Q: When should I trail brake & when shouldn’t I?

Q: “Through the years I was taught trail braking and using the rotation of the car to aid in getting through the turn. Everything has worked well for me until I had a professional driver and coach sit right seat. This pro driver suggested all the braking be done prior to entering the corner and be sure the vehicle is settled well in advance of the corner. We were able to implement this technique and see positive results. I would classify it as a medium speed corner but that may be because it’s at the end of the front straight and I’m hard on the brakes. Now I’m confused.  I have two different approaches to driving and want to continue building my skill set, however, I want to solidify and build on a technique that is safe. What are your thoughts?”

A: As a general guideline, trail braking in slower corners is a good thing, and being off the brakes at turn-in in fast corners is a good thing. In other words, trail brake in slower corners that reward rotating the car more, and don’t trail brake in faster corners where keeping the car balanced (flat, with little to no weight transfer) results in more overall traction. In a medium-speed corner… well, it depends. When you said the coach told you not to trail brake, that’s something that I can’t recommend in all corners, just like I can’t recommend trail braking in all corners.

Why it was a positive for you, that’s a good question. Could it be that you were trail braking too much, and by thinking about finishing all your braking before turn-in that you reduced it – and perhaps you didn’t eliminate the trail braking entirely?

Something else to think about… Sometimes a driver will over-slow the car by trail braking. By hanging on the brake pedal too long, deliberately trying to trail brake, your corner entry speed is now too low. Obviously, that costs you lap time – as does something else I call the Change-in-Speed problem (a topic for another day, or one that I talk about in this YouTube video).

What I do know for a fact is that finishing your braking before turn-in is not something that works in every corner. In fact, it is the exception to the rule, meaning it works far less often than does using some trail braking. Show me one fast driver who does all their braking in a straight line before the corner. I don’t know of one. There are some who are fairly fast, but not one who is really fast.

When to trail brake, and when not to? This is one of those discussions that comes up time after time… And it’s a good one! But a general guideline is this: The more you need to change direction (rotate the car, such as in a slow corner), the more you need to trail brake; the less you need to change direction (such as in a long, fast corner), the less you should trail brake. Understand that every time you turn in with absolutely no trail braking, your tires are spending some amount (even a minute amount) of time at less than 100% of their capabilities.

1 Comment

  1. One thing I see as a club instructor is waiting too late to brake and then carrying too much speed in the slow corners. This is displayed in the paddock by the front tire outer shoulder. There is a difference in trail braking and too much speed and weight transfer at turn in.

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