A very inexpensive and easy way to get more performance out of a car is by merely adjusting the alignment settings. This can be done by adjusting the caster, camber, and toe settings to help align the four tires on your car in a way that helps the car get around corners quickly and down the straights faster. Due to the multitude of differences in tires, track surfaces, suspension types, and driver styles, there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution for a set of performance alignment specifications. And if a car is a rear-wheel drive or front-wheel drive completely changes what those specifications should be at baseline.
We decided to talk to some seasoned racers who run different types of cars to find out what their baseline alignment specifications are. These specs may help you set up the car before your next track day.
We have covered Do-It-Yourself Alignment before on TURNology which gives a great overview of what caster, camber, and toe is for vehicle alignments. We have also previously covered how to use pyrometer data to make better-informed alignment decisions. Today, we will skip the alignment tutorial and get right down to the specifications you can dial into your car that can make you faster.
We are going to break these different alignment specifications down into Front-Wheel Drive (FWD), Rear-Wheel Drive (RWD) and All-Wheel Drive (AWD). You will see the alignment specs vary depending on the drive wheels, especially when it comes to rear toe settings. We will start things off with Front Wheel Drive. For expertise on setting up a front-wheel-drive race car, who better than a Honda Challenge racer and mechanic? Allow me to introduce you to Marcel DeKerpel.
Front-Wheel Drive Specs
Marcel DeKerpel of DK Racing is the master mechanic of the NASA SoCal Region Honda Challenge scene (a region that has more Honda Challenge National Championships than any other). Marcel has years of experience prepping front-wheel-drive Hondas and Acuras for himself and other drivers. Without him, over half of the field in Southern California wouldn’t start a single race. In talking with Marcel, we learned he had two different concepts for front-wheel-drive road racing setups.
“It is really driver dependent, said Marcel. “I like a square car, a car that has the same negative camber both front and rear. I run 3-degrees of negative camber on all four corners and I run zero toe. If I run any toe at all, I will add a millimeter of toe-out to the front.”
For Hondas, he just runs as much positive caster as possible. Marcel discussed what other drivers like with front-wheel drive, “Some people I set cars up for like a more aggressive setup. They prefer 3.25-degrees of negative camber in the front, with 3.75-degrees of negative camber in the rear. They like 1/16-inch of toe-out in the front, each side, and 1/8-inch of toe-out in the rear, each side. Of course, that first lap when the tires are cold you better hold on! That car is really hard to control.”
Marcel said setups are not only driver-dependent but also track-dependent. “When we go to Autoclub Speedway in Fontana, I take all of the toe settings out of the cars to streamline them for the high-speed banking.”
Marcel DeKerpel Front-Wheel-Drive Specs for a Honda Civic Racecar:
Front Caster: As much positive caster as possible
Front Camber: 3-degrees negative
Front Toe: 1 millimeter out, both sides (2 millimeters out total)
Rear Camber: 3-degrees negative
Rear Toe: None (straight)
To cover performance alignment specs for a rear-wheel-drive car, we reached out to Craig Watkins who races Porsche 911s, was the engineer for Flying Lizard Motorsports, and owns Smart Racing Products.
Rear Wheel Drive Specs
Craig spent over a decade engineering Porsches in the American LeMans Series setting the cars up for tracks all over the country and beyond. When it comes to alignment specs on a Porsche, I trust no one else. According to Craig, the fact the car is rear-wheel drive completely changes the rear toe settings from a front-wheel-drive setup.
Instead of toe-out in the rear, he sets them up with toe-in. “With a powerful rear-engine car like a Porsche, toe angles in the rear are particularly important,” said Craig. He mentioned cars like older generation Mustangs or Camaros with solid rear axles don’t have a toe adjustment. There is nothing to change in the back of those cars. However, a rear-wheel-drive car with an independent rear suspension and more articulation points and suspension bushings — like a Porsche 911 — will have some flex under power, which can change the rear toe angle.
“For a 911, static rear toe-in is very important,” said Craig. “Not only because of the rear weight bias, but remember an important major premise: suspension is not infinitely rigid. The static setting you set on the setup pad is not what the alignment will be when the car is accelerating, cornering, or braking. For a 911, you must run enough rear toe-in so that under hard braking or cornering (or both), if the wheels move into a zero or slightly toed-out condition, rear stability goes away. And the drivers don’t like that, which will affect lap times.”
Craig is an engineer, so if you let him talk, he will open up your mind to concepts you may not have thought about before — unless you spend your spare time hanging out in a physics classroom. One of the things he mentioned was how a tire needs the slip angle.
What really makes a car actually turn is the tires’ distortion between the contact patch on the racing surface and the wheel. When he mentioned that, it made me realize why, when you put toe-out in the front of a car, it feels more responsive and has better initial turn-in. Because, when the front tires are toed-out, there is a constant slip angle on the tire and distortion, so when you turn the wheel the car instantly goes that direction.
Craig Watkins Rear Wheel Drive Specs for a 2005 Porsche 911 GT3 for a track day/street use:
Front Caster: 7-degrees positive
Front Camber: 1.5-degrees negative
Front Toe: None (straight)
Rear Camber: 2.5-degrees negative
Rear Toe: 1 millimeter on both sides (2 millimeters in total)
Craig Watkins Rear Wheel Drive Specs for an air-cooled 911 for track use:
Front Caster: 7 to 9-degrees positive
Front Camber: 2.5-degrees negative
Front Toe: 1.5 millimeters out on both sides (3 millimeters out total)
Rear Camber: 4-degrees negative
Rear Toe: 1.5 millimeters on both sides (3 millimeters in total)
To get another perspective from a rear-wheel-drive car — but with a lot less horsepower — we went to Maita Master Jim Drago, who owns East Street Racing (ESR). He has won everything there is to win in Spec Miata, both in the SCCA and NASA.
Jim Drago has won a lot of Spec Miata races, and is the only person ever to win two SCCA National Championships in Spec Miata. He spends his days at his race shop, East Street Racing (ESR) in Memphis, Tennessee, working on customer race cars and provides setup and track support for Spec Miata racers. Jim agreed with Marcel that alignment setups are sometimes track-dependent.
“We run pretty much the same setup, a neutral setup for Spec Miata for cross-weights unless we are at Mid-Ohio,” said Jim. At Mid-Ohio, he changes the cross-weight. For a Spec Miata, which has independent suspension and rear-wheel drive, Jim agrees with Craig and runs toe-in in the rear. “We run between 1/16- to 1/8-inch of toe-in on our ESR cars.” Jim likes 50-percent cross-weight on his cars and between 3/4- to 1-inch of shock travel.
Jim Drago Rear Wheel Drive Specs for a Spec Miata:
Front Caster: 5-degrees positive
Front Camber: 3.75-degrees negative
Front Toe: 3/16-inch toe-out total
Rear Camber: 3.5-degrees negative
Rear Toe: 1/8-inch toe-in total
All Wheel Drive Specs
With FWD and RWD drive covered, it was time to get an all-wheel-drive perspective. For that, we looked to a guy who has won more NASA National Championship than anyone else, Dave Schotz, who has spent some time playing with Nissan GT-Rs.
Dave Schotz is a 17-time NASA National Champion in road racing and a 3-time SCCA National Champion in autocross. That is an incredible racing resume. Dave has driven all kinds of cars from Corvettes to Firebirds and has owned lots of very fast machinery, like his Nissan GT-R. Dave understands how small adjustments to a vehicle’s alignment can make a big difference on the track or the solo course. “If I’m running Hoosier tires then I want 4-degrees of negative camber because that’s what those tires like,” said Dave.
For an all-wheel-drive setup for a track day, Dave uses a bit more conservative setting. “Sometimes, you are limited by what your car can do. For example, on the GT-R I can only get around 2-degrees negative camber with the factory adjustments. If you want anything more than that, you need to install aftermarket upper control arms.”
Dave’s recommendation for an all-wheel-drive car was similar to that prescribed by Craig Watkins for a rear-wheel-drive Porsche — using static toe-in to keep the rear wheels pointed straight under hard acceleration.
Dave Schotz All-Wheel-Drive Specs for a Nissan GT-R for a track day on Toyo Tires:
Front Caster: 6-degrees positive
Front Camber: 2-degrees negative
Front Toe: 1/16-inch toe-out total
Rear Camber: 2-degrees negative
Rear Toe: 1/16-inch toe-in total
Words of Warning
With all of this performance-alignment advice for different types of cars, I will leave you with this caution: All of these baseline setups are absolute tire killers if you drive your car daily on the road. Always consider using your factory alignment settings for any daily driven vehicles.
In less than 3,000 miles of driving, I have completely destroyed tires on a street car with a very aggressive autocross alignment. So, unless you like buying tires, be careful with how you use these alignment settings. Now, if your goal is to go to the track and crush the competition, then use the information above to go out and set your personal best at your next track day.