What Is Trail Braking and How to Do It

An advanced technique of racing is trail braking. With it, you gradually reduce your braking as your turn-in angle increases instead of de-accelerating on the straight only. Continue reading for everything you need to know about what trail braking is and how to do it.

You hit your apexes, you hit your braking markers, you smoothly steer into the corners, but you brake in a straight line only?

Well, welcome to tracc, I am here to tell you how you can improve yourself.

First off, don’t always exclusively brake in a straight line, more about why later.

But first, let me tell you what trail braking exactly means so you finally understand what all those professional drivers mean.

What Trail Braking Is

Usually, you learn in driving school to only brake when on a straight. No braking when turning into a corner. In racing, that is not always the truth.

Many higher radius corners, like the hairpin pictured at the Nürburgring, are best driven with trail braking in mind.

Trail braking and accelerating out of the hairpin at Nürburgring.
Nürburgring hairpin showing apexes and acceleration phases.

That is to say, you fully stomp on the brakes until the turn-in point of the corner. That is the moment in which you start rotating your steering wheel in the direction of the corner.

Once you are past that point you gradually and carefully start releasing the pressure on the brakes. Theoretically, that could be done until the mid-point of a corner, but this is subject to its layout. In this regard, the pictured hairpin might not be the best example since there is a bit of coasting.

Coasting, as an explanation, is when you neither apply gas nor brakes of a vehicle. Usually, that happens in longer corners between the trail braking and accelerating phases.

However excellent you may hit your braking, in almost all trail braking corners you will need a bit of coasting in the middle.

But coasting is not desirable.

You can view coasting as the most inefficient thing you are doing. You are not accelerating in either direction. And you would want to optimise your inputs so that in every waking moment you can apply either gas or brake pedal.

However, let’s get back on track and look at why you need this skill.

Why Trail Braking Can Help You

Imagine trying to brake for a corner.

If you brake in an entirely straight line only, you will have to start the process earlier. In other terms, trail braking helps you achieve later braking points.

How about we put that into some context?

Imagine driving a GT3. Let’s say you are doing everything without trail braking so far. You get to a corner, and you start stepping on the brake pedal at the 150 board. Your de-acceleration takes you to the turn-in point and from then on you just coast through the corner.

But as I said before, coasting is bad! You want the least possible coasting time possible, so what can we do about coasting in this example?

If you braked at 140 instead and stayed on it until the turn-in point, and then slowly released the brakes as the turn-in angle increased, you will have not only discovered a later braking point, but a more optimal line through the corner as well.

Congratulations, you just saved a few tenths! And if you apply that theory to more corners, then congratulations, you just saved a second!

Why Not Just Brake Fully During Turn-In?

Now you might ask yourself:

“But wouldn’t full-on braking be more efficient? Why can’t you just stomp on the brakes the entire time and therefore have an even later braking point?”

It would be more efficient. But it isn’t possible.

Depending on your vehicle of choice, you will either understeer out of the corner (front-wheel drive) or oversteer and spin out (rear-wheel drive). And that is with ABS. Good luck just stomping on it without ABS.

Precursor: The Racing Line

Before we get to the final How-To of trail braking you need to know a bit about the racing line.

Consider this picture from our article on Apexes, the Nürburgring hairpin. You can see the tracc-green line following the race track. That is one example of how your racing line might look through the corner. The important detail here is to use the width of the track to your advantage. Start your turn-in from the outermost point, and go onto the outside kerb if you must.

Apexes on the Nürburgring Hairpin
Nürburgring hairpin with apexes marked

This will definitely help your turning to be more smooth. And smoothness is an important factor to successfully and optimally execute trail braking.

Finally: How to Trail Brake

Now without further ado, the in-depth explanation of how to actually trail brake.

You know the theory, the execution looks a bit different though. In order to find out how to make the most out of trail braking you need to:

Try it out. Trial and error.

I’m sorry but there is no one-size-fits-all. I could tell you to brake 100% until the turn-in point and then gradually and linearly reduce braking until you hit the apex. But that would only work for GT-style cars with ABS.

On vehicles without ABS, you first need to find the correct braking force at each speed. Yes, speed also needs to be taken into account, especially on high-downforce cars. And that is just before the turn-in point i.e. before trail braking can happen.

There are so many variables in a “simple” braking process that I cannot give you a one-size-fits-all solution. You know the theory, hopefully, you understand it too. And you can try employing that theory in your next practice session.

And keep in mind, that only robots can do everything perfectly each time. Sometimes you are going to hit the braking just right, other times, not so much. It’s less about improving your hot lap. More importantly, improve your average lap time. That is what counts in racing.

And with that, if you want to know more about some racing basics, you can check out our eduTRACC series here on tracc.eu.

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