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Vehicle Handling Characteristics and Development of a Formula Student Car

Aidan Lalor
Swansea Metropolitan University
Abstract: The prediction of vehicle handling in motorsport is used to help optimise ontrack performance before the car gets to the circuit. This report analyses the merits of
predicting vehicle performance by comparing the behaviour of the car to track data. The
test data was obtained at Pembrey circuit after a data logger was installed on the car.
The driver undertook various dynamic manoeuvres in order to provide a set of data
which would be comparable to the prediction models. The results of this report indicate
an acceptable level of accuracy between the calculations and the track data,
demonstrating the usefulness of models for investigating vehicle handling.
Keywords: vehicle dynamics, handling characteristics, Formula Student, prediction modelling

1 Introduction
The purpose of this report is to show how
analytical based models can be used to predict
or analyse the handling balance of a Formula
Student car. The track testing was structured to
help obtain certain results from the behaviour
of the car which could be analysed afterwards
and compared to the prediction models.
Improving the response handling for the driver
can increase the performance of the car with
the aim of bettering previous results in the
dynamic events in the competition. The
dynamic events consist of a skid pad test, an
endurance race and a sprint race, all of which
benefit from a car with a desirable handling
balance. Vehicle modelling and prediction is an
extremely complex exercise and this report
aims to show the usefulness of understanding
the fundamentals in vehicle prediction

2 Experimental Work

The first step in this project was to measure the

necessary dimensions of the car and build a
kinematic model to investigate the suspension
completed in the automotive workshop and the
results were inputted into WinGeo3. The
accuracy of the model was confirmed by
measuring the rate of motion ratio change on
the car and comparing it to the results from the
software. The car was also placed on a flat
patch in order to measure its static setup; this
included toe, camber ride heights and corner
weights. The centre of gravity was measured,
along with the Ackermann steering angle.
The car was fitted with a Race Technology DL1
Data logger. Linear potentiometers were
calibrated to measure damper displacement
and a rotary potentiometer was connected to
the steering to obtain accurate data on the
drivers steering input. The DL1 came with an
integrated 3-axis accelerometer and a GPS
beacon which was used to record speed and

2.1 Workshop

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2.2 Track Testing

The car was brought to Pembrey circuit in order
to collect data from the available instruments.
Car setup was completed and a test plan was
used to outline the changes to be made
throughout the day. Six runs were completed to
compile information on roll stiffness, the final
run reverting to original setup to investigate
track evolution. Four more tests were
completed to analyse the effect of damper
settings and to find a setup the driver was
comfortable with. All driver feedback was
recorded and the test data was downloaded for

3 Track Analysis
After the potentiometers were installed and
calibrated, maths channels were set up in Race
Technologys Analysis software. These maths
channels were used to calculate the understeer
angle of the car throughout the different tests
by comparing the actual steered angle to the
theoretical Ackermann steer angle. This is
defined by Segers [1] as:

the Ackermann steering angle. Milliken &

Milliken [2] describe the result of these
Neutral steer: Steered angle = Ackermann
steering angle
Understeer: Steered angle > Ackermann
steering angle
Oversteer: Steered angle < Ackermann
steering angle
Equation 4 [1] was then used in the maths
channels to output a result for understeer
angle. From the definitions above, a positive
value means understeer and a negative value
means oversteer.

Equation 4

Figure 1 shows the third run of the figure-ofeight track testing, the black line showing the
understeer angle. It is clear that the car is not
well-balanced, with power-on oversteer
occurring from the inside rear wheel lifting and
mid-corner understeer occurring from the front
roll stiffness being too stiff.

Equation 1

Where L = wheelbase and R = corner radius.

Substituting the equation for corner radius
(Equation 2) into the maths channel, the
Ackermann steering angle can be found:
Figure 1

Equation 2

Equation 3

Figure 2 shows the results of the improved

setup, with the understeer angle having fewer
peaks, indicating a more balanced car. This
track testing allowed a preliminary setup to be
determined, which agreed with driver

With these parameters all being available from

the data logger, the input from the calibrated
steering potentiometer can be compared with
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The longitudinal load transfer is caused by the

inertial forces acting in the opposite direction
to the vehicles acceleration. Moments can be
taken about an axle, resulting in Equation 9:

Figure 2

Equation 9

4 Load Transfer Model

Load transfer affects the handling balance of a
car and calculations were completed to
investigate these loads and their effects.
Weight transfer due to cornering on one axle is
found with Equation 5:

Equation 5

This is the total amount of load transfer, half of

which is added to the outside wheel and
subtracted from the inside wheel. There are
three different modes of load transfer which
can be investigated that add up to the total
load added to each wheel. The first is the load
transfer due to unsprung mass being resisted
by the tyres; the second is geometric sprung
mass load transfer acting about the roll centre
height and resisted by the spring; the third is
the sprung mass load transfer acting about the
roll axis.
These modes of load transfer are described in
the following equations:

Equation 6

Using these formulas, a model was built in MS

Excel to allow a user to input a desired value for
lateral acceleration and investigate the total
wheel loads. Comparing a vehicles load splits is
a measure of handling balance during steadystate conditions. This split is found by
comparing the rear loads split and the front
load split. If the load split across the front axle
is greater than at the rear, the car is said to be
understeering. If the load split is greater at the
rear, the car is said to be oversteering. Figure 3
shows the user interface for the model.

Equation 10

Figure 3

To investigate the calculations in this model,

the data from track testing was used for
comparison. Using the data from the damper
potentiometers, the load acting on the springs
could be worked out, when the wheel rate and
displacement was known:

Equation 7
Equation 11

The dampers are not affected by the unsprung

mass, and as such, the calculations only
Equation 8

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compare the geometric load transfer and

sprung load transfer. Segers [1] demonstrates a
method of comparing the roll stiffness
distribution of the suspension to calculate the
load split between the front and rear axles.

Figure 4
Equation 12

Equation 13

Equations 12 & 13 show the methods used for

calculating the sprung and geometric load
transfers across the front and rear axle.
Equation 14 shows the method for calculating
q, the roll stiffness distribution.

Figure 5

5 Roll Angle
The calculated roll angle (Equation 16) was
compared with the actual suspension roll angle
as described by Segers [1]:

Equation 14

The load transfer, calculated from damper

displacement, was then compared with the
calculations where were completed at 100 Hz,
using the lateral acceleration data recorded
from the run. Figure 4 shows the actual front
right and front left load transfer and the
predicted load transfer. Figure 5 shows the
same results for the rear. The results were
considered very accurate, although a problem
with the damper potentiometers returned
unreliable results in the subsequent tests.
Another track test to optimise this model and
ensure accurate readings from the data logger
would be appropriate.

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Equation 15

Equation 16

A model in MS Excel was then constructed

using damper data from the track testing. The
prediction model uses the lateral acceleration
to calculate the roll angle. Figure 6 shows a
good correlation between prediction and data.
The prediction model only takes into account
the roll stiffness of the vehicle, not resistance
caused by the dampers. There is a clear delay
between the results from lateral acceleration
and the roll angle. This was investigated further
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in Figure 7, which shows the calculated roll

angle when the damping was set to its lowest
setting available.

forces which affect the behaviour of the

unsprung mass of a car, as described by
Milliken & Milliken [2]. These forces are: the
inertia force, caused by the accelerating mass;
the damping force, due to the velocity of the
damper; the spring force, due to the
displacement of the spring.
An Excel spreadsheet was constructed to
calculate the velocities and accelerations of the
unsprung mass during cornering; however, a
stability problem was present in the results so
the model was produced in MATLAB where the
time steps for the calculation could be altered

Figure 6

Using the basic equations for motion, the effect

of an applied moment from the change in
direction can be investigated. The first time
step is 0, and at this point the angular
acceleration () can be worked out from the
following equations:

Figure 7

The results from these calculations proved to

represent the behaviour of the car accurately
and could be used to produce the roll gradient
of the car for different setups. The roll gradient
of the car is worked out by:

Equation 18

Equation 19

From rotational torque:

Equation 20
Equation 17

A roll gradient of roughly 1/g is common for

this type of racecar, with the available setups
for this vehicle showing roll gradients of 0.8/g
to just over 1/g.

Equation 21

Inertia is found by Equation 22:

6 Step Steer Model

The step steer input model investigates the
transient response from the dampers to a
lateral acceleration input from the driver. This
model takes into account the three basics
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Equation 22

At t = 0, resisting moment = 0, roll displacement

= 0 and roll velocity = 0. To calculate the
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angular displacement and velocity at the next

time step, Equations 23 and 24 are used:

Equation 23

Equation 24

At this time step, applied force can be found for

each unsprung mass. As stated previously, this
force depends on the spring displacement and
damper velocity. Using these calculated forces,
the resisting moment can be worked out and
Equation 19 can then be used to find the
applied roll moment at the next time step. The
behaviour of the unsprung mass can then be
found. First the acceleration:

Equation 25

Using the motion equations again, the relative

displacement and velocity of the unsprung
mass can be calculated and compared with
track data of a step steer manoeuvre.
The first model was run to investigate the
behaviour of the unsprung mass to a constant 1
g lateral input. Figure 8 and Figure 9 show these
results; demonstrating the displacement and
velocity of the damped unsprung mass
depending on damper settings. These setting
were soft (0 clicks), medium (7 clicks) or hard
(14 clicks).

Figure 9

For the transient step input model, lateral

acceleration data from the data logger was
used to calculate the applied roll moment of
the vehicle and the same set of equations were
used to find the response of the unsprung mass
to this input. The manoeuvre starts at 0 g
lateral acceleration and is increased to
approximately 1 g after 3 seconds when the car
stops rolling.
Figure 10 and 11 depict the comparison of the
recorded data and the model of the front left.
In the data, the car is also experiencing
longitudinal acceleration as well as lateral
acceleration, which adversely affects the
results. The model of the front left trends the
same as the data in velocity and displacement,
but the maximums are different. The
displacement recorded is less, meaning the car
was accelerating slightly.

Figure 10

The results for the corresponding velocity show

the similar trend and lower maximum from the
Figure 8

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distribution, the understeer caused by the stiff

front end can be reduced. Track analysis is a
invaluable way of recording the behaviour of
the car on circuit and can be used to optimise
setup accordingly. However, if track time is
limited, it is important to be able to analyse the
effect of setup changes using computer based
prediction models.
Figure 11

The results from the right hand side of the car

show that the data correlate with the model
and this is shown in Figure 12. The rear left data
results show more displacement and velocity
compared with the model. This is due to the car
squatting under acceleration. The resulting
error is larger than the front left and it is
difficult to associate the curves effectively.

Figure 12

Using car dimensions, it was possible to

calculate the lateral load transfer and wheel
deflection of the car for varying roll stiffness
and the results proved to be consistently
accurate for one side of the car. A model was
also created to effectively model the
characteristics of the unsprung mass during a
transient manoeuvre; however, it should be
noted that the comparison of results gives a
mixed indication of the accuracy of the model,
the track data being affected by other inputs
compared with the MATLAB model.
Comparing track data with computer-based
predictions can help validate models and
provide a useful tool for future setup work. This
report demonstrates the competency and
suitability of using roll stiffness calculations and
transient modelling to obtain information
about a vehicles behaviour before it reaches
the track.

[1] J. SEGERS, Analysis Techniques for Racecar
Data Acquisition, Warrendale: SAE
International, 2008.

Figure 13

[2] W. MILLIKEN and D. MILLIKEN, Racecar

Vehicle Dynamics, Warrendale: SAE
International, 1995.

7 Summary and Conclusions

It is clear from the track data that reducing the
roll stiffness from the original setup and
maintaining a slightly front biased roll stiffness
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