How to use the brakes

It might sound counterintuitive, but to go fast you need to learn to slow down

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If you want to go fast, use your brakes. While that might sound counterintuitive, finding real speed requires understanding the relationship between the brakes and the throttle. Mastering how they affect the balance and grip of the car is key to carrying more speed into and out of the corner.

Rally driving occurs on an ever-changing dynamic surface, requiring an array of techniques and disciplines. It’s not just all about how hard you commit to the noise-maker pedal.

It is important to remember that you can only go as fast as the traction allows. A car’s ability to accelerate, brake, and steer is limited by the traction available between the tires and the surface.

With the loose surfaces seen in rally, there is very little traction available naturally. So, if the tires are asked to accelerate or brake, they will have even less traction to steer.

This is where the idea of using weight transfer comes into play. Weight transfer is the art of moving the weight of the vehicle around to give a set of tires grip or take away grip depending on the scenario. This manipulation of the car’s weight balance can be used to ‘create’ more grip in the tires than there would be naturally.

For example, when we brake, the car dives forward putting more weight onto the front tires pushing them into the loose surface enhancing their grip.

Conversely, if we accelerate, the car sits back on the rear tires giving them grip. If the weight is in the rear, the car can go straight, but it won’t turn very well since there is less weight (aka grip) on the front tires.

If you are a skier, imagine how you lean your skis on their edge to dig into the snow to create grip to turn. If you’re a mountain biker, imagine how you shift your body weight around to grip up the front or rear tire on the bike through a turn. If you play sports, imagine how you first lean strongly on one foot before to create pressure and grip before pushing off for a big change in direction.


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This is what we are doing with the car with the idea of weight transfer. It boils down to brakes move the weight of the car forward, and throttle moves the weight backward.

With this in mind, if we attempt to turn the car into a corner while still on throttle will the car turn very well? On a loose surface, almost certainly not. All the weight of the car is in the rear, so there is very little grip in the front tires to turn the car.

It doesn’t matter how much you turn the steering wheel, if the front tires don’t have grip, the car won’t turn. All that will happen is the car will plow straight with understeer vs actually turning through the corner.

Steering wheel inputs are less effective on a loose surface, so we use the pedals instead. This means the brakes turn the car. By using the brakes, the weight moves forward. The front tires gain grip. The back tires lose grip. And the car rotates sliding into the corner.


Photo: David Cosseboom

What this means is that we are braking in the turn. So first lift off the throttle to initiate the weight transfer to the front of the car. Then by using a steady pressure on the brakes in the corner, the weight is kept on the front of the car to help create and control the rotation. Hold the brakes long enough to achieve the desired amount of rotation based on the corner shape or length.

Once the car is lined up in the direction you want to go—ideally straight out of the corner—transition back to the throttle. Going back to the throttle moves the weight back to the rear of the car. Thus, rear tires gain grip and the front tires lose some grip. This straightens the car out ready to accelerate to the next corner.

Understanding that brakes play a much larger role than simply slowing you down is the key to going faster. It is the teamwork between the brakes and the throttle to control the weight transfer and rotation of the car that leads to carrying more speed into and out of a corner.

Remember, a dramatic corner is not a fast corner. Staying on throttle and understeering to the outside of a corner may feel fun and fast, but it’s just wasting time going sideways. If you want to go fast through a corner, use your brakes.

Photos:DirtFish Media, David Cosseboom

Words:Eric Schofhauser