Braking Analysis: What Do Pros Do Differently?
Slideshow: Want to stop on a dime? Here’s what the pros do. Our resident racing instructor will walk you through 5 steps to maximizing braking performance.
A Little Background
As a professional driving coach, I get the opportunity to sit next to hundreds of people from all kinds of backgrounds. In my time working for one of the biggest arrive-and-drive companies in the world, this is what I observed among professional drivers compared to even very good enthusiasts.
Pros hit their marks. That's the expression you will often hear a great crew chief or team operator remind his driver of. “Hit your marks” is a simple set of words that means do the same thing every single lap. At a proper circuit, braking zones are marked by 50, 100, and 150-meter markers. Expect a pro to be accurate to within a meter every lap for hours.
On data acquisition systems, the first thing you notice is accuracy. Whereas in the car, the first thing you notice with pro drivers is that they simply brake less. The limit is much higher than many people think with the main problem being the average driver doesn’t approach the limit smoothly. Once you realize this, you begin to understand the brake pedal is also a tool to balance the car.
Waste No Time
Approaching a braking zone where the car has to slow from 130mph to 80mph, a pro will transition from the throttle to the brake instantaneously. This is one of the main benefits of transmissions where the clutch is not required during downshifts. Tenths of a second can also be found here where they would otherwise be left on the table. Left foot braking is very common among top-level pros—but it’s impossible to do in corners that require the clutch. Find where you can left-foot brake and you might just pick up a couple tenths.
Rotate On The Limit (Caution!)
Many drivers will talk about threshold braking and trail braking, but the idea that a brake pedal can only be used to slow the car down in a straight line or to help you rotate around a hairpin on corner entry is understanding only a fraction of the tools at your disposal. When a car is on the limit in a corner, it may understeer and need some weight transfer to the nose. Depending on the car’s setup and corner profile, a stab of the brake pedal at the right moment can help in rotating a car that would otherwise understeer seconds off the clock.
Heel Toe Downshift
Heel/toe downshifting is quickly becoming a lost art with the introduction of more advanced transmissions and clutch systems. But for a manual transmission, this is a technique that you need to master if you want to have total control over a machine on the track. Proper execution of this technique is difficult as your hands and legs must move together while each of them exerts a different amount of pressure on the thing they are controlling. Practice makes perfect here. No shortcuts.
Practicing these techniques and knowing when to use them is what really separate professionals from great amateurs. Equipment varies as do car setups so mastering each of them across different platforms can become challenging despite being at a track you know. Focus on always hitting your marks and the rest will fall into place as you get more experience.
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