Braking Into the Corners

Miatas Laguna
With low-powered cars like Miatas, races are won by stellar braking.

The most important thing a driver can achieve in the entry-stage of the corner is getting the car turned in at the right rate. After that, the focus moves to getting a nice, early release of the brake to “roll” as much speed in as possible. Exiting the corner is important, too, but once you’re past the introductory dictum of “slow in, fast out” you’ll have to learn how to brake into the corner and keep your “minimum speed” up.

Because “slow in, fast out” is so commonly taught in driving and racing schools, it is often referenced as being some sort of absolute, final truth. While this mantra is helpful for the beginner and generally a safer, more consistent form of cornering for drivers, this is not the final say on braking technique. Other strategies, for the experienced racer and driver, can produce excellent results. In this piece, we’re going to focus on changing the way IN to the corner.

For many reasons, improving your entry speed is crucial. In solo driving, you’ve got the ability to find a few more miles an hour into a corner by releasing the brake slightly earlier than you’re comfortable with. By slightly earlier, I mean a few feet. There are instances where you’ll find you can easily make it through the corner by lifting off the gas instead of braking prior to turning the wheel.

When battling against another opponent on track, however, brake release becomes strategic. Since dogfighting is just as much about car placement as it is about overall speed, sticking your nose in just ahead at the corner entrance means the opponent will be forced to compromise their line, even if you run wide or slightly exceed the ideal entry speed. Forcing an opponent to concede a corner is one way to stay ahead of someone who is demonstrably quicker.

Some cars appreciate being flicked in with a light application and early release of the brake pedal. The Mazda Miata, for instance, isn’t that powerful or known to brake very hard. Therefore, its competitive edge is that it can maintain high “minimum speeds” i.e. it never has to dip below a certain MPH while cornering. Rather than maximizing performance on the straighter sections of track, the Miata excels in the corners where its light weight allows it to keep the pace up.

Other cars, like touring cars or sedans, are heavy and thus need to be slowed a bit more to make it through the corner. With a modern vehicle sporting decent brakes, it’s often better to try and brake hard and deep, minimizing the ground covered under heavy braking. Even if this means losing a few miles an hour on corner entry, these vehicles can compensate with comparatively short braking distances.

In terms of setup, the defining element is brake distribution. In this instance, “bias” refers to the axle which does the lion’s share of braking. Often, cars have a 50/50 distribution of braking force between the front and the rear. However, having more in either direction impacts the way the behaves while braking.

glowing rotors
On track, the most violent g-forces are felt under heavy braking.

 

A setup which is biased towards the rear allows for a bit of pivoting under the brakes, ie. the ability to turn the car with a minor amount of braking. This approach is often the fastest way, but can lead to early tire degradation. Plus, it’s not easy to do consistently, as a car with locking rear wheels has a propensity to spin. A more conservative front-bias approach means there is usually greater stability under braking but a less “pointy” car. The ability to brake later can be diminished by an inability to turn into the corner once braking is done. Ideally, you find a balance between these two extremes, but different drivers prefer a different feel.

All in all, it’s fine for a  novice to insist on “slow in, fast out” as the be all-end all approach to cornering. It is also something said by representatives of trackday programs who want to keep their insurance costs low. But pushing the car’s front end into a corner is so much fun! Besides, with a bit of steering correction and throttle manipulation, exceeding the entry speed doesn’t mean going off the track.

As Jackie Stewart says, “the last thing a driver learns to do well is brake” and this could not be more true. It is probably the most overlooked aspect of driving because, for one reason or another, it is the time when the car appears most placid. Though the engine may not be howling under full retardation, the forces exerted on the driver, brakes and tires are immense and the technique involved takes time to master. You’ll notice the difference between a truly experienced driver and a novice by their ability to feel how much grip the front tires offer and maximize their entry speed.

About Tommy Parry 102 Articles
Tommy Parry has been racing and writing about racing cars for the past seven years. As an automotive enthusiast from a young age, Tommy worked jobs revolving around cars throughout high school and tried his hand on the race track on his twentieth birthday. After winning his first outdoor kart race, he began working as an apprentice mechanic to amateur racers in the Bay Area to sharpen his mechanical understanding. He has worked as a trackday instructor and automotive writer since 2012 and continues to race karts, formula cars, sedans and rally cars in the San Francisco region.
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