Offseason Training: Part 5 – Brake to the Apex

Braking! It’s literally my favorite topic when it comes to driving.

Braking Poorly

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

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

Intermediates

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

Setup

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:

  1. hit the brake hard
  2. 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.

7 thoughts on “Offseason Training: Part 5 – Brake to the Apex

  1. Well I’ll be goddamned, I learned something today. I’m using the standard DualShock controller on PS4 playing GT7, and I’ve always had trouble trailbraking because the triggers aren’t true potentiometers, they are a 3-position switch or something. I’ve been releasing the brakes too quickly. By really exaggerating the slowness of the brake release, I can get the car to pivot an extra 5-10 degrees at the apex of a slow corner. On fast corners, doing the same thing will cause the car to skid, but I shouldn’t trailbrake the fast corners anyway.

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  2. In the “snapping off the brake pedal” section, did you mean to say that the vehicle will rock *back*?

    Overall, this is a great post—I wanted share that there was a point in time where I discovered I was being too aggressive on brake application, particularly if the car I was in was (relatively) softly sprung. I was finding I could reach higher peak brake pressure without locking the tires if I allowed some time for the front suspension to compress. I’m guessing it would still feel very harsh to a novice, but it wasn’t as abrupt as it would be with a full-on jabbing panic-stop brake application. I think I originally read this approach in Going Faster. So your advice about being more aggressive is probably good for most people, but in my experience, I think it is definitely possible to take it too far when avoiding ramping up brake pressure.

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    1. Thanks for the question (fixed to “back and forth”). How much better would drivers be if they learned to drive on all-season tires and squish suspension? Feeling the dynamics of mushy suspension is pretty useful. You do sort of have to let the car set before doing anything too aggressively. When I had a motorcycle, I think I tried to hit the foot brake just before the handbrake so that the compression of the suspension happened just before the bite.

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      1. Totally agree. I’m sure you’re familiar with that Andretti quote, about him being amazed how many drivers still think the brakes are for slowing the car down.

        When I first heard that quote, I was trying to think of as many possible interpretations as I could, and one of them was that the brake and gas pedals are suspension and tire compression devices–not slowing-down and speeding-up devices.

        The right pedal is for compressing the rear tires and suspension; the center pedal is for compressing the front tires and suspension. (The steering wheel is sort of like for left or right compression, but it’s more complex than just that.)

        So when you press the center pedal, what you’re doing is applying a gigantic force directly down onto the nose of the car, and when you press the right pedal, you’re applying a gigantic force directly down onto the tail of the car.

        The slowing-down and speeding-up functions of those pedals are so subconscious that I tried doing a few races where I just intentionally totally ignored the idea of speeding up or slowing down, and put all of my attention on the idea of when it would be best to have as much force compressing the front or the rear springs and tires at various points around the track. It was a really helpful thought exercise, if for no other reason than the entirety of my attention was on the idea of manipulating the tires and suspension.

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      2. Love it! In real life I went from an overly heavy DD to a well-prepared NB Miata with 800/500lb Xidas to my current W2W car, an almost stock caged NA with very mild shocks/springs (part of a club spec W2W series). The extra weight transfer is dramatic – the cars will almost pick up a wheel in some corners – and I’ve become a much better driver because of it.

        I’ve learned that its not so much a handicap compared to the Xidas I was using before, just that with them I could effectively ignore weight transfer and the car would mostly “just work”, whereas now I have to do all kinds of motions consciously and deliberately. I’m confident that those habits work pay off going back to a stiffer stickier car too, just as momentum cornering habits stay with you if you add power.

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