December 6, 2023

The Braking Masterclass For Racecar Drivers

Blayze | Dion von Moltke

Dion von Moltke

Car Racing

The Braking Masterclass For Racecar Drivers Image

Where and how we attack and release the brakes is the single most important part of the corner and race track.

In this article, we’re going to tackle exactly how we can improve our braking so that you can enter into any corner in the fastest possible way.

Chapter 1: Different Types of Braking Zones

Chapter 2: Trail Braking

Chapter 3: Building Up to Late Braking

Chapter 4: Different Braking Techniques for Different Cars

Chapter 1: The Different Types of Braking Zones

Before we can talk about perfecting how we manipulate the brakes, we must first understand that depending on the type of corner we are going to want to brake in different ways. Not every corner is a threshold braking corner. One of the first things I do when I analyze a driver’s data is pull up their long-g or brake pressure graph and find their peak brake pressure for a lap and draw a line at the top of their peak pressure across the whole lap. I look at the relative peak braking pressure in every braking zone across the lap to see if all of that aligns with the type of corner we are entering. The next thing I do is look at the first 5% and last 5% of each brake zone to see if those slopes align with the type of corner they are entering. For example, Blayze pro coach, Colin Mullan was kind enough to share some of his actual data from Mid-Ohio. Checkout out how different each brake zone is here! (Bottom row)

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Depending on the type of corner we have 5 core different ways that we want to manipulate the brakes.

Different braking zone techniques for racecar drivers

1. Hard initial pressure with a smooth release

This is one of the most common types of brake zones. When you see someone draw the “perfect” brake trace they will often draw this shape. One thing we want to make clear is there is no perfect braking trace.

Learn more about why there is no perfect brake trace with this video from Blayze pro coach, Ricky Taylor, here!

We are typically using this type of brake trace when we are entering a corner with a lot of speed, but the corner ahead has a decent amount of entry speed still. Some example corners where I would use a brake zone like this would be:

Sebring International Raceway - Turn 1

Willow Springs Raceway - Turn 1

If you look at each of these corners, you’ll notice both have a small straight leading into them (so I’m coming in with some speed). Both corners are sweeper-style corners that I want to roll in a decent amount of entry speed. The brake zone into both of these corners (in most cars) is done with my hands straight. That means I can work up to peak brake pressure pretty rapidly. I want to brake decently late here because I want to maximize time spent at full throttle on the straight heading into the corner. My limiting factor of how late I can break, is how much brake pressure I can have in the car past the turn in point. This braking style lets me brake late but still have the car platform more neutral (weight more in the middle of the car) at the turn in point. When I enter higher-speed corners I want a more neutral car, so in these corners my release typically starts a little earlier in comparison to brake zones into hairpin-style corners (covered below).

 

2. Hard initial with continued threshold braking and a smooth release

You will find this type of a brake zone most often coming into hairpin-style corners that are preceded by a straightaway. Some example brake zones where I want this style of braking are:

Sebring International Raceway - Turn 7

Buttonwillow Raceway - Starmazda

Circuit of the Americas - Turn 12 or Turn 11

Road America - Canada Corner

Road Atlanta - Turn 10

What’s the common factor amongst all of these corners? They all have pretty long straights going into them, so we arrive at the brake zone with a lot of speed. All of these corners have somewhat low minimum speeds and lead onto a bit of a straight ahead. So, they are all also exit speed corners.

To be fast in these corners I want to really maximize two things:

1. Time spent at full throttle into the corner
2. How early (after the apex) I can get back to full throttle

I want to brake as deep as I can, get the car rotated, and get the hell out of the corner.

That is why you see in the slope of this brake zone we spend a lot longer at or near peak brake pressure. I care less about keeping the platform of the car, so I’m okay with more weight on the front at or near the turn in point.

As always remember this is a general rule and can 100% depend a bit on your car, your tires, etc.

 

3. Smooth ramp up and smooth release

I am typically going to use this type of brake application as I head into a sweeper-style corner where I’m trying to keep the platform of the car somewhat neutral. I’m not trying to bleed off a lot of speed here, I need to slow down just a little bit and I need to do it in a way that doesn’t shock the car.

Examples of corners where I might use this technique are:

Sebring International Raceway - Turn 13

Mid-Ohio - Turn 6

Circuit of the Americas - Turn 19

Road America - Turn 14

What do all of these corners have in common? I have some lateral load (my hands aren’t straight) as I enter the braking zone. The corners themselves are also not hairpin-style corners, they are more sweeper-style corners where I want some speed coming into the corner and some level of trail braking. The smoother ramp-up on initial brake pressure keeps the platform of the car underneath me and as I get the car slightly straighter, I can smoothly add more brake pressure. Before the turn in point, I’m working on the smooth release already.

 

4. The light brush and ease off

With this brake application, I’m more focused on getting some weight on the front nose as I start to turn in, more than really trying to slow the car down.

I will use this type of brake application in turns like:

Laguna Seca - Turn 4 or maybe even in turn 9

Sebring International Raceway- Turn 16

Road America - The kink (only in cars where you need a little braking to make the corner)

Watkins Glen - Turn 10 (only in cars where you need a little braking to make the corner)

In these types of corners, I’m not trying to brake late and hard. I’m purposely braking slightly earlier but lighter to keep that platform. For example, in turn 4 at Laguna Seca. When I compare myself to most other drivers the other drivers brake later and harder than I do. But the limiting factor for them is concern about losing the rear on entry. So, they end up over-braking and picking up the throttle too early. My lighter brake application is initially slower, but I have the platform of the car more neutral, more underneath me, then lets me bring in more entry speed. That means I’m faster from about 3 car lengths before the apex all the way down to turn 5.

 

5. Hard initial with a quick release

I most often use this type of brake application in stiffer, downforce cars. Quite often in any other type of car it transitions weight too quickly and can upset the car. Examples of corners in a downforce car where I might try this technique would be:

Mid Ohio - Turn 1 or the fast left hander

Sebring International Raceway- Turn 1

Road Atlanta - Turn 6

Notice the major theme here is there are certain factors I look for that help me determine what type of braking technique to use. The major factors are:

1. Is the corner I’m entering a hairpin type corner or a sweeper?

2. Am I arriving at a corner with a lot of speed?

3. Are my hands straight during the entirety of this brake zone?

4. What is the balance of my car?

5. Are there any track undulations or is the road flat?

   

Chapter 2: Trail Braking

I’m on a mission to change the term “trail braking” to directional braking (shoutout to Ken Hill)!

I see two trains of thought in grassroots racing:

1. Trail braking is evil to teach to anyone but advanced drivers

2. I know I'm “supposed” to trail brake, so let me do it because I know I’m supposed to

   

Let me be clear… both are wrong.

**Is trail braking dangerous? No! Do we always want to trail brake? No!**

Pro coach, Ross Bentley, has a great analogy for schools not wanting to teach trail braking. He says that’s the equivalent of a school not believing our kids are ready to learn about all the animals. So, they show the kids pictures of all different animals and call them all cats. When our kids are ready, we’ll make them unlearn everything they know, and then re-teach them correctly.

We should never teach someone the incorrect technique from the start. There is nuance to these conversations. I’m NOT saying let’s have someone trail brake right away. But let’s set them up for success and teach them correctly from the start.

That way we don’t have to help cure years and years of bad habits later (something our coaches have to do every day at Blayze).

So, how do we know when we should trail brake? To do this, let’s focus on why professional drivers trail brake. There are two core reasons to trail brake:

1. You want the car directed or pointed in a specific direction. Adding brakes past the turn in point can help rotate the car more.
2. If we can carry brakes past the turn in point, that allows us to shift the brake zone deeper into the corner. Aka we can brake deeper. Usually, the limiting factor on how late we can brake, is how much brake pressure we can carry past the turn in point.

I want to change the term “trail brake” to “directional braking” because the name exactly describes WHY we trail brake. When drivers know they are meant to use trail braking into a specific corner and just do it, because they know they are “meant to” be trail braking into this corner, the only thing they end up achieving is over slowing in the corner.

I would much rather see these drivers get the heck off the brakes and roll in more entry speed. When you start to understeer from so much entry speed and you can’t get the car pointed correctly at corner exit; that’s when we introduce trail braking - I mean directional braking ;).

It’s hard to generalize the types of corners we eventually want to trail brake into because it’s very car and setup dependent. Typically corners where I want more rotation (hairpins) I want a longer trail brake. Some examples here are:

Daytona International Speedway - Turn 3 and 5

Sebring International Raceway - Turn 7

Road Atlanta - Turn 10a

Virginia International Raceway - Turn 1

Circuit of the Americas - Turn 11 and Turn 12

Mid-Ohio - The Key Hole or The Carousel

Laguna Seca - Turn 2 or the first apex in the Corkscrew

Buttonwillow - Turn 2

As I mentioned this can be highly car dependent. I remember the first time I tested a Lamborghini GT3 car for Paul Miller Racing back in 2017 I was really struggling at turn 7 at Sebring. My background is mostly racing Audi GT3 cars, and the Lamborghini is meant to be a very similar platform. Same chassis, same drivetrain, etc. The Audi is a car that can be very free on entry. My first session at Sebring I could NOT get the car to rotate in turn 7. I kept understeering wide mid corner and couldn’t put the power down. So, what was my first thought? Brake slightly deeper and carry more brake pressure past the turn in point to rotate the car.

What happened?

The understeer got worse. Huh?

Turns out, I was overloading the front tires and causing them to slide. The second I backed off my brake zone and completely got off the brakes at the turn in point that thing rotated beautifully. Sometimes driving a racecar is going to make no sense… welcome to our sport!

Looking to learn even more about improving your trail braking skills?  Click here to view the Blayze in-depth trail braking guide!

Chapter 3: Building Up to Late Braking

There are many factors that go into driving a racecar quickly throughout a lap or race. There is no way around it, in some corners braking as deep as possible is a critical factor (notice how I said some corners here). When you look at everything that goes into generating fast lap times there is one thing that raises risk significantly more than anything else. That is late braking. When I’m learning a new car, or a new race track, or even if I’m going to a track I know well in a car I know well, the very last thing I do to go faster is work on braking deeper. When I’m looking to add speed on a track, I have a very systematic process that is built off of our fundamentals.

Not sure what the fundamentals in racing are? This article is a MUST READ!

My process is:

1. Start off with a conservative initial brake zone (late enough not to be ridiculously slow) and work on where I want my minimum speed to come in every corner and initial throttle application.
2. Once I have those points, I want to slowly increase entry speed. I’m going to do this by releasing off brake pressure earlier and earlier.
3. I want to repeat step 2 little by little until I start to slide wide of the apex or my minimum speed comes too late.
4. This is where I work on slowly introducing more trail braking by moving my initial brake application spot deeper little by little.

 

To give an example of how I would do this let’s use turn 1 at Virginia International Raceway. You can see me qualifying around VIR in IMSA in a GT3 car in the video below:

 

You’ll notice in this video into turn 1 I’m braking right around the 4 board. It usually takes me a full day before I get down to that point. At the start of the weekend, I’m picking a point I know is somewhat conservative but late enough to where I still need good technique. Picking out that point is a little bit of an art. This weekend I would get down to the 5 board or maybe just inside the 5 board by the end of the first session. In the next session I’d likely work my way down to the 4.5 board and keep it there until I have everything else optimized around the lap. The final step for me was working my brake zone down to the 4 board into turn 1 and then the 1 board into turn 14.

 

Chapter 4: Different Braking Techniques For Different Cars

One of the single most important things to know is that there are a lot of nuances in our sport. What works in one car, doesn't necessarily work in all cars. What works for one driver, doesn’t necessarily work for all drivers.

Blayze pro-coach, Ricky Taylor, has an excellent talk where he breaks down the different driving styles his teammates at Penske Racing had. You’ll learn how different Juan Pablo Montoya, Will Power, Hello Castroneves, and Ricky Taylor all drive from one another and you’ll even get to see those differences in their data! Check out full length video by clicking here!

In our sport, there are some “golden rules”. These rules are very often true, but there are always exceptions. For example, in almost any car, in almost any corner, once I start my brake release, I don’t want to have any brake pressure back to it.

Take a look again at our braking pressure infographic:

Types of braking zones for racecar drivers

Notice how none of these brake pressure graphs have increasing pressure once the release starts. That is something that is going to be true for almost any car, in almost any corner. A few corners where there is an exception to this is:

Virginia International Raceway - Oak Tree, Hogpen, & Turn 14

Road America - Turn 5

What's the similarity in these corners? There is a little elevation change or undulations in the road that will affect the car and how you brake.

So, let’s finally get to the main point… In a normal corner how much does my braking change car to car? The answer is very little. Let’s brake car types into 3 major categories to help us break down any small changes. The three major categories I would use are:

  • Low horsepower, no or low downforce
  • High horsepower, no or low downforce
  • Downforce cars

My braking techniques in high horsepower or low horsepower cars are going to be very similar. The overall slope of my brake traces will be nearly identical, the small changes I might make are:

  • Overall, less brake pressure at every point in the brake zone in a lower horsepower car
  • A shorter trail brake in a low horsepower car

That’s really it! (I’m not mentioning where in the brake zone I’m actually braking because that is far too car by car independent to speak generally about).

In a downforce car the changes in my braking style or technique I’m thinking about making are:

  • A harder hit of the initial brake pressure. Slightly less of a ramp up to peak brake pressure and most instantaneous peak brake pressure.
  • Slightly less of a trail brake, get off brakes and rely on aero to roll speed more.

That’s about it!! I would say in almost any car 95% - 98% of how I use the brakes will be the same, it’s just that last little bit that changes, and that last little bit matters a lot!

 

Braking Masterclass Summary

I hope you have found this in-depth dive onto different braking techniques for different cars and corners helpful!

If this is one thing, I want you to takeaway is that there is a lot of nuance in our sport. It’s the main reason why coaching has to be personalized. If you hear anyone that talk about the “perfect braking trace” run… run very far away!

Take a look at how Blayze coaches work with higher level drivers chasing championships here!

In fact, this is the main reason why Blayze was formed. We knew coaching had to be personalized to each individual driver, in their car, at whatever track they were going to or were at. We wanted to make it more affordable and accessible to learn 1-on-1 with the very best drivers in our sport and that’s exactly what we do.

So, if you’re looking to make sure you’re getting the most out of your braking, or maybe you want to improve your racecraft. Or maybe you want to make sure you’re driving as safe as possible on the track we’re here for you and you can learn more about working 1-on-1 with a personal Blayze coach by clicking here.

Blayze | Dion von Moltke

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Blayze | Dion von Moltke

Dion von Moltke

Daytona 24 Hour Winner

Car Racing

I've spent 20 years of my life in this sport that we all love so much. During that time I was fortunate enough to have a 10 year professional career where I won the Rolex at Daytona 24 hour, the Sebring 12 Hour (twice), and became an official driver for Audi. After retiring from professional racing I became a co-founder at Blayze. My goal with building this platform is to make it more affordable, accessible, and convenient to learn personally from the best coaches in the world!

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