I've played a lot of Forza over the years, and as good as I've gotten, I've always felt that I don't really know the true ins-and-outs of car upgrading, handling, tuning, and getting better lap times. In an effort to get my thoughts down on digital paper, and to try and help others who are learning to be better digital drivers, I thought I would organize my thoughts here.
What doesn't help (me) is watching yet another youtube video about how to tune, what all the categories are, or just downloading some fast person's tune from the leaderboards. I instead set out on a quest to learn for myself.
There needs to be a couple caveats before I really dig into the stuff I want to say. First off, I did have scotch tonight, so that will affect both my judgement as well as my perceived knowledge of racing. And since right now I feel like I know all there is to know about going fast around a track, here goes nothing.
There are so many cars in Forza, so it's easy to get bogged down in the shear quantity of options. If you aren't feeling good in a particular car, just go get a better one and go faster right? Bro, so wrong. You're not going to learn car control by just getting into a more powerful car. You need to pick a car that is lower class, that's something you enjoy looking at, that you enjoy driving, and that (most importantly) isn't maxed out in it's class rating (more on that later).
For this example I chose a stock Lancia Delta HF Integrale EVO. The car has a base rating of D368. The fact that it's slow will let you learn the small nuances and characteristics of the car, and it will give you some room to upgrade it without immediately hitting your class ceiling.
I cannot stress this enough... Pick a car in a lower class. There is much fun to be had in the lower classes. The game may dangle the Huyara carrot in front of you, but trust me there is joy and happiness found in mastering a Miata, which in my opinion is more enjoyable to drive than the 918 Spyder.
Just stop talking about the Nurburgr... Just stop. It's a great track, but if it takes 8 minutes to turn a lap, you're going to get bored before you can even start to think about memorizing the layout.
Pick a short track (my favorite proving-ground tracks are Road America and Long Beach). They are both relatively short, have some straights, and a good mix of sweeping corners and 90 degree turns. The variety will allow you to learn your car better, and the shortness of the track will help in memorization and quickly being able to try another lap if you mess up.
Just start here. Drive a bunch of laps. Mess up a ton, and keep going. This is the boring part, especially if you aren't good yet. All of the metaphors about becoming a master through practice apply here. After a dozen laps, a few important things will happen.
You will start to learn the limits of your current car's setup. You will know when the grip is at it's limit, when to change gears, and what gear it wants to be in for each corner. This is VERY valuable information. After just a few laps you should be able to identify which corners are troublesome for you, and be able to foresee this and avoid going off track in subsequent laps.
After many laps of a track you will start to know it very well. I know it sounds cheezy, but as you're going to sleep that night, try to visualize the track in your head (like Hunt from Rush). It's actually really difficult, and I think at the moment I can only fully visualize Spa with my eyes closed.
Once you start getting your car under control and have the track memorized, you can really get in the zone, and laps start melting together and times slowly decrease.
I used to just upgrade everything as far as I could, and then immediately take the car out on the track again and declare it to be garbage. The gearbox is too frantic, I don't have the grip in the corners, and I'm spinning out all over the place. You start loosing your reference points the more things you change. So upgrade ONE thing, and then go back out to the track with that knowledge and start feeling for the specific thing you changed.
For example, I ran a 3:00.667 at Road America with my bone-stock Lancia. I drove about 6-7 laps and that's the best time I could lay down. I did a level 2 weight reduction ONLY, and then went back out on the track, and what a difference that made. My 2nd flying lap gave me a 5 second better time at 2:55.256
That's not going to be at the top of any leaderboard except my own, but what I did learn was how the car responded to less weight, and how I needed to adjust my driving style to get the most out of the car. The braking points were later, the car accelerated better, and it shifted it's weight better through the sweeping corners.
Be very aware of your braking zones
This is the key to not overshooting the corner. It sounds simplistic I know, but try to find an object, sign, etc to pass at the moment you need to go full on the brakes. For the sharper corners, the numbered signs are there for that very reason.
Don't fixate on the ghost car
This is a small thing, but if you're chasing a ghost car, keep in mind that it's braking, acceleration, and handling could be very different than yours. For example when I was driving the Lancia the 2nd time, my Ghost car was an older Camaro. I was tricked by it's braking zones, and I found myself braking WAY too early. I had to consiously think about the track rather than the ghost car to control my car.
Let off the throttle on the sweeping turns
Too often I try to enter kinks in the straights full-throttle. I found that letting off the throttle slightly just before going into a sweeping corner will allow the car's weight to shift better and prevent you from going into the wall, tires, or just off-track.
Just one more lap
When you feel like you're over it, try and do just one more lap. That goes back to my previous point of learning car control and memorizing the track.
Listen, I know I'm no expert, and I know I'm not at the top of the leaderboard. But I just wanted to share with you how I got over the hill of learning and embracing car control, track memorization, and upgrading so I could start driving more competitively. Please take what you will from my ramblings.