The genius of set-up in race car drivers

There are many forms of automotive sport (Nascar,IRL, ChampCar,Rally). These different types of racing will require different levels of detail when it comes to racing drivers making set-ups and adjustments (on the car itself).

But with respect to the different types of racing (mentioned), to what degree does the set-up of the car make the difference between winning and losing? How important is it within these respective groups to have the set-up of the car well-balanced and (basically) fast?

For example, on a scale of 1 to 10 (with 10 being the highest level of importance in car set-up) where would you rate the various types of racing? Would rallying get 10? IRL get 8? ChampCar get 1?
Also, when the drivers set-up thier cars how much input do they have in the final package? I always thought that race engineers are the dudes that get to work more on the set-up, whilst the driver simply drives? I know there is some communication between the two, but I always thought this was minimal (in order to allow both to get on with thier respective jobs).

Are there any drivers (from any of the mentioned categories of driver sport) who were real specialists at setting-up the car? How much input did these particular drivers have? And what is it that they did so well in order to be acknowledged as such?

I am only familiar with NA$CAR, so I’ll give you that perspective…

Car setup is paramount. After watching NA$CAR InCar for over 2 seasons and scanning multiple races, I am convinced that driver->car/crew chief communication is immeasurablly valuble. I will give you an example. Jeff Gordon is one of the best drivers of the modern era. He has the potential to dominate short tracks, midsized tracks and super speedways. In 2003 at the Coca Cola 600, he (and his team) finished 8th where his teammate in a virtually identical race car won. Fast forward to this year. Same race, same teammate, same situation. The team missed the setup so badly he finished 30th, 7 laps down. Did Gordon loose all that driving ability in one year? Of course not, at this point in the 2004 season he is 2nd in points. The failure of the team (engineers, crew, driver, etc) to work the kinks out of the car in practice and happy hour led to their demise. While it is true that the best drivers can work with an ill-handling race car and salvage a decent finish, a shitty driving car is not going to win. This is why the majority of being a “good” race car driver is being able to communicate with your crew the problems the car is having so that they can be fixed. 9 times out of 10, the team that got the closest to the setup on Sunday morning and can tweak the car throughout the race wins.

Sorry, can’t speak for the other series. (Insert joke about pointy cars and follow the leader racing here)

So theoretically Bruce, could a person who is an expert at the set-up be employed specifically for this job (presumably someone who would have a good understanding of the individual drivers style and performance), while the driver just gets on with it?

Or does it have to be the driver himself (in conjunction with his pit crew and race engineers) that must sort out the nitty-gritty details?