Trail-braking is an advanced style for braking on a track. Braking creates a forward weight transfer, which gives more grip to the front tires and ultimately generate more adhesion. A small portion of this adhesion will be used for the sake of decelerating the car, but most of it can be used to aid in steering the car more effectively. The problem is that too much braking (a common mistake) can cause several issues:
- Increase of chance for oversteer: Due to an exaggerated weight transfer to the front, the rear-tires may lose grip, and result in mild oversteer.
- Increase of understeer: Beyond a certain point, braking will eat more adhesion than what it gives. The idea is that braking creates a weight transfer that increases grip by putting more weight on the front tires, making the tire contact patch larger. This amount of grip can generate a very large amount of adhesion for steering, and only a small precent of it is being used to slow down the car. If you brake too hard, you will put excessive pressure on the tire and damper. This hinders the tire’s ability to follow the road surface or to deal with different forces acting upon it.
- Excessive braking: You will simply slow down too much.
However, if you brake just lightly you will get the advantage of:
- Braking deeper in to the turn, therefore being able to brake later on the straight.
- Rotating the car: Reduction of understeer by giving the front tires more grip and adhesion.
- Inducing neutral handling: With experience, the driver would be able to brake into the turn-in, make the rear-end loose, immediately take off pressure on the brakes and most of the steering input (without counter steering) and apply light acceleration to drag the car around the corner and steer it with the pedals. A slight amount of neutral handling is the ideal manner of cornering.
It’s always recommended to brake lightly into the turn-in (“brake turning”), but with skill, you will manage to continue braking the car through the first half of the corner, and thus delay braking on the straight even further. It’s highly recommended, yet it requires skill and therefore is an advanced technique that is only adopted later on. It’s not too hard to achieve, though, and use it (once you’ve mastered the racing line) around sharp and slow corners, where it is both more beneficial and easier. With skill, you could also use trail braking with your left foot at medium-speed corners (left foot braking) with the right foot covering the accelerator.
Once you finish braking, you can move to neutral throttle, and then to progressive acceleration (just before the apex). Neutral or balanced throttle is when the driver only feathers or covers the throttle, applying just enough power to keep the car at a constant speed, not accelerating nor decelerating. It’s best used in a rear-wheel drive. This should not be mistaken with “trailing throttle,” which refers to lifting-off of the throttle at the corner entry (technique used in slalom courses) or mid-corner, which is not recommended.
Throttle maintenance means keeping the power down through the corner, and “breathing the throttle” means steering the car with the amount of power rather than the steering lock.
If you trail brake and end-up oversteering, you can straighten the wheel while locking up the wheels. Then, ease off of the brakes to a pressure slightly lower than before and counter steer as necessary. This should get the car through the corner without reducing your braking effort significantly.
Sometimes once you initiate the sequence of trail braking and are about to reach the apex, it often requires lifting off of the brakes and applying the throttle slightly to avoid oversteer, lift-off again before the apex and back on as you apex.
Some racing schools maintain the mantra of finishing all your braking in a straight line, but lately, a great portion of the greater and more prestigious racing schools are beginning to adopt brake-turning and trail-braking into their guidance.
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