National Motorsport Academy

How Does Slowing Down Gain You Lap Time? Focus on Brakes

Why Brakes are Important in Going Fast....

Why are we talking about brakes if we are looking to go faster, surely brakes exist to slow you down? Yes, this is true, but having better braking capacity will contribute to your overall lap time.

What does being “better on the brakes” really mean?

Normally it means being later on the brakes. So, being better or later, or both, really means that you can be on the throttle for longer. This then means that because you are happier with shorter braking distances you are going faster for longer, which means your average speed round the lap is higher, and (this is well worth the wait….) your lap time is lower! Ta-da!! See, I got there in the end!

So, what can you change to improve your brakes?

This very much depends on the particular championship that you are competing in. Certain championships will allow you to install motorsport braking systems that feature larger discs and calipers with your choice of brake pad friction material. However, some championships require you to keep the standard braking system and only allow you to change the friction material.

Indy Car Braking System
Indy Car Braking System

Let’s say that you are allowed to upgrade your whole braking system. What would you change first?

The largest gains in braking performance can be found from increasing the size of both the brake discs and calipers. A larger disc provides a larger surface area for the brake pads to act upon, with more friction to help slow the wheel down quicker. Larger calipers are not only designed to accommodate the larger discs, but they also provide a higher brake pad clamping force to better utilise the friction material.  All of this means that you are able to brake harder and decrease your braking distances.

Other options to consider are stainless steel overbraided brake hoses that improve the feel and consistency of the brake pedal, helping to inspire greater confidence every time that you apply the brakes. This confidence in itself allows you to brake later as the feel and feedback you get breeds more confidence and so it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

But what if your chosen championship doesn’t allow any changes to the braking system? How can you get the most out of your brakes?

Even those more tightly restricted championships will allow you to change the brake pad friction material, as standard road pads will not be able to cope with the increased temperatures that occur on track. This means that there are a host of different brake pad compounds that are available to you.

There are various types of brake pads available from the different brands to suit various vehicle applications. Each of these are different compounds that have their own individual properties. Some have been designed to work better at prolonged higher temperatures, while others offer higher initial bite but may wear out sooner. As such, there are some compounds of brake pad that are better suited to short sprint races while others are more beneficial for use in endurance events – do not think that one type fits all, it may well spoil your day/weekend/season!

Using the best type of brake pad compound for your specific type of racing is important for getting the most out of your brakes. For example, if you were running an endurance type brake pad in a 20-minute race, you would find that there would be very little braking performance as the pads would not be operating in their correct temperature window. Likewise, a sprint-based compound in an endurance race would see you running out of brakes very quickly.


Another area that you can improve your braking ability is by using a racing specification brake fluid. By using uprated brake fluid, you can raise the boiling point, reducing the chances of encountering a lack of brakes at some point during the race. Something that will knock all of your recently gained confidence in a flash is a brake pedal that goes straight to the floor with a clank just as you need to stop from 120mph+.

Brake Bias Adjusters

Brake Bias Adjuster
Brake Bias Adjuster

Another secret weapon in your braking arsenal is a brake bias adjuster. If you are allowed to run one of these in your particular championship, it is well worth considering as adjusting the brake bias can dramatically affect the car handling characteristics when on the brakes.

Essentially you are able to control how much of the braking force is split between the front and rear of the car. Sending more brake bias to the rear can improve the rotation of the car under trail braking and can also be useful in wet conditions to reduce locking up the front brakes, be aware though that too much at the rear can cause you to over-rotate and send you spinning.

Like all enhancements you have to see what works for you, your style, your championship and your car; there is no magic bullet but each one of these little areas, used properly will add speed and reduce lap time.

A Word from the Wise

Before I go, a little story: It’s 2009 Britcar 24 Hours, the year after Top Gear ruined a really good race, you may remember the TV show? Anyway, we are in an E36 M3 and I am the only driver in our team that had not used BMW Motorsport ABS before. This is a chip change in one of the boxes behind the dashboard so that when you ride the kerbs and lift a wheel the ECU doesn’t get all emotional and think you are having a crash and activate all the nanny features.

Well, I start slowly but started to get the hang of it – the main difference being that you could be a lot more brutal on the kerbs than normal. During the daylight practice I really started to feel good with the brakes and during the night-time practice it properly started to come together in some decent lap time. Happy and confident that this new gizmo would help me I thought no more about it.

Skip ahead to 18 hours into the race and we were a) still in it and b) doing all right thank you very much. The car was vibrating a little thanks to some underbody damage from avoiding one of the famous Silverstone hairs and taking to the scenery at about 13 hours, just before daylight. I am in next, so I am all kitted up and my co-driver comes into the pitlane. He arrives at our pit and slightly crossed up he locks a brake (?) but we didn’t really notice this until debrief afterwards. I jump in and away I go absolutely brimming with confidence and get straight down to a good pace.

Now anyone that has done a 24 hour race will know that the car you started with is not the same car you have 12/15/18/24 hours in – it has become looser, rattles, creaks and makes noises you don’t want to hear and that is when it is in full health, so as I started to lean on it and get over the kerbs a bit, it felt a little strange and I really didn’t know why. 

I decided it was because it was battle weary so kept pushing on, more especially because we were making places up as other cars pitted or went slower hoping to survive. The howl of an M3 down the Hanger Straight is really evocative as the sun comes up you know? Try it one day. I felt good, I had huge confidence in the car and I was particularly confident in these new-fangled brakes. Still felt really strange though over the kerbs and coming off the slow corners.

Suddenly I realised what it was – I was locking brakes and wheel spinning. I radio’d in and told the team to be greeted with “Yes, we know, the ABS chip fell out and we found it on the garage floor after Tim (the last driver) got out. Didn’t want to call you in because you have been faster without it that you were with it…….”

Confidence in your brakes is a wonderful thing.

I’ll leave you with an interesting little article about maintain brakes during an endurance race.

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