Braking Techniques
By David Smith

Braking late into corners in one of the best ways to get good times on a track, and it goes without saying that braking is a useful skill to master for safety's sake. There are several braking techniques which will be discussed here, which will consider cars with and without ABS (Anti-lock Braking System).

"How much technique can there be to braking? Surely it's just a matter of stamping on the pedal and coming to a halt."

Well, good braking technique is a compromise between the two following factors:

1. If you have locked your front wheels, you lose steering control

2. The point of maximum deceleration is just before the point of wheel lock.

If you'd like to experiment with various different braking techniques, please do it on a track or on private land where nobody will be at risk of being run over!

Remember – it's always best to try and brake hard in a straight line.

A note on ABS

ABS is a marvellous invention. By rapidly applying the brakes in pulses when wheel lock is detected, it allows you to both slow down and steer, automatically. All you have to do is hit the brakes hard and watch as you gracefully come to a halt. In cars with ABS, many of the techniques listed here will not be relevant (anything that mentions wheels locking). However, ABS is not necessarily the quickest method of coming to a halt, but we'll discuss that in a minute...

What is the fastest method of slowing down?

1 = Threshold braking

2 = Locked wheels

3 = ABS

4 = Cadence braking

5 = Parachute

Threshold braking (ABS and non-ABS cars)

Threshold braking is the best strategy to adopt to gain maximum braking performance on tarmac. As stated above, the point of maximum deceleration is found just before the point of wheel lock, so it makes sense to try and keep the braking pressure just before this point. Practically, it's often very difficult to know exactly the point at which wheels will lock as many factors are at play such as tarmac conditions, tyre choice, brake temperature etc.

So, unless you're a professional racing driver, the best strategy to adopt is to best to brake hard, and if you find some wheels are locking, slightly releasing the brakes and then reapplying with marginally less pressure. As you learn how your car behaves in these conditions you'll get better at judging the pressure needed for maximum deceleration.

Locked wheel braking (Non-ABS cars)

Ok, so locked wheels aren't quite as good at slowing you down as the threshold braking technique. However there are situations when it's very difficult to maintain braking without locking wheels, such as on icy roads.

In this case, sustained wheel lock might not be as bad as you might think. As long as you are heading in the right direction locked wheels will slow you down effectively, but remember that you'll be unable to steer. Which leads us onto the next technique….

Avoidance braking (Non-ABS cars)

"So, I'm on an icy road, going too fast (I'm sorry, but it's a bit late for that now!), I've slammed on the brakes, and now I'm hurtling towards a tree!"

Well, you've been silly, but all may not be lost. Keep the wheels locked for as long as possible to scrub off speed, and while you're doing this, apply a small amount of steering lock (quarter of a turn is a good starting point). Now, release the brakes smoothly and you should find that steering starts to work again. Keep applying and releasing the brakes at points where it is suitable, using small steering movements, or you'll risk understeer or oversteer. This technique works equally well in good conditions at speed, but really should only be used as an emergency procedure.

Cadence braking (Non-ABS cars)

Cadence braking is a braking technique for very low grip surfaces such as an icy road - essentially applying and releasing the brakes rhythmically in order to get a compromise between steering and braking performance. As you apply the brakes, the wheels will tend to lock up, slowing the car but preventing you from steering. As you release the brakes you regain steering control and can keep the car pointing in the right direction.

Attempting to use cadence braking on a good grip surface at speed will result in weight transfers which can unsettle the car, possibly resulting in oversteer – the last thing you need when trying to turn a corner. Not a technique to adopt for fast driving on good grip surfaces!

Braking distances

If you go out to learn just one thing about your car, try to get to the point where you instinctively know what the stopping distance will be for different speeds at maximum braking effort. Quoting figures are mostly useless in real life situations, this is something that needs to be a split second decision, not a calculation.

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