By learning to carry your braking all the way to the apex — a technique known as trail-braking — you can reinforce the lesson that you should only begin to reapply the throttle at the apex, when you can begin to unwind the wheel.

As our pro coaches at Racers360 continue to work one on one with more and more drivers of different experience levels, one thing has become quite clear: The majority of drivers are taught some incorrect techniques during their first few events on track.

Most of the time these incorrect lessons are purposely taught in the name of safety. At Racers360, we believe this is doing an injustice to new drivers and hurting their ability to progress long term. Here we will state what is being taught wrong and how we believe it should in fact be taught to continue to maximize safety for beginners, while not causing drivers to form long-lasting bad habits on the racetrack.

So, What is Taught Wrong?

By far the most common mistake we see amateur racecar drivers making revolves around where they are picking up the throttle. The majority of the drivers we work with are picking up the throttle at varying points sometime between turn-in and before the apex, far earlier than they should be.

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The root cause of this problem stems two separate lessons that when combined cause bad habits:

1) We must brake in a straight line.
2) You always want to be either on the brakes or on the throttle.

That second point is true in the right context, but this is something drivers need to build toward being able to do correctly. The second point is also less of a lesson than a phrase everyone often hears spoken about everywhere in the paddock or on the Internet.

There are more important foundations that we must build with our driver before they are ready to start working on always being on one pedal or the other. When a drivers hear that phrase too early, they will start to combine it with the only way they have been taught to brake, in a straight line. That is exactly what leads into the single most common error for drivers: picking up initial throttle too early.

There is no question that the intentions of above lessons are good, especially for the nonracers who are out at the track for pure enjoyment and self-improvement. We all want beginners to be safe on track, and taking away trail-braking for drivers who don’t have the correct feel or car control does reduce risk. However, we do not believe drivers should be taught something actually incorrect when they are first starting their on-track education. Or, to state it further, we need to do a better job letting drivers know that straight-line only braking is a short-term technique that is incorrect and will be changed when they are ready to make that progression.

The most important time in everyone’s learning journey in our sport is that first year on the racetrack. That is where good and bad habits are formed, and once they are formed, they can take years to break.

What Are Those More Important Foundations?
Early in the education process for drivers, there are a few critical things that should be focused on:
— Where to be looking on the racetrack.
— Correct seating position.
— Correct initial brake application.
— Correct to slightly late apex spots.
— Correct turn-in points.
— Correct initial throttle application spot.

Almost all HPDE and racing schools do a fantastic job on almost all of these. We believe problem areas revolve around “braking in a straight line” and that final bullet point.

I think any experienced driver will know braking is not solely a straight-line activity, so when we teach it initially, we need to be more transparent with beginner drivers. Building up to the perfect braking technique is a multistep process, and we should be clear with drivers from the very start that what will be taught will change as they progress.

In the classroom before their very first session, we believe it should be taught in the following way:

Heavy braking is a straight-line technique, but braking is not exclusively done in a straight line. Our end goal will be to slowly start releasing heavy brake pressure before our turn-in, holding onto the brakes past the turn-in point and continuing to slowly reduce brake pressure until we are finally off of them as we approach the apex point.

The brake lights should still be on in this photo because the driver should reapply the throttle at least until the apex when he can start unwinding the steering wheel.

However, to begin your first day we are going to be braking in a straight line only. This is part of the process toward building you all into excellent racecar drivers. Before we can build-in your trail-braking technique, we must first perfect a few more important points.”

That is where our last bullet point comes in. The area where drivers should start picking up initial throttle is not focused on enough. Having our drivers really build the discipline to tell themselves, “I am not allowed to pick up the throttle until I am ready to start unwinding the steering wheel” needs to become a critical teaching point on day one in all driver educational programs.

We believe that should be taught in the following way:
“Some of you already may have heard this following belief and if you haven’t you will soon, “racecar drivers always need to be either on the throttle or the brakes.” We want to tackle this one head on with you right away. This statement is not incorrect, but if you start working on this before you are ready, it will cause you to form bad habits.

Early on, while we are working on building a strong brake application and building your initial throttle-application-spot discipline, we want you to actually have long coast periods while on track. Always being on the throttle or brakes is the fast way to drive for the majority of corners only when it is combined with a correct initial brake technique, trail-brake technique, and initial throttle-application technique. When drivers focus on this more advanced lesson too early, they will lose their strong foundation on these more important items. So, yes in the beginning we won’t be teaching you the ultimate best way to drive on the racetrack, but we will build you toward it. It is OK and encouraged to have long coast periods in the beginning”

This allows drivers to see the full picture and puts an emphasis on the correct building blocks. It is not a big change from what is currently taught but the difference between, “braking should be done in a straight line” and “heavy braking should be done in a straight line” with a description of what they will eventually be working on makes a huge difference on the overall lesson.

To summarize how Racers360 believes beginner drivers should be taught with regard to these issues:
— To start out, we will only be braking in a straight line. As you get ready for turn-in, we want to be coming off the brakes, looking through the corner and coasting.
— Eventually, we do want to extend our brake zone past turn-in all the way down to the apex, but before we get there we need to build our foundations first.
— We want to wait until we can start opening our hands on corner exit before picking up the throttle application.
— That means even if you feel way too slow after turning in, we will not use the throttle to cure that over-slowing issue. We build the discipline to tell yourself, “I am not allowed to pick up the throttle until I can start to unwind the steering wheel.” We will correct that over slowing issue later on when we are ready to focus on trail-braking.

Here we are being clear with our eventual goals, so that drivers know right away where we want to get to. But, we present that lesson in a way that breaks it down into steps, without forming long-lasting bad habits.
New drivers on a track need small snippets of information to work on. Their senses are overwhelmed and we want them to focus on the correct items initially.

They will know up front they will be coasting, but that is not the eventual goal, and it is something we will work on eventually. They will naturally focus less on that section of the corner and be able to focus much more on that initial hit of the brakes and where we want to pick up the throttle. Only once they have perfected and built the correct habits on both of those will we be ready to focus on the back end of the brake zone and how to trail-brake.

You will see nothing we have written about here is revolutionary, instead is a question surrounding priority of lessons for beginner racecar drivers and transparency in teaching. Where we pick up initial throttle needs a much higher priority and we need to be up front with students and tell them that braking is not a straight-line-only activity, but to begin that is what we want you to do.

Typically, the straight-line braking is taught to keep things as simple and as low-risk as possible. There is nothing wrong with those intentions, but that should not get in the way of teaching the correct technique. In fact, it is actually putting drivers indirectly at a higher risk as they start to want to drive faster with incorrect techniques.

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Image courtesy of Brett Becker

2 COMMENTS

  1. In addition to being a difficult read filled with painful time wasting redundancies, the inexperienced interpretation of race physics is as flawed as “Braking only in a straight line”. Even good DE’s teach trail breaking, but don’t advise it until your skill level is mastered in other areas. For a beginner, thats the last place to find more speed and that has always been good advice for obvious reasons. To go one step further, some will never have the skill to master trail braking correctly, and some can understand and apply it well in their first 3 day school. However, teaching a student to coast is a good example of instilling bad habits. A great driver doesn’t treat all turns as the textbook example you use to degrade the rest of the industry, a great driver evaluates the corners for how to drive them for the fastest lap. Lets use Road Atlanta for example, and even more specific, using a MX5 like in your picture. Turn 6 has camber so its faster than it looks and the straight after the turn is very short so the exit speed is less important than entry speed. This is an example where you want to “risk” 100% of your tire grip by keeping your speed up and trail braking all the way to apex with about 11% slip if your skilled enough to do it consistently. Still grab an instant of full throttle while focusing your eyes forward to T7 where you need to master the perfect brake point, turn in, throttle application point and smooth squeeze of that throttle while still hitting the apex. The difference between going to throttle at apex and squeezing the throttle to be full throttle at apex is some of the difference between your times and the leaders. See, trail braking in T7 to carry more speed through the tightest and shortest corner on the track might gain you a tenth of a second at best in this corner, but since its the turn before the longest straight, that trilbreaking technique will lose you over a second on the long and free back stretch. But than you can tell all your buddies that you took T7 faster than the guy in front of you and he just pulled away so he must have a cheater car… when in fact he understands the physics and has the discipline to implement what he knows. T10A is another good place to trail brake to the apex but not take it so fast that you exit hurts your approach to T10B, T10B is another place that trail baking would be disastrous. If your not full throttle at the apex or before, you are not winning in a competitive class. If your trail braking in T1 to the apex at the bottom of a steep long hill in a momentum car, you are leaving valuable time on the track. I shouldn’t even get into T5 because that’s not as known or as simple as the others, but if you wait to transition the weight rearward at the apex, you have already compressed the front suspension up the drastic uphill and its too late to apply throttle well because the rear is light, if you grab a little early brake (assuming you are full throttle from T3), you can go to throttle early and transfer weight to the rear before the abrupt grade change that will balance the car out to carry more speed through that section. Again full throttle by apex.

  2. Great discussion on a very complicated topic. Teaching novice HPDE students to achieve most of their braking in a straight line removes a tremendous amount of risk, considering many are struggling with basic concepts of driving the line. I’ll work on trail-braking vs coasting only when I feel it is safe for my student to do so, but always tell students that is the goal. Going into corners too hot is the #1 cause of offs for lower-level drivers that have little to no recovery skills. Ask me how I know. 🙂

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