In pursuit of quicker lap times there’s no shortage of suspension hardware designed to improve a car’s handling, however one area that’s often overlooked is making sure that the wheel alignment is optimal. Even in an otherwise stock car, optimising the alignment for track work can have a huge effect on the way the car performs.
Getting your wheel alignment sorted usually relies on the help of a wheel alignment shop and a (hopefully) state-of-the-art alignment machine. My own experience with this however has often been disappointing. While there are a handful of specialists who understand race car alignment and are prepared to work to very exacting tolerances, by far the majority fall in to the ‘close enough is good enough’ category. Of course factory alignment specs are also seldom going to be what we want for the track too.
We wanted the ability to set our own alignment both in the shop as well as at the track so the UPS man recently dropped off our new SmartString and SmartCamber alignment tools. To many this technology might seem a little crude however the SmartString and an operator who understands what he/she is doing can achieve results that would rival the most expensive alignment machines available.
The system works by locating horizontal alloy bars at the front and rear of the car. The bars have precisely machined grooves which you can then attach strings to. The key here is that by using the same grooves on the front and rear of the car, the two lengths of string are 100% parallel to each other. Next the bars can be moved side to side to ensure that the string is also parallel to the car’s centre line - You can do this by measuring each side to a fixed reference point such as a chassis rail.
Once set up, it’s easy to measure the front and rear toe by using a steel ruler and measuring the distance from the front of a rim to the string and then the rear of the rim to the string. If the front distance is greater then you have toe in and if the rear is greater you have toe out. The SmartCamber gauge can be used to check and adjust the camber as required.
Checking the alignment on our Toyota 86 showed that we had zero toe all around which isn’t ideal. The rear end particularly will tend to move towards toe out slightly under heavy braking and this probably explains why the car felt a little unsettled in braking zones. In the front of the car a little toe out tends to help turn the car in to a corner, albeit at the expense of tyre wear if you’re talking about a street car.
The plan from here is to correct the toe settings and make some changes to camber to see if we can improve mid corner grip. I’m looking forward to heading back to the track with a more dialled in alignment to see if we can shave a little time off our laps.