Snap Oversteer – Making The Bear Dance

As drivers we talk a lot about snap oversteer as this nebulous and dangerous monster that appears from nowhere and kills you.

This just isn’t the case. First, we need to understand oversteer vs. understeer (this is review for you motorheads). Understeer is when you turn into a corner, the front wheels start to plow under and the car won’t turn in, usually you slide straight into a tree and die. Oversteer is the opposite, you turn the car into the corner, the back of the car tries to become the front, you spin around, then slide into a tree and die.

Understeer vs. Oversteer

Oversteer is always better because you don’t have to see the tree killing you.

Snap oversteer is when a car suddenly goes from neutral or understeer to oversteer. Usually, this means you’re going for a ride and you might be stopping to pick up Mr. Tree and Mr. Guardrail on the way.

One of us snap oversteering a Miata - too much throttle lift.

S2000′s are notorious for this handling characteristic, particularly the earlier AP1 cars that have very aggressive suspension geometry. Other cars that do this include the NSX and Rx-7. Snap oversteer really can’t be hammered down to just one part of the s2000′s characteristics. There are numerous factors.

Snap Oversteer Causes -

1. Driver error – We’ll talk about this more later.

2. Poor tire choice – if you’re on crap tires and you’re seeing snowflakes or rain, your risk increases DRAMATICALLY.

3. Bad alignments – When you screw with your toe settings, particularly in the rear, you can have issues.

4. Bumps – The s2000 has a unique rear suspension that has toe changes with changes in load on the suspension. This can unsettle a car to the point your rear wheels lose traction.

5. VTEC – A sudden burst of power mid-corner triggered by VTEC actuation that can unsettle the car. This is part of the peaky nature of the car, get used to it, it is FUN. This is also common in cars with turbochargers or peaky power delivery.

6. Torsen Differentials – The s2000 has a high performance locking rear differential called a torsen limited-slip differential. This means the tires can both put power down, “driving” you around a corner. This is good and bad, throttle input can make you lose traction easily at the limit.

So where does driver error come in?

Here the throttle lift causes the rotation. The car has too much speed and you’re overwhelming the tires. This is when the car becomes unbalanced. The s2000 can catch out inexperienced drivers very quickly at the limit. The nature of the sharp suspension makes for amazing handling at the cost of “at the limit” forgiveness.

Wonder what happened here?

When a car starts to rotate a first time driver will often do the self-preservation foot dance and end up on the brakes, hard. This multiplies the effect of the rotation, as more weight is released from the rear wheels. The car is thrown out of balance. And from there, physics is going to slap you silly. Mr. Guardrail is going to say, “Hi,” in a very unpleasant way.

It is our opinion that true “snap oversteer” is quite rare. It is usually the fault of an inexperienced driver making several small mistakes in coordination, too much speed, too little traction, being in a place with no run-off, and jumping off the throttle abruptly.

So here is our advice – We aren’t professionals, but we do know a bit about armchair racing.

- Slow down and get smooth. Abrupt or jerky control inputs unbalance the car.

- Get some seat time at a safe environment. Go autocrossing or hit-up a track day. Spinning and killing some cones is a lot easier than finding a tree off an exit ramp!

- Get the right tires and alignment. Screwing this up will cost you money in tire wear, gas mileage, and handling.

- If confronted with oversteer, embrace it, steer into it, don’t panic – particularly by stepping on the brakes mid-corner – that is fatal.

Lastly, enjoy the s2000. It’s very drive-able at the limit. Just be conscientious of what you’re doing and train yourself how to really drive a rear wheel drive car. Everyone WILL make a mistake in a car at the limit. Even the greats like Schumacher and Senna trashed cars. Just try not to let it happen to your precious baby.

Sideways Motoring.

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