How to Apply Proper Braking Techniques
A version of this article first appeared in NASA SpeedNews in August 2016
Many drivers have a difficult time in the braking zone. Watch the way a typical driver approaches a red-light or stop-sign: light initial braking with increasing pressure as the intersection approaches. This same technique is also typical of new and intermediate level drivers on the racetrack. While the street driver makes the experience uncomfortable for passengers, the track driver is artificially reducing the capacity of the tires.
Drivers often try to shave time off in the braking zone without reaching the corning limits of the car. Braking technique is the most critical factor to carry momentum into a corner and it has more to do with brake application and release than it does with late braking and lots of braking pressure. There is a belief that it’s all about timing: if I brake at this point, with this pressure, then when I release at the turn-in point, I’ll be at the right speed. The is a “video-game” mentality born from a belief that track and tire conditions are always the same. It also doesn’t factor in the benefit of managing weight distribution between front and rear to aid turn-in.
Here is the proper braking technique:
Apply the brake rapidly, firmly and just so. If it’s too fast then the wheels lock or the suspension bounces; too slow and the braking distance is increased. Also, don’t worry too much about threshold braking initially - that comes with experience. It is far more important for drivers to be consistent with incremental improvements.
Maintain steady brake pressure for a period to scrub speed as the corner approaches. Cars with aerodynamic aids must gradually release the brake pressure throughout the braking zone to compensate for the loss of downforce.
Gradually release the brake approaching and through the turn-in point. This is the key to carrying momentum into a corner. A gradual release allows the driver to gauge his entry speed and adjust the braking force accordingly. This also allows the suspension to maintain load on the front tires, which are doing most of the work. A rapid brake release causes the nose to lift along with a momentary reduction in grip and turning capacity. Carrying a little bit of brake past the turn-in point is called trail braking and this technique provides a bit of extra grip for the direction change.
There are exceptions of course but these are more advanced concepts to be explored later. Finding the braking threshold can be difficult and takes lots of practice. Proper braking technique on the other hand is fundamental to maximizing speed into and through corners. It’s better to brake with slightly less force and find a consistent entry speed than to dive in deep with tires at the limit. Drivers who consistently feel they can carry more speed into corners should evaluate their braking technique and get back to basics.