Braking is probably the one skill that sets the fastest indoor karters ahead of the fast indoor karters, or at least the karters who win all the races.
In this article I will go in depth about braking, and different types of braking under different conditions. We will take the development of your braking technique in 3 stages.
Stage 1. No brake at all technique.
Stage 2. Straight line threshold braking technique.
Stage 3. Trail brake technique.
Now for stage 1 of your training I suggest working on a no brake at all technique. The reason for this is that you have to learn how fast you can actually roll through a turn before you can know if you are hitting the brakes too hard and rolling too slow through a turn. You have to learn the limits of your traction. You might be surprised how fast you can actually roll through a turn.
In order to execute a no brake practice session you have to first pick a mark as your starting “let off the gas” point. Drive up to this mark, let off and coast. Now if you slide on the entry of the turn, then you got off the gas too late, you’re coming in too fast, and you have to get off earlier and try again until you don’t slide the entry. If you slide on the exit, well that’s usually getting back on the gas too soon. We are also going to assume here that you’re on line and not turning too late or too early. If you can get through the turn without sliding, then try to push your let off point forward a bit.
Your goal here is to develop the “feel” for the limits of your traction. This is how fast you want to be rolling AFTER you have hit the brakes to slow for the turn. The nice thing about a no brake turn, is that it is usually very stable, and so you can really feel what it’s like to load up the wheels and coast at the limit of traction.
First my advice for standard braking is not to fall for the drama you see on TV as you watch Formula One racers making crazy late braking moves down the inside straight as they make a pass. That late braking move is NOT fast, even though it’s enabled them to pass another driver. It’s actually very slow and inconsistent. It’s slow because they’re way off line, and it’s inconsistent because it pushes the limit of the threshold and runs the risk of breaking loose. And anytime you break loose on an entry you can expect to vary your lap times by 300th of a second. And you don’t want variance like this, it will get you passed.
As always my golden rule for indoor karting is no sliding allowed, so the goal is *almost* always to brake without inducing a slide. Yes there are exceptions to the rule, but it is very rare that an entry slide is going to be the fastest approach to a turn.
So there are two main things you want to strive for with your braking. Consistency, smooth weight transitions.
You want consistency because it’s better to take a corner 100th of a second slower than the fastest lap possible, if that fastest lap involves a late threshold brake with a high risk of losing it. What you’ll find when you study videos of those sessions is that your corner times are going to be all over the place, and your average is going to be less than the consistent approach. Mike Smith was always a big advocate for smooth consistent braking. He was never the fastest lap, but always the champion. And he took that idea to he nationals and won.
So now you have a no brake technique down, and you’ve had a chance to do some sessions and feel the limit of traction, lets go to stage 2, straight line braking.
Now we are going to move our brake point ahead a bit.
The most important thing though for a consistent braking experience is to have a consistent braking point for each turn. I usually use a marker on the side of the track, maybe it’s a dark patch of oil, or a crack in the track, a tire on the side, sometimes paint on the track, and some tracks will let you arrange cones on the sides of the track. Use that mark as your starting point for your brake zone.
For consistency I start with a steady but moderate braking pressure, which I will increase as the speed comes down and the risk of breaking loose comes down with it. This gives a smoother weight transition, with your inertial mass moving from center balance to the front wheels very gradually. This is important because it sends you into the turn with very steady balance and a high level of grip. This allows you to consistently hit a turn at greater speed. It is better to brake a little bit earlier than try to push your limit right up to the last inch.
Now again if you find you are sliding on the entrance then you are coming in too fast, and you need to brake earlier. Note I didn’t say, brake harder, I said earlier.
Now if you manage to make it stick and you are getting through the corner easily, then you can move your brake point forward. I usually move in increments of about 1 foot forward and backwards, but once you are close to the ideal mark, you can try moving +/- 3 inches. But again, I suggest you don’t try to push your luck with a brake point if you want to be consistent.
Now in stage 2, we only want to brake in straight lines, we don’t want to brake and turn the steering wheel at the same time. This is because the wheels are already doing the maximum work trying to slow you down, now if you add an extra load on them to turn as well, you’re running a high risk of losing the back end and going into a slide.
So in stage 2, you will brake in a straight line and as the turn in starts, you’ll release the brake and go into a coast. You’ll coast all the way to the apex, and then you’ll get back on the gas with a squeeze.
You should know by now what speed you need to carry through the turn so you should find this is very fast. This is the technique Mike Smith used to win the nationals, so it’s really fast. But it’s not the fastest.
The other common problem with an entry slide is that you are turning the wheel and braking at the same time. This is called trail braking. And this is an advanced braking technique that I will now. For now, you don’t want to start with this, you want a straight line braking system to work for you first. That’s because a trail brake is a very hard thing to master and can take years to get consistent. But let’s talk about it now.
Stage 3, the trail brake.
Now you are basically going to do the same thing as stage 2, only now you are going to move your brake zone forward even more and continue to brake past your turn in point. So you brake down the straight, then through the turn in entry. Again if you can’t stick it, then you brake earlier, and maybe even softer. If you do manage to stick it, then you can push your brake point forward even more.
For this I like to brake fairly soft and steady so the weight can transition slowly and build up on the front of the kart. In some corners you’ll want to brake all the way to the apex. In some corners you’ll only brake for a little ways into the turn before releasing for a coast. The magic of a trail brake is that it will allow you to enter a turn with a good portion of your weight baring down on the front wheels and it sets you up nicely for roll speed through a turn.
Again the risk here is that you lose go over the threshold and lose the back end. This happens easily because all the weight has shifted to the front of the kart, and the back is light. You’re going to need to get the rear weight back down in order to be able to accelerate safely.
Sometimes a trail brake that throws a lot of weight forward can delay your ability to get back on the gas, and so you can lose feet as you try to get the rear to gain traction again.
For this reason I like to use a blip on the gas (or two) before I actually start to squeeze on the gas. The idea is that the blip will force a more rapid weight transition back to the rear wheels, BEFORE you start to accelerate. This can allow you to compensate for the extra forward load, and balances the weight more quickly. The idea of the blip is that it will only cause a small inertial weight displacement, shoving the kart forward a little bit, but not cause the rear wheels to break loose and spin out. If you were to say quickly, ‘one and then two’ This is about the timing that you need to do a blip and squeeze application of the gas.
And so that’s my tips to develop advanced braking techniques in an indoor go kart.
Good luck, see you on the track.