Trail braking is an advanced technique used to balance a car when entering a corner and to maintain as much grip as possible at the front wheels.
Word of caution – if you’re new to driving on the track, this probably isn’t a technique to try immediately. Get it wrong and you’re likely to lose control on the corner by carrying in too much speed.
Braking is one of the strongest forces to act on the car – when you hit the brake pedal the weight of the car is thrown forward reducing both the grip available at the rear and the amount of steering force the front tyres can accept. However when used delicately, the brakes can be used advantageously to add grip to the front wheels and help turn into a corner at greater speeds.
What is trail braking?
Trail braking means maintaining gentle braking pressure as you turn into a corner. When done properly it allows the driver to brake slightly later into a corner and potentially gain an advantage on the track. You need to be fairly familiar with your car and even then it requires a lot of practice to get right.
Stages of trail braking
We can split trail braking into a few stages:
- Brake in a straight line using maximum deceleration
- Ease off the brakes before turn in
- Turn into the corner
- Reduce braking force as steering angle increases
- Balance the car through the corner
Scrub off as much speed as you can as you approach the bend before you turn in. Wise not to brake later than usual until you’re feeling confident. As you get close to the turn in point begin to reduce the pressure on the brakes as smoothly as you can – you don’t want jerky weight transitions at this point or you’ll ruin the composure of the car.
As you turn in, focus on the apex and turn the steering smoothly. As you wind on the steering lock smoothly reduce the pressure on the brake pedal – remember that if you’re braking you reduce the amount of grip available for steering.
When you’re at the point of maximum steering angle you want to be off the brakes or just using a feather-like touch. At the apex you should usually be off the brakes completely ready to accelerate out of the bend.
How does trail braking improve your lap times?
Trail braking is about extracting everything from the grip of the tyres – the finest drivers will be near the limits of grip throughout each corner without losing control. Trail braking is a skill for those wanting to extract another 1% from their lap times, but it can work reliably if you’re prepared to work on finesse. Ensuring the tyres are working their hardest throughout each corner is one of the best ways to win races. Maximising the use of available grip means more speed can be carried through bends, and higher exit speeds achieved.
When to use trail braking?
This technique is best used on slower, tighter corners when you need to turn the car through more of an angle before getting on the gas. In fast bends, there’s no need to trail brake as much as momentum is more of a priority. Trail braking can be used in a racing context if you’re been forced to brake later, or if you don’t have an ideal position on the track – this can be helpful to maintain position. Ultimately you need to learn how your car reacts to trail braking and if it fits with your driving style. As you improve much more of the decisions you make will be based on intuition as you become more connected to the car, and more familiar with the circuit.
Another good reason to try trail braking can be to correct any inherent understeer your car or setup may have – if you find the front pushing wide into a corner, it might be worth hanging onto the brakes for a bit longer and see if that solves the issue.
Trail braking is an advanced track driving technique – it requires experience and skill to be used effectively but once mastered can put you at the top of the class.