Braking! It’s literally my favorite topic when it comes to driving.
Let’s set the stage for this drill by talking about some specific braking problems exhibited by typical novice and intermediate drivers.
- Coasting before applying brakes
- Ramping up pressure
- Braking too hard
- Snapping off the brake pedal
Novices tend to coast into the braking zone. That is, as they approach the braking marker (if they have one), they lift partially or fully off the throttle and coast. And coast. After a few seconds, they finally apply the brake pedal. They generally aren’t even aware they are doing this, and may even deny it outright. That’s why we record data.
Ramping up brake pressure is a related problem. There is no need to progressively apply the brake pedal. You can hit it hard. Whether you apply the brakes soft->hard or just go hard doesn’t really change your lap time that much. So why am I saying it’s a serious problem? Because it’s backwards of what you want to do. You’re supposed to go hard->soft, not soft->hard. So why do they do it backwards? Fear. Eventually novices will get over this fear, but until they do, they will probably justify their actions as “smooth is fast”.
Taken together, the novice approaches driving as such:
- unconsciously coast into braking zone
- apply brakes smoothly
- apply more brakes because it wasn’t quite enough
- put put around the corner
The hallmark of the intermediate driver is aggressive inputs. Braking too hard creates all kinds of problems later. If you enter into a corner well below the optimal corner speed, you will be invited to stomp the throttle. Depending on how much you add, this will result in understeer or oversteer. Intermediate drivers often think their car has too much understeer when the problem is that they’re creating the understeer.
Snapping off the brake pedal causes an imbalance in your suspension. Your vehicle will rock back and forth. If you’re braking in a straight line, there is no great crime to having your car rock a little. But if you are cornering, the sudden change in grip causes 2 problems: (1) your overall grip is lower so you go slower (2) reducing grip in the rear suddenly may cause you to spin (this is exacerbated in RWD vehicles). And so intermediate drivers brake in a straight line.
Taken together, the classic intermediate driver approaches their craft as such:
- hit the brake pedal hard enough to engage ABS
- over-slow by 10-15 mph
- snap off the brake pedal
- turn into the corner
- add a bunch of throttle mid-corner
- complain of understeer or oversteer
Well, it’s time for a drill to help us break these bad habits. It doesn’t matter if you have these bad habits or not. Your knowledge of the drills will help someone else who does.
- No ABS. It’s really important not to use ABS (or any other nannies). We’re trying to train our muscle memory, and ABS will let us stomp on the brake pedal without bad consequences.
- No shifting. Focus all of your attention solely on the brake pedal.
- Track. Whatever.
- Car. Whatever.
Brake to the Apex
In this drill, your focus is on 2 actions:
- hit the brake hard
- gradually release brake pressure all the way to the apex
Imagine braking on a 0-10 point scale, with 10 being full lock-up and 0 being brakes off. When you hit the brakes, try to get to 9 on the initial hit. It’s okay if you hit 10 briefly, just back it off until you hit 9. But please don’t make the initial hit 5 or 20.
Ideally, in this drill, your brake pressure over time will look like 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 0. But when you first try it, you will probably do something more like 9, 9, 9, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 0. Training your foot to release gradually will take some time. It’s not going to have a deft touch right away. Like every skill, it takes dedicated practice to improve.
You may end up going way too slowly through the corner. That’s okay. Pick a slightly later braking marker next time. The point of this drill isn’t lap times, so don’t worry about that. The point is to get your muscles used to hard-on-soft-off.
As you learn to carry more speed, you may find the car start to rotate as you mix cornering and braking. You may even spin. Good, keep that feeling in mind. We’ll need it later. However, for this drill, you should slow down a little so that you don’t spin. This isn’t the rotation drill, it’s the brake-to-the-apex drill. You may need to mix in a little steering to control the car. That too will come in handy later.