Proper Techniques for Braking on Track

Corvette braking on track with red hot brake discs
corvette red hot brakes

Mastering the proper technique for braking on track is essential for maximizing performance, especially during HPDE sessions or track days. It is during deceleration that drivers experience the highest G-forces, making braking the most influential force exerted on a track car. Mastery of braking not only ensures safety but also significantly impacts lap times. The efficiency and precision with which a driver executes braking directly affect the outcome of each corner, presenting ample opportunity to gain or lose valuable time on the track.

1. Understanding the basics of braking on track #

    Braking is not just about slowing down; it’s a fundamental aspect of on track driving that directly impacts your lap times and overall performance. Here’s a closer look at what makes braking so crucial:

    Speed Control #

    Braking allows you to control your speed, which is essential for navigating corners at optimal velocities. Proper braking technique ensures you enter corners at the right speed to maximize grip and reduce lap times.

    Weight Transfer #

    When you apply the brakes, the vehicle’s weight shifts forward onto the front tires. This increases traction on the front wheels, improving stability and allowing for sharper turn-in when entering corners.

    Balancing Act #

    Effective braking requires a delicate balance between slowing down the vehicle and maintaining stability. Too much braking force can cause lock-ups (if your car isn’t equipped with ABS) and loss of control, while too little can result in missed braking points and compromised cornering speed.

    2. The Braking Zone #

      The braking zone is where you transition from full throttle to braking as you approach a corner. It’s a critical phase of the racing line that sets the stage for successful corner entry. Here’s what you need to know:

      Visual Cues #

      Identifying braking points is essential for consistent lap times. Look for markers on the track, such as brake boards, cones, or painted lines, that indicate where you should start braking for each corner. A good track computer like the Garmin Catalyst can also help you with its visual snapshot of where you’ve been braking in a particular zone.

      Adaptability #

      Braking points may vary depending on factors like track conditions, tire wear, and fuel load. Stay adaptable and be prepared to adjust your braking points as needed to optimize your approach to each corner.

      Precision Timing #

      The goal is to brake as late as possible while still maintaining control and hitting the apex of the corner. This requires precise timing and anticipation of the track layout ahead.

      3. Progressive Braking #

        Progressive braking is all about applying the brakes smoothly and gradually, rather than abruptly slamming on them. It’s a fundamental technique that forms the basis of effective braking on the race track. Here’s why it’s important and how to execute it:

        Smooth Transitions #

        Abrupt braking can upset the balance of the car and lead to lock-ups or skidding. By applying pressure gradually, you allow the weight transfer to occur more smoothly, maintaining stability and maximizing grip.

        Modulation #

        Progressive braking allows you to modulate the brake pedal more precisely, making it easier to control the deceleration rate and adjust your speed as needed.

        Tire Preservation #

        Consistent, progressive braking helps preserve tire wear by reducing the likelihood of flat spots or overheating. Want your tires to last more events? Continue to work on your braking technique.

        4. What is threshold braking? #

        Threshold braking is a technique used in racing and high-performance driving where the driver applies the maximum possible braking force just before the wheels lock up.

        The term “threshold” refers to the limit or threshold of wheel lock-up, which the driver aims to approach without actually crossing it (see next section ABS vs non-ABS). By braking at the threshold, drivers achieve the highest possible rate of deceleration while maintaining control and stability of the vehicle.

        This technique requires precise modulation of the brake pedal to stay just below the point of wheel lock-up, allowing the tires to maintain traction with the road surface. Threshold braking is a fundamental skill for HPDE drivers as it enables them to brake later and carry more speed through corners, ultimately leading to faster lap times.

        5. ABS vs non-ABS braking systems #

        When it comes to braking systems in vehicles, there are two main types: ABS (Anti-lock Braking System) and non-ABS braking systems. Each system offers distinct advantages and challenges, catering to different levels of driving experience and skill. Understanding the characteristics of both ABS and non-ABS systems is essential for drivers to make informed decisions regarding vehicle handling and safety.

        ABS Braking System #

        The ABS (Anti-lock Braking System) is designed to prevent wheel lock-up during braking, thereby maintaining steering control and stability. It works by modulating brake pressure to each wheel independently, allowing the driver to apply maximum braking force without the risk of skidding.

        ABS is particularly well-suited for beginners or less experienced drivers due to its forgiving nature. It helps mitigate the risk of panic-induced wheel lock-ups, allowing novice drivers to brake more confidently, especially in emergency situations or adverse road conditions.

        Non-ABS Braking System #

        A non-ABS braking system, also known as a conventional braking system, does not incorporate the anti-lock feature found in ABS-equipped vehicles. When the driver applies excessive braking force, the wheels may lock up, potentially leading to loss of control and skidding.

        Non-ABS systems are often preferred by advanced or experienced drivers who have developed precise braking techniques and are comfortable with threshold braking. These drivers can effectively modulate brake pressure to maximize stopping power while minimizing the risk of wheel lock-ups.

        One of the main challenges of non-ABS braking systems is the potential for wheel lock-up, especially for less experienced drivers or in high-stress situations. Skidding caused by locked wheels can compromise steering control and increase the likelihood of accidents, particularly on slippery surfaces or during emergency maneuvers. Additionally, mastering the delicate balance between maximizing braking performance and avoiding wheel lock-ups requires practice and skill, which may pose a challenge for novice drivers.

        6. What is trail braking? #

        Trail braking is an *advanced* technique where the driver continues to apply the brakes while entering a corner, gradually reducing brake pressure as they turn in. This is not something you’ll typically be trying out at your first few track days! The term “trail” refers to the lingering presence of braking force into the initial phase of corner entry. This technique optimizes weight transfer, improves the vehicle’s balance, and enhances grip levels at the front tires during cornering.

        Techniques involved in trail braking include:

        Gradual Release of Brake Pressure #

        As the driver approaches the corner, they begin to ease off the brake pedal smoothly while simultaneously initiating the turn-in maneuver. The release of brake pressure should be gradual, allowing for a seamless transition from braking to cornering.

        Maintaining Brake Pressure #

        While trail braking, the driver maintains light brake pressure through the initial phase of corner entry. This helps stabilize the vehicle’s weight distribution, preventing excessive weight transfer to the front or rear tires.

        Balancing Inputs #

        Trail braking requires careful coordination of multiple inputs, including steering, throttle, and brake modulation. The driver must balance these inputs to optimize the vehicle’s trajectory through the corner while maximizing grip and control.

        Corner-Specific Approach #

        The application of trail braking may vary depending on the characteristics of the corner, such as its radius, camber, and surface conditions. Drivers often adapt their trail braking technique to suit each corner’s unique demands.

        Throttle Management #

        As the driver progresses through the corner and begins to unwind the steering input, they gradually apply throttle to accelerate out of the turn. Effective throttle management complements trail braking, helping to maintain vehicle stability and momentum.

        Practice and Experience #

        Trail braking is a nuanced technique that requires practice and experience to master. Drivers can refine their trail braking skills through dedicated practice sessions, simulator training, and feedback from coaches or experienced drivers.

        Overall, trail braking is a valuable tool for optimizing cornering performance and lap times in racing, allowing drivers to carry more speed through corners while maintaining control and stability.

        7. What are some of the more common braking mistakes? #

        Misjudged Braking Points #

        Misjudging braking points is a frequent error, with drivers braking either too early or too late before entering a corner. Braking prematurely can result in missed opportunities to carry more speed into the corner, while braking too late can lead to overshooting the turn and running wide off the racing line. Both scenarios can compromise lap times and overall race performance.

        Increasing Brake Pressure #

        Drivers often make the error of increasing brake pressure too abruptly or excessively, which can lead to premature wheel lock-up and loss of traction. This impulsive application of brakes can compromise control and stability, especially in high-speed or emergency situations.

        Inconsistent Brake Pressure #

        Another common mistake is inconsistent brake pressure, where drivers fail to maintain a smooth and steady application of brakes throughout the braking zone. Variations in brake pressure can result in erratic deceleration, affecting overall stability and making it challenging to predict vehicle behavior.

        Can you spot the theme here? All these braking mistakes are really down to a lack of anticipation and foresight. Whether it’s misjudging braking points, applying brake pressure inconsistently, or braking too early or late, these errors typically stem from a failure to look ahead and anticipate the upcoming section on the track. By not scanning the track far enough ahead and anticipating corner entries, drivers can find themselves reacting impulsively rather than proactively, leading to compromised braking performance and overall driving dynamics.

        8. Braking techniques conclusion #

        In conclusion, mastering braking on track is extremely challenging and not something that you’ll ‘get’ overnight, yet it is the key to unlocking greater speed and precision on the track. Honing these skills is essential for drivers seeking to push their limits and achieve optimal performance.

        By dedicating time and effort to understanding braking fundamentals, practicing consistently, and refining your technique, you’ll ultimately become faster and more consistent on the track.

        Updated on April 3, 2024
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