Handbrake turns are frequently used in rally driving to negotiate tight, lower speed corners and can be useful in a variety of low speed maneuvers and stunts.
This method of turning tight corners relies on the fact that handbrake usually operate on the rear wheels, which lock when it’s pulled on hard. This allows a slide to be induced and a tighter radius or corner will be completed. Note that this method of taking a bend will only be quicker than the conventional racing line if the corner is very tight. Handbrake turns are also a method of inducing oversteer for drifting, and can be used in conjunction with the Scandinavian flick.
How to do a perfect handbrake turn
When practising handbrake turns, it’s best to use a low friction surface to make it easier for the back end to slide and to prolong the life of your tyres. Here’s an overview of the maneuver, which we’ve split into six stages (explained below).
Approach the corner at a reasonably low speed (no more than 30mph is a good rule of thumb, when learning). Use first gear when you’re starting to learn, then try higher gears for complete mastery. Before you turn into the corner, swiftly come off the gas to create a forwards weight transfer and provide maximum grip at the front end – you’ll need this to allow a swift turn in.
Position your hands in a way which allows you to take big bite of the steering wheel and turn in a single fluid motion. A suggested initial hand position to take a left hander and the direction of turn is shown below. If you’re in a left hand drive car, the right hand is optional and vice versa – you’ll need the other hand to operate the hand brake half way through the maneuvers. You’ll find it easier if the hand doing the steering is pulling the wheel rather than pushing it – but it is possible to do the turn in both directions with practice.
Turn in hard in one fluid motion and aim to apex half way round the corner
Simultaneously press the clutch and slam on the handbrake in a rapid and positive motion, ensuring you are holding down the release button to prevent the ratchet engaging – you’ll need to release it just a quickly.This will lock up the rear wheels and induce a slide and start to tighten up the radius of the corner.
As the back of the car comes round, start to take off the steering lock you initially applied. You may need to let the wheel slip through your hand in a controlled way. You need to end up with the wheels pointing in the direction you want to go.
This is the tricky bit – when the car has rotated to the desired amount, release the handbrake, knock into first gear if necessary, and bring out the clutch with enough revs to spin the wheels slightly. This will give you the best possible start in the new direction. Counter steer if necessary if you’ve overcooked the angle.
Pull away using the same throttle technique as the perfect start.
When done correctly, stages 2 to 5 should only take between only two to three seconds – this is a rapid series of fluid motions. When learning this technique, it’s best to practice in a smooth wet grassy field with plenty of room.
- Approaching the corner too slow – this will prevent you from getting the required amount of rotation
- Approaching the corner too fast – this can result in an uncontrolled spin, or understeer preventing you from keeping the required line as you turn in
- Holding the handbrake on for too long – this will make the car rotate further than you wanted
4 thoughts on “Handbrake turn”
I always wanted to learn this trick but with little success. There must be a recommended condition of the car like proper tire pressure, right momentum and good brake kit.
Just like comedy, it all has to do with timing. It’s easiest to practice in bad conditions like wet grass, gravel or snow. Another key is you have to be lightning fast with the wheel and (depending on your drive-train) jerk the handbrake violently. This is one of the few things you do NOT do smoothly when driving. Imagine that you’re using a back and forth motion with the steering wheel. Many people do it with one hand or both hands in the places described in the instruction. I don’t. I use hand over hand, which I do not advise. The reason for me telling you that is when I conduct this maneuver, my hands move so quickly that you (nor I) can not actually see them, and my vision is one fifth that of a bald eagle, twice as good as “perfect vision” (20/20). Since you’re having a hard time, I recommend having one hand (normally left hand) on the wheel and steering with your palm instead of gripping the wheel. The trick is while you’re turning, rip the handbrake at the same time for maybe one to three seconds depend on the turn. Once you’re done overcoming the grip (drifting), if you are still drifting and want to go forward and stop drifting, quickly let off the handbrake, steer in the direction of the skid (opposite of the turn) and then straighten the wheel in one smooth motion. This is what helped me in learning this technique. If you have an older Subaru with AWD, you’ll use the gas pedal instead of the handbrake, although both work. The reason why is because Subaru’s AWD from ’92 to ’01 (at least) are equipped with a rally differential where the rear wheels lock up when you step on the gas 2/3 to 3/4 of the way and more all the way up to WOT (pedal to the metal or wide open throttle) while the front wheels maintain AWD traction control. Don’t beat yourself up. This is a very difficult maneuver to learn and even more difficult to perfect. Try this in a snow covered empty parking lot. After a day of practice, you’ll get it. I learned most of my driving from Ken Block and in snow-covered parking lots with lots of studying. As a final note, you CAN NOT get too good at driving. Even if you’re the best driver in the world, you can always be better. Don’t stop learning and don’t stop practicing. Every time you get in the car, even if you’re going to the grocery store, imagine that you’re in class and everything you see, hear, and feel, as well as the outcomes and your reactions (including emotions and bodily responses) are your lesson, your lecture, and your textbook. Do that every time you drive, and you will always improve and you will end up a great driver. Some of the best drivers have had the worst accidents. Some of the worst drivers have a clean license (although not usually). Question everything, especially yourself and do not be afraid of your limits. As you test your limits, you will eventually exceed them. Safe and happy driving!
I’m curious to know how one would handle Stage 3 with an automatic vehicle. My best guess would be to quickly shift to Neutral right before the apex? I haven’t put the idea to practice, but wondering if anyone can chime on this.
Hi Chris – with an auto and front-wheel drive, it should be fine to keep it in D. For rear or four-wheel drive it can depend on the car – but again it can be fine to leave it in D just like you do when slowing to a halt normally – it can be tricky to shift to N accurately and you might end up in reverse!