Gamers, nay, human beings have a tendency to focus on the bigger and the better. I mean you don't see people yearning for sensible and economical sedans over some snarling, chromed-out piece of wheeled pornography. If something is bigger it is better, ipso facto quod erat demonstratum. Elucidating this gross and probably fallacious generalization was of course merely a pretext to segue into the topic of this article, a Planetside 2 vehicle which is quantitatively not the biggest and qualitatively probably not the best: the Lightning light tank.
Perhaps I'm being unfair to the Lightning. Even while stock, it has plenty going for it. Most notable is its speed. Blisteringly fast for a ground vehicle, the tank is able to exceed 70 kph without breaking a sweat. It is a single seat tank, so you won't feel like a puddinhead for driving away without a passenger/gunner like you would in a Main Battle Tank (if you don't feel bad about having an empty gunner seat in a Main Battle Tank then yes, you are indeed a puddinhead.) The default 75mm HEAT gun... well, that's not a strong point. Let's say it isn't criminally terrible since they buffed it. Oh, and it's cheap. You won't ever feel guilty about pulling a tank that cheap, even if you die five minutes later or get it wedged into one of those terrible crevasses on Indar like a really poorly engineered bridge.
Okay, the default Lightning isn't that hot. However, it does have a lot going for it in terms of customization and specialization options. You want to farm infantry? Buy the 100mm HE turret (preferably with infrared optics) and pulp infantry to your heart's content. Enemy tanks and Sunderers getting you down? 100mm AP turret has the answer you are looking for. Can't decide what you want to shoot at? There's a 100mm HEAT turret option too for you middle-of-the-roaders. The Lightning also has the only dedicated anti-aircraft platform available to ground vehicles in the Skyguard turret. Admittedly, it's not very good at the present time. Still, the point is that it exists and may in the future be made into less of a punchline, so let's stay optimistic here.
Ultimately, using a Lightning, in practically any role, is about playing to the aforementioned strengths of the chassis itself. Lightnings are not very durable. They can ignore small arms, but they'll get torn to pieces by anything paying attention to you, from tank guns and Heavy Assault RPGs all the way down to Basilisks. Trying to use the Lightning like a big, heavily armored tank is not likely to be effective, so instead you have to play a more skirmish oriented style to get ahead. Lightnings are a lot better off if they stay back or flank while the Main Battle Tanks spearhead the actual fighting and play a supporting role laying down additional fire or getting some sweet delicious shots in from the back or sides. As such, fitting out a Lightning is going to look different than doing so for a Main Battle Tank. The additional front armor that Vanguards and Magriders pick up is less handy on a Lightning, because it won't be slugging it out nose to nose with hostile tanks. The speed and the dimensions of the Lightning really lend themselves to side armor though, since it is such a long tank to begin with and what you'll most likely be presenting to the enemy as you hurtle around behind them at 70 kph delivering broadsides. A Skyguard, on the other hand, might prefer top armor since it is supposed to be hunting aircraft; rather than prowling around the edges of a battlefield firing into a brawl it will be parked somewhere, possibly near a Sunderer with a gaggle of Burster MAXes hanging around, staring at the sky.
While flanking and hanging back letting the big vehicles do the heavy lifting will increase the Lightning's life expectancy, it should be pointed out that the Lightning is still extraordinarily vulnerable to infantry, more so than the Main Battle Tanks are with their two sets of eyes and guns. Lightnings should never stop checking out their surroundings and never stop moving, because the minute you fail to do these things a Light Assault will sail overhead dropping C4 on you, or an Engineer will slide some mines under you, or a Heavy Assault will slam a rocket up your butt. Be especially careful entering the sprawl of buildings around a base, since there are plenty of places to get ambushed from and you will have restricted avenues of Get The Hell Out. With all this two legged armor-killing potential armor, what else is there for a poor tank driver to do? While it won't solve all your problems, investing in IR Smoke to break G2G homing rocket locks may give you a bit of an edge, especially considering how much more damaging a homing rocket is to a Lightning than a Main Battle Tank. Its quite reasonable to dodge regular dumbfire rockets through flat-out speed, but the homing rockets are much more troublesome.
Of course, with all this talk about emphasizing the strengths of the Lightning, we come to the issue of what performance upgrades give it. Honestly I consider the choice between the Racer chassis and the Rival chassis to be up to personal preference. I personally go with the Rival chassis for the handling upgrades and hill-climbing power, but I can see the value in making the fast Lightning even faster. If you're an aficionado, you could have both chassis maxed out and switch based on the continent you are fight on - racer seems like a good pick for the generally flat terrain of Esamir or North Indar. Regardless, anything is better than having an empty slot in your vehicle terminal loadout silently mocking your dedication.
The Lightning may not have the glamour of the Main Battle Tanks but it is versatile and far from useless. Work within the tank's restrictions, stay mobile, keep alert, and stay with a group of friendlies, and you will stay alive and rack up piles of certificates. And if you don't, who cares? Invest in the timer cooldown reduction and buy another of these cheap tanks without thinking twice. If you aren't overly demanding, the Lightning will certainly deliver.