You’re back from your first track adventure, your car is beat, and you’re exhausted. But more than likely you had a great time! Now what? Well if this is something that’s looking to be a regular thing, the idea of more power, speed, and stickier tires may be a good idea. But let’s slow down a bit, and consider more important weaknesses you’ve come across in your first track outing. Did the car have trouble starting? Did your coolant temps ever start to climb a bit? Was there something in the suspension making a transition difficult to handle? These are things to consider before planning the next modification to the vehicle.
Starting out we will go over brakes. Oftentimes higher speeds and repetitive stops from those higher speeds will heat those brakes. You may or may not have pushed it hard enough to hit a point to where the brake system begins to partially fail. This is known as brake fade. This is a term for the loss of stopping power in your brake system once they have been heated up past a certain point. Now they are no longer capable of creating enough friction on the surface of the rotor to help stop the vehicle. In some cases, this can be quite alarming, and in others it can be a mild buildup. Regardless it is an issue you’d want to address if you continue to push the vehicle.
The first step in upgrading the brake system is deciding which direction you need to go. There are two basic options. You can stick with the OE calipers, and upgrade the components like pads, rotors, and brake lines to increase stopping power. You can also increase the size of the braking system by going with a big brake kit, which generally is a replacement of all the components mentioned above including the caliper itself. For now we’ll talk about the benefits of sticking with the OE calipers and upgrading pads and rotors. And later we will touch on big brake kits.
Pads are the most important part when it comes to getting the best stopping power out of your vehicle. And there are a lot of pros and cons when it comes to selection. Too aggressive, and the pads become quite annoying to drive with on a daily basis. They can wear down a set of rotors relatively quickly. Too mild of a pad and you’ll still have no stopping power much like stock, and brake fade is more prone with hardcore use. Depending on the use of the vehicle, you can opt for a nice pad that can pull some double duty. Pads like the Stoptech Street Performance, or the Hawk HPS seem to be excellent pads for a sporty street car. They hold up great to autocross, and light track use. But be warned, heavy duty track use may still cause issues with fade. The absolute safest route to go when it comes to pad selection is to choose a set of track pads and rotors dedicated for track days. Then you can swap for a more comfortable street set. Of course if your vehicle is a track only toy you need not worry, and might as well go with the best pad available for your needs.
Rotors are another vital component to your braking system that shouldn’t be overlooked when setting up your vehicle to hit the track. As mentioned earlier, if you’re swapping between a set of track pads and rotors you’ll actually want to swap rotors out as well. A common misconception is that you can simply swap a set of more aggressive track pads onto the car, and be good to go. The problem here is once you bed in an aggressive pad into the rotor, part of that pad’s material is transferred to the rotor. Swapping just the pads makes you restart the bed in process over again before the pads will operate properly.
Now the big question. Drilled or slotted? This is another tradeoff that can be split between what drivers prefer. Generally a slotted rotor is going to be the better choice for durability, while drilled is able to reduce heat in the pad better. Why is that? Well drilled rotors have holes drilled into them to help disperse and reduce heat in the pad. But the downside is when you heat that rotor up too much, the lack of surface area in the rotor weakens it, causing the rotor to crack. This is an all too common mistake, and is likely never covered under any warranty. So be warned. Slotted on the other hand is more durable, although not as efficient with channeling heat. The slots in a slotted rotor will disperse heat outwards as it rotates. These rotors are never fully cut through and should not have any issues with cracking. In general, slotted rotors tend to be the better choice for track use while drilled are best for mild street use.
Now what about brake lines? Brake lines may not seem like such a vital component, but with high pressure and stress running through your vehicle’s braking system, it is not something you want to fail on you either. Often with older vehicles, it is a good idea to replace your old warn rubber lines anyways. Even with a new car under higher stress track use, you can see these high pressure lines expand. This will cause problems with braking response, and could eventually become disastrous. Most stainless steel lines are going to be a direct replacement. So for the money they’re a great way to help ensure that you will not have any issues stopping the vehicle, so long as the rest of the system is up to the task.
Now say you’ve tried all of the previously mentioned, and it is still not enough for you? Where’s the next solution? A big brake kit is oftentimes the best possible choice for hardcore use, but there are situations where it can be overkill. So make sure your money is being spent in the right places, before opting for a bigger brake kit. The solution might be found with a set of pads and rotors. A big brake kit is more efficient in its braking potential due the larger size of the pad, and surface area for the friction material. The more surface, the more resilient this pad can be towards heat or brake fade while being able to handle more abuse. Now a larger brake caliper will require a few more steps. First is finding a kit for your vehicle, then seeing what is required to fit. Big brake kits oftentimes require larger wheel sizes, which can make this quite an expensive investment while having to go up another tire size as well. From there you will want to make sure the brake kit you are going with has the right compound pads, and proper rotors for the kinds of uses you are looking for. Generally you can get away with a more mild setup on a bigger caliper without as much of an issue with brake fade.
Of course when it comes down to it these upgrades, it will greatly depend on the kind of use you are going for. Most autocross setups will benefit from pads, rotors, and lines just fine. Depending on the class you want your vehicle to be eligible in, you may be required to stick to the stock caliper. In most cases HPDE track days you can get away with a mid-level set of pads and rotors. Depending on how comfortable you get with the track and vehicle, you may want to go to a more aggressive setup. Finally if hardcore track use, time attack, or wheel to wheel racing is in your future, it is preferred that you will be looking to upgrade the caliper for something more suited to your needs.