Skills and Knowledge
How to brake on the racetrack
Braking is a very important technique in racing, and there’s far more to it than simply just slowing down before turns. Braking shifts the balance of a car, which can be used as a technique to increase the grip of the front wheels.
As a matter of fact, deceleration is the strongest force you can apply to your car - more than acceleration - so where and how hard you brake matters a lot.
A driver should brake as late as possible on the straight before turning into a corner. When braking on the straight, 100% of traction is used for braking, meaning you can decelerate harder, brake later, and run faster laps.
Types of braking systems
Non-ABS brake systems are mechanically simple. Applying more pressure to pedal = more braking. However, too much pressure locks the wheels, meaning they break traction and stop rotating. When a wheel is locked, it loses its ability to steer. To regain steering feel, a driver needs to release the brake briefly.
ABS (Anti-lock braking)
ABS uses electronics to modulate braking pressure and prevent wheel lock. You might have experienced ABS before if you brake hard, start sliding a bit, and your brake pedal suddenly pulses up and down. This is your ABS system trying to regain traction.
Most modern cars are equipped with ABS braking systems.
Braking hard on the track will generate a lot of heat in your braking system, and this may lead to brake fade, which reduces the stopping power of your brakes.
If the excessive heat causes your brake fluid to boil, your brake pedal will feel softer and spongier. You can pump the brakes to get back some stopping power, but you will need to bleed your brakes to get the air bubbles out to regain full braking effectiveness.
If your brake pads overheat, your brake pedal will feel okay but your stopping distance will increase. If you give your pads some time to cool down, your brakes should work fine again.
Whether it’s your fluid boiling or your pads overheating, you need to slow down to give your braking system time to cool down.
Fast vs. slow corners
When braking for a slow corner with at least one downshift, you want to brake as hard as possible before entering the turn.
When braking for a fast corner with no downshift, you'll likely brake lighter over a longer period of time. This is because you want to carry momentum through the turn and not upset the balance of the car with hard braking.
Braking zone reference points
When learning braking zones, it's important to find visual references to indicate when you should brake. This could be a barrier, a billboard, or a kerb - anything that won't move on the track. A cone is a bad reference because it will disappear if someone hits it.
Start with a conservative reference point, and as you get more comfortable with the track, find different ones that allow you to brake later.
Threshold braking is braking as quickly as possible without breaking traction or activating ABS. On track, you threshold brake right before a corner if you need to rapidly transition from a high speed straight to a much slower corner.
Trail braking is a very common technique used to transfer weight mid-turn. To trail brake, hold your braking into a turn and gradually ease off as you complete the turn. This will shift weight forward, increasing the grip of the front steering wheels, preventing understeer and allowing a sharper and faster turn.
On any track, you will likely have to apply various levels of trail braking on many of the corners.
You can find more information about shifting weight in