Q: “What’s the preferred method of braking in a lightly-modified car (i.e., track brake pads and 200 tread wear tires)? Should an advanced driver engage full ABS or try to utilize threshold braking? I sense that my utilization of threshold braking is leaving too much stopping power on the table.”
A: That depends so much on the car. If you’re driving, let’s say, a Porsche GT3, or something like that, just stand on the pedal and let the ABS do its thing. If you’re driving a car with ABS that is not as refined as that, you might be better off staying (mostly) just inside the activation of the ABS. In those cars, the ABS is not as effective, so it could lengthen your stopping/slowing distance. But I qualified that by saying “mostly” because if you do get into the ABS just a bit, it’s not a terrible thing. In most modern cars, if you get slightly into the ABS, it’s better than not applying enough pressure.
Without knowing the ABS that your car has, I’d start by testing it. Make your initial application of the brakes hard – activate the ABS – then hold there until you get to around the turn-in point, and gradually release them. How did that feel? Could you now shorten up your brake zone because you over-slowed the car (the hard initial application and holding the pedal down slowed the car more than usual)? Okay, then you learned something.
If you felt that that ABS caused the brake zone to lengthen – you didn’t slow as quickly as you usually do with threshold braking – then you learned something, too.
Again, the great thing about having ABS is that you can’t do too much wrong! That worst case scenario is that you might lengthen your brake zone, meaning that you enter the corner a bit faster than usual. You can’t lock up the brakes, so go for it – test the ABS and learn.
In my experience, many drivers do not apply hard enough braking when they first get on them. The initial application is not hard enough. If you have ABS, just pound the brake pedal as hard as you can, knowing that nothing bad is going to happen. You might learn that you can brake much later because you weren’t applying enough initial pressure. I know you’ve been told to drive smoothly, but the initial application of the brakes is not one of the places where you have to be super-smooth. Get on the brakes!
Having said all that, when approaching faster corners where you don’t need to brake a lot, try braking lighter. Yes, don’t brake as hard as you can. The goal here is to maintain a balanced platform to maximize corner entry grip and speed. But that’s topic for another day…