Q: I drive a 2017 Mazda MX-5 for fun on track, no competition, just always trying to learn and improve. When driving into one or more corners and the car understeers, how do I know when it is me entering too fast versus when the car setup can be improved? I don’t have access to a skidpad. I know I could go slower into the corner or adjust the line a bit, and 9 times out of 10 it’s probably me that is the problem. But how do you know when understeer is a setup issue?

A: First, I recommend a process of debriefing with yourself after each session. It’s a series of questions you ask, and make note of your answers. If you go through this questioning process every time, your brain will begin to expect it, and then it will pick up the information you need while driving to answer them.

Ask yourself these questions, in this order:

  1. What is the car doing? Understeer, oversteer, or neutral (if it’s neutral, perhaps you’re not driving it to its limits)?
  2. In what corner(s) is the car doing this?
  3. Where in the corner is it doing it – entry, mid-corner, exit?
  4. What am I doing when it does this – braking, releasing the brakes (slowly or quickly), just starting to turn the steering wheel, turned in to the corner, unwinding the steering, not on throttle, maintenance throttle, easing on the throttle, flat to the floor on the throttle?

Once you’ve asked yourself all these questions and really dug down into what the car is doing, where, and what you’re doing when it’s happening, it becomes more obvious whether it’s you that’s causing the problem, or it’s the car’s setup. I’m saying it will be completely obvious – although it might be – but it will be more obvious. And now is when you ask yourself, “Is it me or the car? Am I causing it, or is it the car?”

Now, the more you go through this process, the better you’ll get at it. Eventually you’ll be able to do this while driving. I don’t know of any driver who was born knowing how to do this – it’s a developed skill.