Featured image: BTCC
Occasionally you spend some time away from the simulator. Certainly, in my case and with other commitments, I sometimes find I’ve lost several weeks, if not more, since my last sim session.
What I’ve found is the longer I’m away, the more work I need to do to “get my eye in”. Really I mean, revising the fundamentals to get your technique back on the pace. And usually, the main thing I need to concentrate on is braking.
What is good brake technique?
Using your vision as a guide, braking at a well-chosen reference point on the circuit ready to slow the car as efficiently as possible, using the maximum limit of available grip. Braking at the threshold (see more about threshold braking here) all the way to the apex is definitely an art – the best drivers in the world use this technique to their full advantage.
Knowing how to brake
Knowing how to brake or where in the corner phase to brake can make or break (see what I did there) your lap times. Most drivers will agree that almost all of their lap time is found inefficient, hard, late braking maintaining a car that is under control but slowing down precisely to the apex of a corner. Initial brake pressure is high (at max, depending on the type of corner), but as you approach the apex you are lifting off the brakes, reducing the pressure, helping the car to rotate (turn) ready to get back on the power at the apex of the corner.
What type of corner are you dealing with?
Is it a high-speed, medium-speed, or hairpin corner? What does the radius look like?
When it comes to getting ready for a corner, first of all, you need to know what type of a corner you’ll be negotiating, because the brake technique and line will differ depending on the “radius” of the corner.
For a corner with a large radius, like a 90-degree right-hander, you’ll be applying less brake pressure than you might do when approaching a smaller radius corner, such as a hairpin. As you know, approaching a hairpin is a bigger stop. You’re applying more brake pressure in the braking zone.
Critically, the apex moves depending on the corner, which fundamentally affects your vision – where you’re looking.
The different stages of braking
As we approach the corner, our first job should be to identify a reference point. A reference point is something in your peripheral vision. A marking on the barrier at the side of the track, like a marshall post or a brake distance board is the usual go-to for reference points.
Some circuits have very little in the way of reference points, of course – so you can sometimes use a landmark just slightly off track. There might be a white line on the circuit or even a bump that you feel through the car, shortly before you arrive at the initial brake point.
Brake at the reference point
Once you arrive at your reference point, it’s time to get on the brakes! In the sim, some cars can take immediate pressure to max – aero cars particularly. Others need just a gentle introduction to the brakes first, before applying maximum pressure. This is something I’ve found while driving the Porsche 911 GT3 R – If you just jump on the brake pedal, it triggers ABS, which isn’t the most efficient way to slow the car. But, if you apply a small initial pressure, followed by maximum pressure, the ABS doesn’t interfere.
How much brake pressure to apply?
Bu the question of how much brake pressure to apply is an important one. Your goal is to slow your car down in the shortest amount of time possible, without over-slowing the car for the corner. Harder braking means you lose less time on the approach to a corner, as anyone who has followed a car who is less confident on the brakes can attest – you feel like you’re being held up by the car in front!
The answer is to try to improve this process on every lap. If you feel like you came off the brakes early and allowed your car to coast to the apex (applying no braking but waiting for the car to be turned enough to get on the throttle) then you need to brake a little bit later on the next lap. If you missed the corner completely and went into the barrier, you might want to try braking a bit earlier on the next lap!
Using your vision on approach
Approaching a hairpin, use maximum pressure from your reference point, gently trailing off the brakes as you approach the apex. Trail braking means gradually reducing the pressure on the brakes as smoothly as you can. This prevents you from sending shocks through the chassis that might imbalance the car and make it slide, but it also helps you transition to turning (rotating) the car while still slowing it down.
As soon as you’ve hit the braking point, your vision is key – move your eyes to the apex of the corner as you approach. As soon as you’ve spotted the apex and you’re trailing off the brakes, move your vision to the corner exit.
So, by the time you’ve arrived at the apex you’ve used your vision to identify the exit point of the corner, you’ve completed the trail braking phase and the car has rotated enough at the apex that you’re ready to use the maximum available throttle.
Medium and high speed corners
While the technique is actually the same, you don’t have to use maximum braking for every corner!
In fact, a higher speed corner might need to tiniest brake pressure to move the weight transfer to the front of the car. This simply gives the car more grip at the front which helps you stay on the line all the way through. Mastering high-speed corners are very much about knowing how little brake pressure to use – again, try to move the brake point later and later.