or suspension change. These days, I make at least one small change between every session at the track. At the minimum, I'm making a couple of changes each day at the track.
The goal is to improve the car overall, but it is also to adapt to the conditions of here and now. There are a lot of variables during a day at the track that can affect how the car is handling and, thus, your confidence in pushing the car to the limit.
Even if you don't think you are a fast or skilled enough driver to need to be changing the car's setup, I'd encourage you to still try it anyway, for two main reasons:
- Changing the car might make you more comfortable, which in turn will allow you to push harder and become more consistent.
- Experimenting with car setup early on (even in DE) will prepare you for when you do need a competitive advantage.
It does not matter yet whether you are making the right changes. You may make the car worse! That is part of the learning process.
You'll likely discover how some changes are minor, maybe even impossible to feel. Some changes will make a tangible difference, but need to be more significant to bring you from P5 to P2. Then, there are drastic changes. You won't make many of those (hopefully!). Still, sometimes they are the only choice when you are outmatched and outgunned (perhaps when crossing over classes, like bringing a Spec E9X car to Gridlife Touring Cup).
No matter how experienced or comfortable you are with your car, I encourage you to make some changes the next time you are at the track. Chances are you will find it as helpful and educational as I have.
If you want ideas on what to change, check out this article.