Everything you need to know about brakes and track days

CAT Driver Training Brakes & Track Days BlogIf you’re even slightly into cars, automotive engineering, track days or motor racing – you’ll know that not all brake systems on cars are created equally. But there’s far more to good brake performance than your choice of discs and pads and in this article, we’re going to explore how you can get the very best out of your braking system if you’re off for a day at the track.

First things first…

Whether you’re a newcomer to the track or a track day regular, having a safe and reliable car is paramount to your driving experience. If you’re not able to fully trust your braking system when you’re driving round a track, your confidence will be questioned every time you prepare for a corner resulting in a challenging, stressful and (most importantly) dangerous driving experience. Before every track day, get your brakes serviced and ensure all components are in good order:

  • Discs and pads should be in first class condition with pads no more than 25% worn
  • Your brake fluid should ideally be changed to a racing fluid. This has a higher boiling point and will maintain pedal pressure and effectiveness for longer
  • Remove the rubber brake hoses and replace them with stainless steel braided hoses. They are relatively inexpensive and give you a firmer, more reliable brake pedal. The braided hose will not expand and contract like its rubber equivalent, making brake modulation more instinctive and effective

Warming up and Cooling down

Your braking system is what determines literally, whether you live or die when you’re behind the wheel so show your brakes some love. Warm up laps are critical if you don’t want to stress your brake components. They also provide valuable learning and confidence building time. Failing to warm up effectively on your track day will lead to:

  • Warped discs
  • Overheated pads that may never recover from the cold shock, this can lead to premature wear, reduced performance for the life of the pad, and the disintegration of the pad material when hot
  • Glazed discs and pads, the glazing will reduce performance and may lead to localised hot spots and overheating

The reverse is true when finishing a session; allow the car to cool down at half speed for at least a lap. The discs and pads can glow red when up to temperature and you need to dissipate that heat with the air that rushes around, under and over the car on your cool down lap.

The Main Event

So you’ve had your brakes serviced, you’ve fitted some basic track day braking components and you’ve warmed the breaking system up nicely. What else should you take into consideration?

Well, for a novice, that might be enough to give you a safe and enjoyable session on the track but as your speed builds, you may need to consider a performance based brake pad as well. The organic materials used to create brake pads are more aggressive in a track pad when compared to its road-based counterpart. In performance pads, the metallic (and sometimes carbon ceramic) elements are designed to accept the higher temperatures generated when circuit driving. That means you’ll get the optimum braking performance for longer and an extended lifespan when compared to an ordinary road brake pad.

With performance based pads, there’s a wide range of choice and price points to consider. Carbon/Ceramic content will raise the price considerably, offering longer life and improved braking for the life of the pad when compared to ordinary organic materials. The established brands offer excellent products. They work through a variety of heat ranges and have differing characteristics so it’s important to choose a pad that’s fit for purpose. Light cars vs heavy cars. Sprint racing vs endurance racing. Track day vs race day. Each one puts different loads and different pressures on the braking system and you’ll need to find pads with specific compounds to match these unique requirements if you want to truly optimise your braking system. Do your research to ensure you have the right pad for the job. The feel and feedback will vary from one manufacturer to another. If you favour trail braking for example there are pads that are designed and formulated specifically to aid that technique.

Bedding in

Once you’ve fitted your performance pads, they will require a period of bedding in. In effect, you need to transfer the new pad material onto the disc. With this layer of the brake pad material coated on to the disc, your brake pads will work effectively as they were designed to. Miss or ignore the bedding in process and your track day may be short lived.

Modern super cars are typically fitted with carbon brakes by the manufacturer and these will be more than adequate in their standard form to deal with the challenges of a track day. But I do have a word of advice for the unwary. A key property of carbon ceramic brakes is that they cool very quickly. Even if you bring your brakes up to operating temperature over a session, it only takes a few corners getting held up behind a slower car for your brakes to cool below the optimum operating window. This can result in some heart stopping moments the next time you go to brake at speed… and yes, I am speaking from experience so take the time to learn your car and your brake behaviour.

Hint and tips

Here’s a few more quick tips to help you get the most out of your braking system.

  • Don’t sit with your foot on the brake pedal in the pit lane when the brakes are hot. The heat from the brakes will transfer into the brake fluid and degrade the fluid quicker
  • Have the handbrake off and the vehicle in gear when the car is stationary
  • Check your pads regularly through the day to monitor wear rates, you need good brakes to drive home safely
  • Iron/steel discs should be a petrol blue colour painted consistently and evenly across the face of the disc. This indicates good thermal dissipation and means the brakes are working in the correct heat range and not overheating
  • If the disc is black or many differing shades of blue you may be overheating the disc and the pad
  • Carbon brakes, if maintained at the correct temperature will maintain their mottled blue/grey colour
  • Brake pad material will smell when hot – that’s normal but smoking pads can be an indication they are over heating so if this is happening on the track, it’s time for a cool down
  • If the brake pedal begins to travel further the fluid could be over-heating. Again, it’s time for a cool down
  • Effective threshold braking will induce less heat into the disc and pad when compared to a driver who brakes earlier and longer
  • Understanding the subtleties of effective braking techniques can save you money over time. Less pads and discs purchased and longer intervals between brake services

If you’ve enjoyed this article on brakes, why not check out some of the other posts on our blog and obviously, don’t hesitate to contact us if would like to explore how we can help improve your driving skills on the track.

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