Well, I'm coming up on my 9th year of Autocross competition (damn, its been that long!!) with that I've learned quite a few things about cars handling, especially when it comes to driving them fast. You see the cars suspension set up only has a portion to do with how fast it goes around the track. Drivers represent the largest and least predictable variable in the handling equasion, thus why there is such a varience in vehicle platforms. The biggest difference you will ever make in changing your vehicles performance is to increase the performance level of you!
There is a lot to improve with our platforms in regards to its handling capabilities, however what do you change? Sure there are lists of performance mods all over the forums, but which ones do you buy? Which ones will actually make you faster? Which ones will fit your driving style? What is your driving style?
Working out these questions revolves around one thing, what kind of driver are you? Before you will know this you need to master the basics, or at least gain some experience as to what feels right. This just cannot be learned on the street, you can practice some of the techniques on your daily commute, but to put all of it together you need to actually go drive your car. This actually makes it really fun, because instead of giving excuses about how you need to do another mod before your car will perform well enough to make it worth racing, you quit with the excuses and go drive the damned thing. How do you know if you need your car to rotate more unless you have issues with it understeering? So what should you work on as a driver in order to perform better and to get better aquainted with your vehicle.
I'll start with things that are good to practice on the street during normal driving, one this will make you a safer driver, 2 its just good practice.
The one thing almost every driver on the road should be working on is looking ahead. This doesn't just mean to look to the next corner, look beyond that, look beyond the car in front of you, beyond your damned headlights. Your perifrials will fill in, and your motion detection will pick up any changes between where you are looking and the car. On the road this will help you react to changes in traffic and road conditions long before you reach them. On the track your looking ahead should focus on looking as far ahead on the track as reasonably possible, this allows you to constantly be planning your next moves on the track as you negotiate it. This includes braking zones, I caught myself staring at my braking point as I near corners. If you find points where you are breaking the looking ahead rules make sure to work on correcting them, as bad habits take even more time to break. For Evo School out instructors will tape newspaper over the bottom half of the windshield to force you to look ahead and trust your navigational abilities.
You've probably heard to ease on the controls, don't stomp on the gas, roughly crank the wheel back and forth, well this is good practice, but it works the same for your release. Getting your foot off the gas like you just stepped on a lego brick has just as much an adverse effect on the balance of handling as stomping on it. Every control has an effect, which usually results in weight transfer, your goal as a driver is to transfer that weight as quickly and smoothly as possible. When you apply the brake weight will transfer to the front tires, as it is released it will shift weight backwards as the chassis returns to rest. Your clutch control should be treated the same, not only is it easier on the gearbox, but it makes a huge difference on how the car will behave if you have to shift in a mild corner, or downshift in corner entry.
Keep both hands on the wheel, seriously, you've been told this from the day you started driving and you probably ignored it. To top this off most of you with manuals probably just hang your head off the gearshift all the time. Well now is the time to start breaking those habits. Make your shift and get right back to the wheel. For those of you not practicing downshifting on a daily basis, its time to start, all of these practices come into play and your daily driving routines are what makes them become instinct.
With a front wheel drive car you need to have as they say "slow hands". Basically since the front wheels provide the primary traction for braking, steering, and putting the power to the ground, so extra care needs to be given in order to not overcook the tires and not overload them as you negotiate the course. It is important to blend all of these together as they are transitioned between. You shouldn't be waiting to turn until you've completely released the brakes, or waiting to apply the throttle until the steering wheel is centered. Trail braking is a very important concept for the front wheel drive platform as this sets the chassis up to rotate, allowing it to make the turn as sharply as possible with a truly neutral feel. Not to mention if you start your braking early enough to be completely off the brakes by corner entry you are braking too early. As you start your turn in you should be easing off the brake. Think of it in terms of percentage of traction, if you are at 100% braking you need to reduce braking to 90% to apply 10% to the turn, this should progressivly transition from braking to turning until you are using 100% of your traction for the turn. The same goes for accelerating out of the corner, as you are using 100% traction for the turn as you exit and start to straighten out to 90% cornering, you should be adding 10% throttle. A feature unique to a front wheel drive platform is a phenomenon where as the throttle is applied and the wheel unwinder upon corner exit, to a certain extent the car will actually turn tighter! So where a rwd car would need 90% turning and 10% throttle to hold the radius of the corner exit the front wheel drive car will be able to use 80% turning and 20% throttle to create the same radius. The fastest driver is the last on the brakes and the first on the throttle so as you get more comfortable with your car start pushing the braking point back as far as you can, and start applying the throttle sooner in the corner until it begins to understeer.
Don't overdrive your tires, when the car starts to push (understeer) start straightening out the wheel until the tires begin to regain traction. You aren't going to do it by turning further and slamming on the brakes, you are no hero, your lap has already been blown so don't shred your tires trying to look like an incompetant fool trying to turn even more and pounce on the throttle. Now you've just learned a lesson, you where in that corner too fast, slow down next time. The slow sections are slow for everyone you are no different, you are not going to go out and show up the guys on r-compounds with a set of shitty all seasons. Now should you be just starting in competitive driving a garbage set of all seasons are what you should be driving on, their lower coefficient of friction will force you to drive more smoothly as every mistake you make on them will be greatly exaggerated. I know, you want some awesome super sticky track tires so you can bust out the fastest lap times possible! Wrong, you will get away with bad habits, when you become a good driver and switch to sticky tires you will be that much faster, and the difference will be extraordinary.
Remember, smooth doesn't mean slow, you shouldn't look like a sloth using sandpaper, just work with how the car transfers its weight. If it does so quickly you will be able to change directions quickly, just avoid sharp jerky motions that will upset the vehicles transfer of its weight.
One big mistake I repeatedly see from new drivers is they overdrive the car. Now this isn't in terms of trying to push a piss poor set of tires beyond their capabilities. This is more along the lines of trying to have too much control over it. Auto racing can often be a less-is-more business, the more control inputs you give the vehicle the more it slows down. If you twitch the wheel around too much trying to hit the perfect apex the car won't ever fully set into the corner and it will be slower because of this. Allowing your car to settle a foot outside of your apex point is better then slowing it down with excessive inputs to hit that perfect inside point. If you are autocrossing there will likely be a cone at your apex point, a good method to hit the line and not overdrive the car is to aim to run over the inside of the cone and let the car settle around it. The same can be done on corner exit, there are lots of drivers who will force the car to the wide line because they think that will make them faster. Just go with it man, the car is going to find the straightest path through the course, its your job to motivate it around the windy bits. The more you push the car the more its going to try and smooth and straighten out. If you feel you didn't exit a corner wide enough as you exit it then get on the gas sooner next time, the car will now do what you want and it will do this by being faster.
Don't have unreasonable expectations, your front driver is just never gonna handle like a rear or all wheel drive car, don't expect it to. Tune your car to your driving habits, but understand that some things might be your fault. A driver who tends to be aggressive with trail braking might need less rear swaybar as their driving will cause the car to give ample rotation with less rear bar, now there may not be enough compression dampening and camber to make a car properly turn in with a driver that is way too abrupt with their steering input. Pushing a car too hard is always going to cause it to behave poorly, so back off and learn to drive it, maybe its not that your car isn't capable, its that your aren't capable of properly controlling your car.
This is just the tip of the iceburg, the only way to truly learn is to go race, but that's the fun part! Get out and drive, its the only way to get faster, take every chance you can to get driving instruction, see if faster drivers want to ride along with you. The fantastic thing about this form of motorsport is most of the drivers are super friendly and almost always willing to give advice as able.