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Braking Techniques

 

Part 1: Braking Overview

 

Part 2: Threshold Braking

 

Part 3: Trail Braking

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Braking Techniques

Part 2: Threshold Braking

 

The term Threshold Braking comes from the physical nature of the tires at maximum braking. At maximum braking, the tires are literally at the threshold of locking up; maximum tire traction has been achieved and if you brake any harder, the tires will lock up. 


When lock up occurs, the tire or tires automatically lose about 30% of their grip to the road surface. The reduction in grip caused by a lock up reduces your ability to slow down. For a high grip car, when the tires lock up it feels like the tire just went flat or you hit black ice and you cannot stop. It is a very uncomfortable feeling as a driver. After all we are trying to do just the opposite—slow down as quickly as possible. 


A 30% loss in tire traction usually calculates out to a 30% longer stopping distance. That 30% longer distance could mean ending up into a tire barrier or hitting the car in front of you! You do not want to lock up the tires under braking. Another unfortunate thing that happens under lockup is that it’s easy to literally burn a flat spot on the tire where the tire meets the road. Flat spotted tires don’t perform very well. First of all you’ll notice an annoying vibration in the steering wheel; second, the next corner you take you’ll see the front tires skipping across the road; and third, the next time you go to threshold brake the tires lock up again, but this time it happens more easily, on the same flat spot, because it’s flat and not round. Not to mention you have to buy a new tire or a set of tires.

 

There is a well-publicized myth about braking, that you should “pump” the brakes. Wrong! If you pump the brakes you’re locking up (-30%) and then you go from lockup to no brakes (0%) in rapid succession. Obviously this is not the solution. If you experience “lockup” (and you will if you’re really practicing), you want to quickly ease off the brake pedal to get the tire rolling again, but don’t come completely off. This is going to require some really keen “feel,” but with practice you can feel the tires gripping the roadway.

 

Getting to the actual technique of Threshold Braking; first get an idea of where you want to begin your braking. For practice purposes, brake a little sooner then you’re capable of. That means brake so that you have plenty of time to recover if you make a mistake. Next, make sure that the car is tracking. Where should we be positioned on the track? In a straight line. This may sound silly, but there are actual corners that we approach while turning. Remember the weight transfer? Weight transfers left / right as well as forward / back. Well, if you are turning the steering wheel, (even just slightly) one side of your car will weigh more than the other. This means when you get close to Threshold Braking your braking power is going to be dictated by the tire with the least amount of grip or weight (because we don’t want any of the tires to lockup). 

 

If your car is straight, we know about when we’re going to start our braking. Next, we quickly come off the accelerator pedal and on to the brake pedal. You want to do this as fast as possible. The more time it takes you, the more time is lost. Now, squeeze onto the brake pedal at the same rate that the car's weight transfers forward. For lighter cars like Formula cars and Sport Racers, this will be very quick, but still you’ll use a squeeze of the pedal. For heavier cars the squeeze will be more drawn out. You will be able to tell that the weight is transferring forward and at this moment the car is actually unstable, so be careful. 


Next, the car will settle with the front of the car planted down. Remember how long this process takes. Repeat this initial braking with timing in mind. Your initial braking is the first step to the actual technique and the most important one. What happens next is monitoring the tires grip for lockup as you decelerate. As you slow you may have to ease off the brake pedal a little. Some cars generate a lot of down force, but all cars generate some. As we slow down, the cars that generate a decent amount of down force will lighten and an adjustment needs to be made with the brake pedal. I mentioned that the most important step in Threshold Braking is the initial part. How you perform here will determine how quickly you can get the car slowed. Because you are at the highest speed in this area, the more time you take doing the initial braking the more time is lost compared to the latter part of the braking zone when speeds are down and you’re covering less ground. After enough practice, you’ll realize that the most significant part of Threshold Braking is the initial braking.

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