On a Break? Let’s talk Brakes.

With all the uncertainty in the world at the moment, you may not be sure when you'll be able to go to your next Track Night in America Driven by Tire Rack or spend time with friends at a regional autocross. A lot of us are tapping our feet at home with extra time on our hands and are looking for things to keep busy. Lucky for you, we can help with that. 

Someday, hopefully soon, we will all head back out to have more #funwithcars, but in the meantime, we've got lots of time to spend making sure our cars are in tip-top shape for our first day back behind the wheel. Your ability to slow the car down is one of the key elements to performance driving, either on a track or on the autocross course. Yes, you want to go fast, but if you're not able to slow the car effectively and efficiently, all that horsepower won't mean much.

Our friends at Hawk Performance, the Official Brake Product of SCCA, and a Featured Partner at Track Night in America have some information on brakes that may help you get those brake pads ready to get back on track.

We spoke to Edwin Mangune, Hawk's Motorsports Field Manager, to get a few helpful hints.   

1. Keep an eye on your pads.

"Brake pads for street use should be replaced when the nominal pad material is worn down to 25 percent," Magune said. "For track use, it should be replaced when it is worn down to 50 percent."

It's essential to manage your pad wear. When you're heading into a hard braking zone, you want to know you have plenty of pad to use. 

2. Pay attention to driver aids like traction and stability control.

In modern cars, the stability systems are often so sophisticated that it's hard to tell when they're even kicking in. What feels like a happy car driving spiritedly through a corner due to your naturally impressive skill, may be the car's computer system making hundreds of tiny adjustments in braking, wheel rotation, balance, and so much more.

The best way to know if you're relying too heavily on traction control is to keep an eye on your brake pad wear. If you're seeing odd or uneven wear and tear on your pads or rotors, your traction control system is the most likely culprit. In this case, your car is working hard to keep you on track, and you may find it beneficial to spend some time working on smoothing out the inputs to your vehicle.

Many people will suggest turning off your traction control systems either in part or entirely to improve driving skills, but that comes with a big caveat. When you turn them off, you will also need to slow your speed down until you get used to driving the car without the traction aids. Today's hyper-effective traction control systems can give drivers a false sense of confidence, which can get people in trouble when they drive without them for the first time. 

Mangune is a proponent of driving without traction control systems. "On late model cars, don't forget to turn off your stability and traction control," he said. "People will call me and say 'I just installed your brakes and rotors, and went out to my first event, and it was great but I toasted my rear brakes.'

"The first question I ask is, did you turn off your stability control? I'm guilty of it, too. Stability control does help, and makes it nicer, but you can feel it when you're really pushing it. But it's nice to go back to the basics, turn everything off, and just drive."

3. It's not all pads and rotors.

"What's really important is brake fluid," Mangue said. "It's hygroscopic, meaning that it absorbs moisture. Water is the enemy to the brake system, because it lowers the boiling point of the brake fluid and creates contaminants, which will ultimately cause the brake system to fail. The brake fluid should be flushed and completely replaced every two years. If your car is a 2012 and you're going to take it to a track day with new Hawk pads, replace the fluid."

4. Upgrades from your original equipment brakes will most definitely help.

"For over 10 or 20 years now, the OE's have been building bigger, heavier cars with more horsepower," Mangune said. "The brake system is essentially the same. The technology is still the same. Rotor size is still the same. They're still using four-piston calipers. They're really taxing and putting a bigger burden on the OE brake system.

"As an enthusiast, I can feel that, just from driving earlier production cars and evolving to the later models. That's where Hawk pads, or a motorsport pad, comes in. We can replace it with a premium street performance brake pad like HPS, HPS 5.0, or performance ceramic and improve the stopping power by improving the brake torque in the overall range and even increases the temperature range. Motorsport pads ensure that during spirited driving use, the driver won't experience heat fade, still get good wear and have low dust and no noise."

So why wait? Now is a great time to change or upgrade your brake pads. With a fresh set of performance pads, you'll be more than ready to get back behind the wheel. For information on the types of pads available for your street car, visit HawkPerformance.com. To purchase, hop on over to TireRack.com today!

Tony Machi

Fluid is Hydroscopic not hygroscopic.