#187 Racing is life – driving techniques – S3 E4 – Braking

“Wer bremst verliert!”, which means as much as “the one who brakes, loses”, is a very popular saying in Germany. But what is the story behind that? Today, it’s all about braking.

What does that saying really mean? Sure, if you brake later, you are “longer fast“, does that make sense? In order to be quicker, you need to be faster, right? Well, yes and no. It always depends on your setup, the track and a of a whole lot more parameters, but for today, we will just simplify the process and break it down into little pieces.

What is braking anyways?
Braking means decelerating. Slowing down. Reducing your speed.

How does it work?
Your car is equipped with brakes. A more ambiguous car has always disc brakes, smaller and cheaper cars will have most of the time drum brakes at the rear axle, but that is just a matter of cost saving for the manufacturer. The moment you move the brake pedal with your foot to the ground, this movement will cause a series of events, which will, in the end, result in activating the braking system at your wheels, by pushing the brake pads against the disc brake, transforming the kinetic energy of the wheels, and therefore of the discs into thermal energy through friction. This will directly result in decreasing your speed, but increasing the temperature of the braking system. While modern cars are equipped with a lot of high tech, especially in the interior section of the cars, there are some safety and assistant systems that will help you to get your car stoped even better.

Back in the old days, the force you inserted into the system by pushing onto the brake pedal was the only thing, that had a direct influence on the braking performance. Locking up the wheels was as common as having issues, especially after a while, to actually put enough energy into the system to make the car stop. This was hard work, man! Really though guys where racing these cars in the past.

Today, it is all a little bit different. Instead of using only the man power of the driver, cars have been developed with supporting systems, that will increase your brake pressure at the beginning in a very mechanical, but these days in a more smart and connected way. This will directly result in a much easier to drive car, especially for long distance events and races.

ABS (anti-lock braking system)
With the invention of the ABS system, driving a car became even more safer. This comes due to two facts. The first one is, that everybody can reach a very good braking performance under every kind of possible situation, and the other is, that the car will be able to be steered all the time during the braking maneuver. A wet and slippery road, some leaves on one side of the street, or just to much ice, without an ABS system, your tires can get locked up during the braking phase, causing you and your car to slide around, loosing important meters for the necessary stand still in case of an emergency, or to lose the control over the car at all. But what is the ABS system doing? It detects, whether your tires are still rolling around and having grip, or actually just slide on the surface. In case they stoped turning, the ABS will open up the breaks real quick, allowing the tires to get traction again and immediately start to brake after that, until they will stop turning again. This process happens in such a short period of time, that the opening up of the braking system doesn’t affect the stopping distance too much, but can be repeated over and over again without the need of a well trained driver.

But what is important to know for a race car driver?

Brakes need to have the right temperature.

  • If they are too cold, they do not work properly, if they are too hot, they will not work properly.
  • Having too cold brakes is not a real issue, because you can easily heat them up. But sometimes, the brake cooling is just to high, so the discs will be cooled down by the air flow that is rushing by too much. But this can be easily adjusted by changing the air flow of the system.
  • Having too hot brakes is the problem that occurs way more often. This comes down to a lot of facts, starting from the actual materials of the parts, the sizes of the parts and the air flow for the cooling. While some people think, that a larger disc brake is necessary in order to have a bigger contact surface between the disc brake and the brake pad, the real issue is to get rid of the temperature. We have all seen some glowing disc brakes, shining in an orange light on a race car photograph, right? The heat is really an issue. So the larger the diameter of the disc, the larger is the mass of the part which will lead to a better temperature absorption.
  • If your brake system gets way too hot, you will experience the so called “fading“. This basically means, that the temperature of the materials, especially the brake pads are over the limit, causing the material to start getting slippery and weak, which will decrease the braking performance dramatically, causing sometimes even a complete failure of the brake pad after reaching the max. temperature of the material, starting to disintegrate itself.

Operate the brakes

  • Generally speaking you should start to build up the brake pressure in an harmonious way, letting the brake pads bite into the disc brake softly, to avoid locking up the tires, especially, if you are steering at the same time. But after that first contact, you should really get hard on the brakes while you are driving fast. Decreasing the car as much as possible while the speeds are very high. After that, you need to slowly let go of the pedal a little bit, especially if you want to, or need to start making a turn. The tires will be more likely to lock up, so you need to be more careful with what you are doing, especially under steering. Your tires can only handle a certain amount of forces, which will be decreased, if they need to transfer lateral forces as well. This can be seen in the traction circleKammsche circle“, where you can check out how much traction the tires can have in certain situations.
  • Slowly build up pressure –> hard on the brakes –> letting go of the brake pedal a little bit while getting very slow, or starting to steer the car

Breaking news: Practice braking!

The best way to become better at braking is by actually just doing it. You can think about the process for a while, read some fancy books, or watch more then thousand YouTube videos. But in the end, it is just a matter of practicing it. How does the ABS system feels like? How long is the brake distance? How can I steer and brake at the same time? These are things you can not learn without practicing. If you have a racing simulator, you can work with that, but you can also go to the cart track, or visit a safety centre, where you can practice this safely in a closed up environment.

And this is it for today. Remember, these are just the basics. In step two, we will start off with the real driving techniques by combining the different topics we are discussing right now.

See you next time!

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