Q: “Years ago I did a coached track day at Spa-Francorchamps where the coach encouraged me to brake gently to ‘stabilize the car’ during the weight transfer in a quick ‘right-left’ sequence (the corners between the long downhill double-left of Pouhon and the 90-degree right of Campus – corners sometimes called ‘Fagnes’). I found this puzzling at the time and dismissed it as it didn’t seem to fit my ‘mental model’ of smooth weight transfer – why would you want to move the weight/mass from the left, to the front, then to the right? Instead I concentrated on just trying to give the car a short piece of ‘straight’ between the corners so the weight didn’t go directly from the left to the right – I left the braking bit out. Recently I was re-watching the DVD ‘Drive to Win’ filmed at Mt Tremblant circuit, and again the coach was mentioning a left-right sequence where you should brake between the bends to ‘stabilize the car’ and I wondered… is there ever any reason why you would want to do this? Does engaging the brake pads with the discs give any sort of stabilizing effect?”
A: Having driven both those circuits, I know what the coaches were suggesting. I think it might be a bit of a miscommunication, really. I think what they’re suggesting is to give a slight amount of brake to load the front of the car to help it be more responsive to the change in direction. In most cars that I’ve driven in these sections of track, there doesn’t need to be a brake, but there is likely to be a quick (but smooth) throttle lift to transfer a bit of weight forward. Keep in mind that sometimes an instructor will tell a driver to do something to keep them at a safe pace, and then leave it to the driver to figure out when they’re ready to go faster by pushing beyond what the instructor said. The Drive to Win video was aimed at fairly inexperienced drivers, so getting them to slow just a bit in between the left and right keeps them safer.
Having said that, does braking help stabilize the car? Only by slowing it slightly, and loading the front of the car to help it change direction. But it can make it worse by unloading the rear, and that can lead to unwanted oversteer. So, it’s not the act of engaging the brakes, but just the management of weight transfer.