As with all types of cars, there is a lot of variation when you compare street model brakes to their racing counterparts. Everything from the steering wheels to the materials used to make them are vastly different between the two. But just how different are the brakes?
The main differences between street car and race car brakes are in their physical construction and the internal systems. Race car brakes withstand much higher temperatures, have highly sophisticated cooling systems, and also have sensors to constantly monitor their performance.
These differences all play key roles in making sure that the brakes installed in the car are suited to the driving style that will be used. Knowing that these differences exist is important, but you should also consider why each difference is so important. So, let’s go into each one in more detail.
Street Car vs Race Car Brakes Explained
The basic purpose of a brake in any vehicle is to slow it down, ideally in a controlled manner, and eventually to a stop. They do this by converting the kinetic energy – the energy possessed by the car while it is moving – into heat, via the friction caused by slowing the car down on the road surface. Sound can also be produced, such as when you make an emergency stop and hear the tires squeal!
Brakes do this by using something to grip and apply friction to the wheels of the car. Strictly speaking it is actually the rotor or the axle rather than the wheel or the tire, where there is usually a disc or drum brake installed. In many cars, there are disc brakes at the front and drum brakes at the back. What rubs against these discs or drums are the brake pads, which generate all of the friction.
The Power Of Hydraulics
In a normal car, when you press the brake pedal, hydraulic fluid amplifies the pressure you apply to be able to clamp the brake pads against the brake discs with a strong enough force on all four wheels to slow the car to a stop. Although a fairly basic summary, this is the reason you can effortlessly press your brake pedal and slow your car from 60 mph down to zero without hurting yourself!
One of the big differences that you will see in race car brakes is the use of two separate master cylinders. One of these operates the front brakes and one operates the rear brakes, and they allow you to have more control over the finer details of each set. This is allows you to change your brake bias, and it’s a vital component of race cars that gives the driver more control and customization over their handling.
Other physical differences appear in the rotors, where both size and material can be drastically different between race cars and street cars. This is the part that turns the wheels, and it’s connected to the drums or discs. Components such as the calipers and mounting brackets of the brake system will also usually be made of stronger but lighter materials in race cars.
The Brake Pads
The main difference when it comes to the physical construction lies in the brake pads used. Most road cars will use organic or metallic brake pads, which are strong enough for daily driving. Race cars, however, will often use ceramic or carbon brakes. These are much better at withstanding the ultra-high temperatures that come with all of the hard braking required on a racetrack.
These physical differences are essential, as the type of driving that is done in a race car versus that of a street car is much more aggressive. Higher speeds and stronger braking means the materials used need to be strong and resistant to higher temperatures. So, in terms of the strength, they also need to be able to bear massive, repetitive braking loads.
KEY POINTS• Race car and street car brakes differ in their physical construction
• Race car brakes are designed for high performance and to offer more control to the driver
• They must withstand high temperatures due to the higher braking forces required
The Technology Involved In Race Car Brakes
A lot of race cars have extra braking sensors and other pieces of technology that give the driver more data to work with and more control. In a racing situation, temperatures and levels of grip are vital, so all of these extra sensors ensure that everything is always working correctly.
Keeping Them Cool
Although technically a physical component of the braking system, ventilation and cooling systems within race car brakes are much more advanced than those of street car brakes as well. The optimum operating temperature of braking systems varies, but it is usually between 300-800 degrees Celsius (572-1472 degrees Fahrenheit). Outside of this temperature range, the brakes can crack due to thermal shock or cause excessive wear due to friction.
Much More Expensive
Each of these physical and technological differences obviously means that the braking systems in racing cars are much more cost and time-intensive. Building the systems takes time, and they are costly to repair. With advances in technology, those time and financial costs are coming down, but they’re still very intense.
It’s worth looking at a few motorsport examples to see where braking systems are taken to the extreme.
F1 Car Brakes
Very Durable Systems
The brakes on an F1 car have to withstand massive amounts of braking, with speeds regularly topping 200 mph then having to drop to less than 90 mph on the corners throughout the 190-mile race. Modern F1 cars use carbon brake discs to provide maximum heat resistance along with maximum performance. Even then, regulations limit just how good they can be.
No Power Assistance
The main difference that you might notice between F1 and street car brakes is the lack of any power assistance. This means that all of the braking power has to come from the driver’s foot against the pedal, with 125 kg (275 lbs) of force being required for maximum braking power.
However, the force of the car slowing down does make it slightly easier to do this as the G-forces almost ‘push’ the driver into the pedal, but it is still harder than in a street car.
Another technological difference between F1 and street car brakes comes in the form of an Energy Recovery System, or ERS. This allows the car to regain some electrical energy from the kinetic energy that is lost when the car slows down. Although some modern cars do possess this system in one form or another, it is definitely not a universal feature.
Unusual Braking Habits
NASCAR brakes are another type of motorsport braking system that need to bear some extremely high loads. NASCAR generally involves less braking than F1, and on some tracks, such as the Daytona and Talladega superspeedways, the drivers will only ever use the brakes when coming into the pit lane and in the event of a caution. This is due to the lack of tight corners on these tracks.
The driver may have to slam on the brakes if a car up ahead crashes, and with little use in the lead up to these events, the brakes could rapidly crack due to the thermal shock. This means they need to be made from very heat resistant materials.
More Braking Than Accelerating
On the other hand, at tracks like Martinsville, the driver might end up using the brake pedal more than the gas. This is due to the short nature of this track and the tight turns. This again puts a lot of strain on the brakes throughout the race, with drivers going through two sets of discs each weekend.
Another interesting part of a NASCAR braking system is the fact that each circuit, and in fact each driver, will often require a different type of braking system. This is in part due to the way that the track is laid out as described above, but the calipers and other components will also be dependent on the track and the driver’s own personal braking style.
The brakes are one of the most important components of any car. They are what bring you to a controlled stop, and they save thousands of lives each year. Often overlooked, they are quite complex systems in street cars, and even more complex in race cars. There are some key differences between the two, and there are even more differences between individual racing disciplines.