Hawk Performance has provided brake pads, rotors, and fluid for a wide range of street and motorsport applications for the last 32 years. Perhaps best known for its extremely successful DTC pads, Hawk has learned how to serve its customer base with exhaustive product testing, race support, and receptive engineers who can address specific shortcomings in a brake pad’s construction. With grassroots endurance racing’s recent surge in popularity, Hawk took this comprehensive approach to develop a new pad meant for the long haul.
Endurance racing offers ambitious track-day drivers and autocrossers a way to dip their toes into the wheel-to-wheel pool. Many times, a team has a rental seat available, which is a way for less-experienced drivers to sample wheel-to-wheel racing and determine, with a clear head and without much strain, whether this format is for them.
Obviously, this means that the range of driving styles and levels of talent vary somewhat in this rapidly growing collection of enthusiasts, so Hawk had to take those two factors into consideration when laying out the objectives for Project Halo, as it was known in its formative days.
Being Hawk’s first endurance-specific semi-metallic pad, the company wanted to establish the sort of foundation that would ensure no stone was left unturned. In the beginning of 2019, Hawk’s Program and Marketing Manager John Butler began gathering the resources needed to do an exceptionally versatile endurance pad justice.
It began with a team of three compound engineers. These three were dedicated exclusively to the project, and their focus paid off. With efficiency rarely experienced in peaceful and prosperous times, let alone during periods thwarted by a pandemic, they finished the product in roughly two years.
Things truly kicked off when their compound engineers retrieved a full metallic pad that had been used successfully at the 24 Hours of Daytona nearly a decade before. After assessing that pad’s flaws and finding ways to increase brake torque, they laid out a list of objectives prioritizing wear rate, thermal capacity, and modulation — in that order.
Rather than try to modify the old endurance pad, they started with a clean sheet. The size of the potential customer base justified the additional expense. Hawk came up with a composition not using any existing Hawk compounds, and the company aimed for performance criteria that did not mirror those they had sought in the past.
It was clear from the start that the most obvious difference between the Hawk ER-1 and rival pads was its torque. Most of the competitors’ endurance-oriented pads offered similar wear rates and thermal capacity, but the ER-1 had already demonstrated as much as 20 percent more torque on Hawk’s 13 dynos. With a torque rating roughly 15 percent shy of the sprint-oriented DTC-60’s rating, they were confident when it came time to move past the simulation and begin testing the pad with a variety of different vehicles.
The first round of test vehicles were common platforms used in amateur endurance racing. With treaded tires and little in the way of wings or diffusers, these Mazda MX-5’s and BMW E36’s and E46’s helped set a grassroots baseline.
“Beat the crap out of ‘em,” Butler urged the drivers. All returned thrilled with the outright stopping power, though the praise was coupled with a few critiques. Some carped about trail-braking, a couple expected more modulation, and a few felt the fade resistance wasn’t quite what they had hoped for. With the drivers’ feedback noted, Butler and his team drove back to Cleveland and began refining this promising pad.
Compound engineers addressed these imperfections by altering the mix. In doing so, they had to try to solve the issues presented by the test drivers, all while considering the attendant setbacks, since the final mix must meet the established criteria with minimal compromise. With the supply chain limiting development, a couple of mulligans were necessary. Undaunted, the team kept their heads high and plodded on even after having to take two steps backward to proceed.
Soon after, the engineers were able to breathe easily because the latest testing had revealed a serious edge. Compared to most pads of similar peak torque ratings, the ER-1’s use range was supremely broad. It would perform equally from 400 degrees Fahrenheit to 1,400 degrees Fahrenheit.
That urged Hawk to step up the testing demands with a thoroughbred racing car. After encouraging simulation runs using the pad with an LMP3 at the tough-on-consumables Daytona International Speedway, they tried it in the real world.
Because of the rudimentary nature of this car, the braking characteristics were as clear and transparent as they would ever be. They could not be masked by ABS. If there were any shortcomings with the latest mix, they would be exposed.
“An LMP3 car’s capabilities will test the limits of a brake pad material and show any imperfections more clearly than a production car will,” Butler said. In the case of the slick-shod prototype, the brakes are subjected to the additional mechanical grip, as well as the aerodynamic grip. Understandably, it’s not easy finishing 40 grueling hours of testing in which each lap involves two hard stops from more than 170 mph.
If there was one issue with this test, it was that there was a possibility that the professionals might not be fazed by a cold temperature performance or a lack of feel that would concern the typical hobbyist. That said, these professionals would have the talent to push these brakes to their absolute limit.
The professionals all finished the test without a single complaint.
After such an auspicious outing, Hawk gave serious thought to running the pad at last year’s Rolex 24, but a major revision to the once-open brake regulations just days before the event made that impossible.
To make sure the grassroots base would be completely confident in these new pads, the final phase of the ER-1’s development was done in amateur endurance racing. The result was improved versatility, making the ER-1 even more usable in a variety of conditions.
That marked the end of the ER-1’s rigorous development. The new pad had appeased the enthusiastic amateur and the hyper-discerning professional, would work on a wide range of vehicles, and last the length of an endurance weekend—even in a car with real downforce and slicks.
With all those boxes checked, Hawk was confident it had created something special. After Hawk unveiled the ER-1 at last year’s SEMA Show to a delighted crowd, the company was sure it had made the right decision. Clearly, the endurance racing world had been hoping for something like the ER-1 for some time.