Driving Tip #4: Trail Braking

In a series by Racers360, we delve into what trail braking is, why it’s a staple skillset, when to do it, and how to do it.

The number one skill that our race car coaches see across all levels of racing that separates the great drivers from the good drivers, and then the good drivers from the novice is the ability to trail brake.

What Is Trail Braking?

Trail braking is applying a small amount of brake pressure as the car carves all the way down to the apex.  During the trail brake zone (after initial turn, and sometimes down all the way to the apex), one does not apply a lot of brake pressure as the main goal isn’t really to slow down the car.  Yes, we are doing that, and it did allow us to brake deeper, initially; however, the main reason to trail brake is to keep weight on the front nose as the car turns .

Why do we want to keep the weight on the front? There are two main reasons for keeping weight on the front and they both are about one core principle – spending more time at full throttle:

  1. Shifting the braking zone: On the racetrack, we want to maximize time spent on full throttle. By trail braking, we will be able to shift our braking zone closer to the apex of the corner. If we only brake in a straight line, then we need to brake earlier (less time on full throttle before initial brake zone) to bring our speed down before turn in. The slow blend of speed after turn in helps us brake just a little bit deeper.
  2. Rotation: Trail braking helps us get back to full throttle earlier at corner exits. The weight on the front nose helps us get rotation at corner entry through the apex which gives us a better car angle at the apex. This allows us to start to unwind the steering wheel earlier and more aggressively at corner exit – both of which allows us to get back to the throttle more aggressively and pick up full throttle earlier.

When Not to Trail Brake

We typically do not need to brake in high-speed corners.  Some examples of these corners we don’t trail brake: The Kink at Road America, Turn 8 at Thunderhill, and Turn 12 at Road Atlanta.

In high-speed corners where we do need some braking, it’s often more beneficial to brake for a little longer and lighter than harder over a shorter distance. The lighter pressure allows less weight to be transferred to the front end, which will keep the rear more settled than if there was a heavier brake pressure.  This will allow us to still have the front grip we want without getting that over-rotation after turn-in, which is often more difficult to control when at high speeds, covering more ground in the same amount of time.

How to Trail Brake

We tackle trail braking in a three-step process: The first step of this process is identifying the initial throttle application location; the second step is that we work to break the bond between over slowing, so we apply throttle (the two should NOT be related in our minds; we will explain); and the third is that drivers work on braking later, but only after they have mastered steps one and two.

Step 1: Identify the Initial Throttle Location
This is a golden rule that our race car coaches focus on.  We tell our drivers the following, “You are not allowed to get to throttle until the apex – until the point you can start to unwind the steering wheel.” To understand why, let’s discuss why drivers apply the throttle before the apex.

Often, drivers feel the car has too much oversteer and the throttle settles the rear. It is true that a little bit of maintenance throttle will settle the rear. There are some cases we want to do this; however, in almost every scenario this will hurt us more than it will help. For most drivers, the oversteer they are trying to fix is actually a good oversteer; we want that oversteer to rotate the car so we have the car pointed in the right direction mid-corner.

Sure, maintenance throttle may make the car feel better, but, you are essentially taking the ceiling of the ultimate amount of grip your car has, or the ultimate amount of entry speed you can bring in while still getting the perfect exit, and significantly lowering it.

We need that weight on the front nose and that rotation to drive at a high level.  So, we would rather focus on learning car control and experiment with the line for where a good level of rotation turns into too much rotation, rather than preventing any rotation from happening at all.

Another reason drivers get to throttle before the apex is they feel they over slowed the entry. This leads us to step 2: Break the bond between over slowing and the need to solve by applying throttle.

Step 2: Break the Bond Between Over Slowing and the Need to Solve by Applying Throttle
We may feel too slow on entry. However, if we apply throttle before the apex, we turned one negative (over slowing) into two negatives while creating a bad habit along the way.  Once we feel we are over slowing while turning into the corner, and we consciously take away the option of going to throttle to fix this issue, then our brain will naturally look for another solution to its problem. The solution you need to make second nature is to methodically gain more entry speed, each lap, until you find the right amount, given the conditions, and adjust from there as appropriate.

Really, step two is to roll more entry speed. Once you have built your discipline of not picking up initial throttle before the apex, you can focus on rolling more entry speed.  The first step of this next process, however, is NOT braking deeper. Focus on braking at the exact same initial spot with the nice threshold pressure early in the brake zone.

First focus on the tail end of the brake zone.  Focus on getting off of the threshold brake pressure earlier. Don’t carry it as deep into the corner. Start to roll off, which will extend your brake zone (to be longer), with less time spent at heavy pressure and more time on light brake pressure at the tail end of the brake zone.  Releasing the brakes should typically be a slow process as we enter the corner.

The following graphic illustrates how many newer racers enter the brake zone, and the ideal brake line (typically). The red line shows the brake zone with an initial hard brake, and a close to rapid release of the brake (which will likely unsettle the balance of the car); the green line shows what drivers’ lines often look like after a session with a Racers360 coach.

Step 3: Brake Deeper, Once Everything is Aligned
The very last thing that we want to see our drivers start to work on is braking later – only once they have mastered steps one and two. Once they have mastered step 2 and still feel like they are over slowing, that is when we focus on braking deeper.

It is important to do this last not only because it creates the highest risk, but because, for lap time, braking deep does not often help us, if we don’t combine it with good entry speed, a good turn in, a good apex, and a good exit. Often, braking too deep when not ready hurts us. Figuring all the rest out first lets us know what it all is supposed to feel like, and we will know if we brake too deep because we won’t execute the rest of the corner how we want to.

So, when race car drivers get to this stage, we teach our drivers to slowly bring their brake zones later and later, lap by lap. Our objective is to get it to the point that we limit our mistakes to small ones, such as:

  • Just missing our turn-in point
  • Too much brake pressure still on after turn-in
  • Locking up the tires during straight line braking (will happen if we are pushing it, but when should be ready)
  • Too much entry speed so we miss the apex or can’t get to throttle where we want to

Once we start making these mistakes, we back up the brake zone slightly (brake earlier) and then we know we are right at the limit!

For More Coaching Tips: Check Out the Racers360 Driver’s Lounge (20% Discount to Mazda Racers)
To help prepare before a given event, all Mazda Team Support Program members will receive a free 7-day trial and a 20% discount to the Racers360 Driver’s Lounge. Through the Lounge, drivers can access video track breakdowns to more than 35 tracks across the U.S., recordings to all Racers360 coach webinars, exclusive partner discounts, and more – here.

About Racers360
Racers360 is an online personal coaching platform for passionate athletes of all levels.  Founded in 2018 by professional race car driver Dion von Moltke and his co-founder Christopher Roberts, Racers360’s accessibility and affordability of online education helps racers improve their racing skills and lap time. Racers360 has an intense selection process for their coaches that curates only the very best on its platform. Racing drivers send in their video or data to be reviewed by these elite coaches. After reviewing the driver’s video or data, the Racers360 coach films an in-depth personal coaching session for that driver using tools like slow motion, annotation, and web cameras to give actionable and specific coaching at a level never seen before.