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FAQ:  Brakes (and Braking Technique)
For "Open-Track" Racing

Advice by Rich Merritt

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I am happy to see so many Stealth and 3000GT owners going "open tracking".  Our cars are amazing out there, and they're the equal of everything on the track except AWD Porsche Turbos and Vipers.  Have fun, and clean house!

Here's a wee bit of advice about braking from one who's been there.  This applies to those who are running stock brakes (i.e., you have not yet upgraded to Porsche Turbo Big Reds)...

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Brakes & Pads

Stock brakes will not work at all.  If you run stock rotors and stock pads, you will COOK them.  After just a few laps, they will go up in smoke and fade completely.  You can run stock rotors, but you MUST install racing pads:  I prefer Porterfield R4 pads (not R4S street pads), but others may have their favorites.

Before you go to your first event, install new pads all the way around (race pads in front, new stock pads in the rear), drain and replace the fluid with Ford High Performance brake fluid (available at your friendly Ford dealer for a pittance -- like $3 a pint), and bleed all the brake lines.  There is a proper sequence for this (RF, LR, LF, RR or something like that).  Check a shop manual.  Put anti-sieze grease on the lug nuts, because you will generate such high temperatures at the track, the lug nuts will sieze.  (I've broken off three wheel studs because of this).

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Install cooling ducts for the front rotors.  Install a scoop under the front valence and run a 2.5 in. flexible rubber hose to inside the front wheel. I just tie-wrap the hose to the lower control arm and stick it inside the wheel as far in as it will go.  You absolutely MUST get some cooling air up in there.  It's not necessary to run the duct directly to the calipers, just in the vicinity.  Be careful that the hose doesn't interfere with the boot over the halfshafts, or you might cut the boot.  You can adapt a wide variety of cheap scoops from gadgets found at Menards -- I've used laundry dryer ducts, plumbing apparatus and gutter downpipes.  The scoop mounts over or inside the 4 x 8 in. rectangular openings on both sides of the air dam (crawl under there -- you'll see it) and the hose routes from there to the wheel openings.  Click here, scroll down to Rich's Racing Photos, and choose "Heartland Park November 2000" to see where to mount the scoops.

Remove the dust shields/backing plates from the front rotors.  This will allow cooling air to get in there.  You may also want to remove the inner front fender well (behind the intercoolers) to allow better air flow.

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Bedding and Seasoning

Bed the pads and season the rotors.  Read the instructions that come with the pads, because they differ.  Seasoning the rotor means impregnating it with whatever materials are in the pad, such as carbon kevlar.  Bedding in the pads means heat-cycling them one time.  You accomplish both by first driving the car around normally for a day or two to season the rotor, then taking the car out for a little drive in the countryside.  Execute some hard stops from 80 to 20 about four or five times.  If you do it at night, you oughta see the rotors glowing red (mine caught fire once).  Then, just amble on home slowly and safely, avoid using the brakes, put it in your garage, and don't drive it for 24 hours.  The brakes will be ready to rumble the next day, dude.

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Braking Technique

On track:  Ask your instructor to teach you how to brake properly.  Tell him your car EATS brakes.  Tell him you want to learn proper brake management, so the pads will last the entire weekend.  My idea of brake management is to never apply the brakes over 100 mph.  Instead, I would coast down to 100, then apply the brakes.  This doesn't get you the fastest possible lap time, but it saves the brakes.  (It also pisses off the 911 or M3 you just passed, because they want to go much deeper before braking, but them's the breaks).

Remember this:  Your car is capable of hitting 130+ on a track, but you have to stop it from that speed.  If you bang on the brakes at such a speed, it will just wear the pads all that much faster.  Also, if you are running slotted or drilled rotors, and they happen to break at the hub at 130+, the loose rotor can slice off your caliper.  When running slotted or drilled rotors, always know where the runoff areas are, because you may need them if (sorry, WHEN) the rotor breaks.  Been there, done that.

Proper braking requires a hard, steady application of the brakes.  You don't BANG them on, and you don't slowly increase pressure like you do on the street.  You get on the brakes hard and quickly get off.  Your instructor will show you.

In the absence of an instructor, try this:  As you approach a turn, lift the throttle, count 1-2, firmly apply the brakes as hard as you can until you feel the ABS (but don't BANG them), lift off the brakes, and turn into the corner.  This is not the fastest method, but it is effective and leads to longer brake life because you are on the brakes for the shortest amount of time.

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When you complete a session, cool the brakes off with a cooldown lap or by driving around the paddock area for a few minutes.  When you park, DO NOT APPLY THE BRAKES.  This will put white-hot pads up against a red-hot rotor, where they will attempt to melt into each other.  Instead, coast up to your parking slot, or turn off the key whilst in gear to stop it.  Hang around the car for about five minutes, and then roll it forward a half turn of the wheel.  This will put the pads over a different spot on the rotor.  It is important to do this, because otherwise you may warp a rotor from the intense temperatures (see below).  If you are running a stock system the wheels will be so hot you will not be able to go near them for about 15 minutes.

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Brake System Checkup

Check your pad depth periodically -- like before every other session on Saturday, and before every session on Sunday.  You will be amazed how fast the pad depth goes down.  Take a flashlight with you so you can see the inside pads.  For some strange reason, the inner pads go first, and they are the ones that are the toughest to see.  While you are checking the pad depth, look to see if the pads are turning white.  If you have Porterfields, it means you are reaching temperatures of 1400F, and the pads are being eaten away very, very fast.  I went through a set of R4 pads in ONE DAY at Road America, and had to change them in the parking lot of the hotel by flashlight.  Turns out one of my brake ducts had ripped off.

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When you get home after an event, remove the front rotors and take them to your friendly brake shop for a cleanup turn.  My shop charges $5 each for this.  The cleanup turn takes off all the gouges left by the pads, and all the pad material that's been embedded.  Bring the rotors home, and re-install the stock street pads.  If there is anything left of the race pads, put them in a box as spares for the next event.

Watch Rotor Depth

Check rotor depth before heading for the track.  Discard depth is 1.118 in.  If you are close to this depth, DO NOT run on that rotor, because it may break under the stresses of racing.  (Been there, done that).  Also, look for deep cracks in the rotor whenever you check your pads trackside.  If you see anything more than light surface cracks, you may want to replace that rotor or call it a day.  I always carry a spare rotor to the track, just in case.

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Pre-Race Preparation

Prior to your next event, install a new set of race pads on the fronts.  You may never need to replace the rears -- they do hardly any work, and wear very little.  Bleed the front calipers.  The fluid that comes out will be nasty looking, because you cooked it the last time out.  THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT, because the Ford High Performance fluid does not recover well from repeated boiling.  But at $3 a pint, you can afford to bleed all the bad stuff out.

Learn to do your own brake work -- it will save you a fortune, and you'll be into your brakes trackside for much of the event anyway, so better learn now.  Fortunately, it's easy -- very dirty, but easy.

Remember that your car is faster than just about anything out there.  Brakes are our weakest point, but you can make the pads last an entire weekend by just exercising good brake management.  Good luck!

---Rich Merritt

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