Being fast in a car doesn’t always mean having a monster of an engine in the back. What about when you’re down on power? What if you’re Fernando Alonso in the 2017 McLaren Honda? Driver performance in the corners becomes so much more crucial here.
Throttle control, precision steering, and hitting your racing lines are very important aspects to have nailed down if you want to be a fast driver. But often, one of the most underrated aspects of driver performance is brake modulation i.e how to brake and when to do it.
In this edition of Bhat on Wheels Tech Talk, let me introduce you to a technique of braking that when mastered will make you a faster and more precise driver with a better control on car balance – it’s called trail braking.
So what is trail braking?
Trail braking is the technique of light gradual brake application while entering a corner.
Let me explain.
To understand and execute trail braking, you must first understand the effects of weight transfer in a car.
You see, when you apply the brakes coming into a corner, weight of the car moves forward, causing the front end of your car to squat. This weight transfer to the front means that the front tyres are pushed into the road surface, giving you front-end grip.
Now if you release the brakes and then turn into corner (which is what most amateur drivers do), suddenly the weight shifts back, load is taken off the front end, resulting in loss of grip. This could mean oversteer and now you need to correct your oversteer, your exit out of the corner is compromised, and bwoah – you’re slower.
What’s different with trail braking then?
Applying full brake pressure at the end of the straight, coming off the brake pedal, and then turning into the corner is what an amateur would do.
With trail braking what you want to do is to still brake hard at the end of the straight, but instead of fully coming off the brakes at the corner entry, you modulate the brakes in such a way that you come off the brakes gradually whilst turning into the corner.
This means that you’re still lightly using the brakes turning into the corner, keeping more grip in the tyres, thus giving you better control with your corner entry, and the resulting corner exit.
Infographic representation – Racing on the cheap.
Trail braking is a skill that takes a lot of effort and time to master, but when done right, it gives you a chance to use the maximum available grip from the tyres to perfectly execute the given corner without performance loss due to driver error.
It separates the men from the boys, gives you much better control over car balance and weight transfer, and it is just a faster and more precise way of cornering in a race car.
Should I always be trail braking?
No. Just because I have said it is a technique that will make you a faster driver, doesn’t mean that it will have that effect with all car setups and around all corners.
You have to know when to use it, and I shall tell you about it.
Considering the way your race car is set up, if it is oversteering a lot upon corner entry, you’d ideally want to use less trail braking or none at all. This is because the rear of your car is already slipping out and the last thing you need is to have sharper front end turn in – you’ll just slip. When oversteering, front end load is high and your focus must be to transfer weight to the back to the car to balance it overall. Trail braking won’t help you here.
Whereas, when understeering as I mentioned earlier, continued gradual brake pressure application i.e. trail braking will help you maintain load at the front, giving you more front end grip, and a sharper more controlled turn in. Trail braking will help you here.
Also, trail braking is more effective in slow speed corners than in high speed corners because, a slow speed corner means the corner is tighter, and you want the car to rotate and turn in sharper to maximise your corner exit speed.
Overall braking is a much bigger issue in slow speed corners because you’re braking harder and for a longer period of time, and therefore need to be more precise and balanced. Trail braking will help you here.
If you’re an experienced racing driver and are all too familiar with trail braking and its effectiveness, well done. But if you’re a novice racing driver or someone who is just interested in cars and racing techniques, hopefully you’ve learnt something today that will make you a faster driver in the corners next time you take to a race track in a racing car.
– Aditya Bhat.