Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Setup Sheets, Part 2

Let's review the setup sheet layout. There are two fundamental layout concepts: by topic and by car location.

Sheets laid out by topic group similar items together. All the ride heights are together, all the shock info together, all the aero info together, and so on. For example, here's a prototype sports car sheet. This layout, although well done, omits some detail on brakes, tires, suspension geometry. It is used with "setup wheels", machined aluminum fixtures that replace real wheels and tires on the setup pad. Ride heights are calculated from measured drops to a point on top of the chassis, rather than actual measurements up from setup pad to the floor. Blue items are user input.

PDF - Print or Free DownloadXLS - Purchase Full Download

Sheets laid out by car location group information into a birds-eye view of the car. For each corner, you have alignment, tire data, springs, and so on. Information that doesn't fit that layout is placed on the center of the sheet or in a separate section. In a slightly different twist, the sheet that I use has chassis-mounted items and measurements like AR bars, ride heights, and packer gaps in the center, reducing the amount of info listed at the individual wheel. Here's a Swift 008a Formula Atlantic sheet. Note that this sheet includes some engineering calcs. It also has non-printing separate worksheets for vehicle dynamics and for shock build specs.

PDF - Print or Free DownloadXLS - Purchase Full Download

So, which layout to use? Both are popular, and both can be effective, if they are done well.

The main advantage of the topic layout is in grouping similar items together. For example, all the corner weights are in one spot, just like on the scale display. With so many different types of data to show, it can be a little scattered, unless it is carefully organized. The example posted here is one of the better ones.

The strength of the car location layout is in its ease of use. If you want to know something about the right front corner of the car, look at that part of the sheet. Some items, like brakes, corner weights, rake, or cooling, don't fall into the layout that well.

I use a layout that mixes some elements of both approaches. Go back and look at the sports car sample included in the Part 1 post, it's mine. Stuff mounted or measured at the wheels is out on the corners. Stuff mounted or measured on the chassis is down the middle. Front aero is at the front, rear aero at the rear. Gears, brakes, and weights are clumped together at their approximate location on the car. The next incarnation might get a new section for configuration file names for the data system, ECU, ABS, paddle shift system, etc.

Now, let's look at a layout for the worksheet that accompanies the car to the setup pad. This worksheet is a hands-on working document for use at the setup pad. Most of the teams I work with lack either the time, money, or resources for this to be used as a networked document on an smart phone or touch-screen PC. So, it's filled out by hand, and may or may not be scanned, depending on who needs copies and when. I like the cheap HP all-in-one printer/scanner/copier units for the trailer.

On the front, there are fields for Setdown, where we document how the car was found as it rolled off the track and onto the setup pad after preceding on-track session. The center column is used to enter the changes to make. The changes are then made, on or off the pad, and the car rolled on for adjustment. And then, the righthand column documents how the car rolled off the setup pad. On the back side, there is a worksheet for actually making the adjustments.

Yeah, I know, there's some redundency here, and opportunity to introduce error. We'll talk about this again in a later post, but cutting to the chase, I've found that a complete setup sheet doesn't work too well for calling out between-session changes. So, we do a setdown, fill in the changes, and finish the setup.

The example below is a scan of both the front and back pages of a setup worksheet after use. The links immediately above the form will download it, as well as blank versions of the front and back pages.

PDF - Print or Free Download Blank Form
XLS - Purchase Full Download Blank Form
PDF - Print and Free Download Completed Form

Tools and organization

OK, how about computing tools? Your choices are basically spreadsheet or data base. PDF forms with fillable fields don't have enough function. Spreadsheets offer plenty of formatting and calculating power, and are the near-universal solution. But, I've always wanted to try a database. The initial setup would be lot more work, but your setups would be available for the full power of database searching and reporting. I suspect that the ever-evolving nature of much racing might be responsible for the relative rarity of databases, since last year's setup is often no longer relevent. Series where you take the same basic car back to the same tracks, year after year, probably stand to benefit the most.

One thing is for sure. You have got to be diligent and organized in file naming and directory structure, or you will soon have an unworkable jumble of setup sheets files. Here's the file naming convention that I use:

Setup Seb090307 A04 P1 Start.xls

  • Sebring is the track
  • March 7, 2009 is the race date (not the creation date of the setup sheet)
  • Chassis number A04
  • This sheet shows how the car started the first official practice session

I place all the sheets for an event into a directory exclusive to that event. Use real-time archival software pointed at the location of all the setup sheets. You don't want to lose a year's worth of setups when the notebook hard drive crashes at the track.

Remembering that a setup sheet is a vehicle for communication, the next post will get into the process of using it. Once that's done, we'll dig deeper into content.


  1. Good series of posts Buddy.

    The database is something I want to try to harness the referencing and searching functions as you mentioned, but I was wondering if many teams use databases? Also if they did use a database would they have a custom app written up in VB instead?

    Looking forward to future posts on how you integrate the sheets with analysis tools

  2. My recent experience has been almost exclusively in ALMS and Grand-Am. I haven't come across anyone there using a database. It seems that I work on a different car every year, so I haven't been personally motivated to set one up. In the US, I'd guess the likely users would be top-level Indy or NASCAR teams.

  3. Corey, to answer your second question...

    I'd suspect the custom app vs. built-in function question would depend on team desires vs. time/money/talent. It would be a wealthy team indeed who could afford to dedicate someone to in-house development of something like setup sheets that is somewhat indirectly related to performance. The IT time and money would be more likely to go to simulation, I'd think. That's just my opinion, peering in from the low-budget part of the world.

  4. Thanks for your replies Buddy. I was trying to get a feel for how such an app would be received if I were to create one. I am still going to try develop it and hopefully the first team I work for may benefit from it.

  5. Mr Fey,
    is there a way to obtain the file setup by location xls when living outside of the US? at the moment scribd does not allow this.

  6. Tom, I checked on Scribd and you are correct. They do not offer purchase of documents to users logging on from outside the U.S.

    Please post another comment with your EMail address and I will get in touch with you directly. I won't publish that comment on the blog, so your EMail will remain private.