Alan Rudolph Racing Academy Tip of the Month: ‘Braking to Go Faster’

The art of footwork determines the difference between a fast lap and a slow one

Karting is about becoming one with the chassis, the engine and the track. Many who have been in the sport and are currently competing may believe that it is a specific brand or a particular powerplant that can make or break your weekend at the track. In fact, however, the major adjustment that can be ‘made’ to find extra speed and increased consistency is the driver. It’s the one holding the steering wheel and controlling the pedals who makes the most impact on the lap time or race pace. Of course, the best place in the country to improve the driver side of the equation is the Alan Rudolph Racing Academy at the Speedsportz Racing Park in New Caney, Texas. Alan Rudolph is a veteran driver and a karting legend. The Superkarts! USA Hall of Fame inaugural class member has stood on the podium in all disciplines of the sport, and he has also trained well-known drivers who have gone on to race in all forms of motorsports.

Alan Rudolph (Photo: On Track Promotions – otp.ca)

The first installment of ARRA Tip of the Month focused on heading ‘Back to the Track’. Now that you’ve likely settled into your season of racing, we can look at areas where you can improve those lap times to get consistent finishes. This month, we look at ‘Braking to Go Faster’.

eKartingNews.com: What is the most common misconception that racers believe when it comes to braking?

Alan Rudolph: There are several misconceptions that racers have about braking.

OK…Step 1. Drivers ask the question…if I use the brakes, it will slow me down, right? While on the surface, this is true, the real success in speed/lap times actually comes from using the brakes properly at the right time. Wait, am I saying using the brakes can improve my lap times? Yes!! It’s all about the timing of when to initially hit the brakes, knowing how much brake to apply depending on the corner and, most importantly, when to come off the brake. The brake does so much more for you than simply slowing down the kart. I promise you, the best race car drivers in the world are masters at using their brake pedal properly.

EKN: I think you stated it perfectly, as many new drivers feel like they need to hit the brake as late as possible, hard and quickly, in order to maximize the speed they can carry into a corner. But most of the time, it’s about getting back on the gas as quickly as possible.

AR: Even more precisely, it’s all about getting back to the gas at the correct time. If you’re too early on the gas, you pick up an understeer or bind the chassis. If you’re too late, you will be slow on the exit. In the end, you want the best exit speed possible, which starts with braking at the right time, coming off the brake at the right time, and then accelerating at the right time for maximum exit speed.

Step 2 is trail braking. If you ask 100 karters what trail braking is, 90 of them would tell you that “it’s dragging the brake while staying full throttle through the corner”. Wrong answer. That’s called ‘dragging the brake’, which I am not a fan of, for many reasons. The term ‘trail braking’ is not understood by most karters until they graduate up to the next level of motorsports or if they take a proper school like mine. Trail braking is exactly that, it’s trailing the release off the brake pedal as you turn into the corner. In a kart, this happens very quickly and only in certain types of corners.

Another misconception is that the brake is like an ‘on-off switch’ – Alan Rudolph (Photo: EKN)

EKN: If you are dragging the brake while staying full throttle, a driver has likely ignored the process you laid out in Step 1. It seems that some terminology in our sport is sometimes confusing for new racers or those who may come for other forms of motorsports.

AR: It’s not the terminology, it’s just the basic understanding of the difference between dragging the brake and trail braking. Which, I guess, gets lost in the terminology and understanding of the difference. The interesting part to me is even those who have been involved in the sport for quite some time do not understand the difference. In no other form of motorsports would you confuse the two, you either drag the brake or you trail off the brake, period.

Step 3. Another misconception is that the brake is like an ‘on-off switch’. Wrong! When initial braking occurs, it should be very quick and decisive but yet smooth so as not to lock the brakes too much. When you are at the absolute limit, you will hear the tires screeching a bit under braking, this is not a full lock up because that would be bad for many reasons. Additionally, you should only be at that absolute limit at the end of a long straight or when you must brake at a 100%, which is not into every corner. Now, coming off the brake, make it a smooth transition…’trail brake’ where needed and squeeze back on the throttle. Again, smooth transition on and off the brake.

EKN: Driving a kart is much more than slamming the pedals and jumping up on the wheel in order to be fast. It truly is a work of art to be able to complete all these steps and procedures in the matter of milliseconds. How much time do you spend working with drivers on ‘Braking to Go Faster’ at the Alan Rudolph Racing Academy?

AR: Of course, it depends on the driver, their age, skill set, and ability to apply what I am teaching, as well as breaking old habits, etc.. I work on so many different things throughout a course, but in the end, there are always three areas that I am constantly working on: line technique, braking and accelerating at the right time. Using the brake properly is certainly one of the most difficult. So, to answer your question, it totally depends on the student.

Alan Rudolph Racing Academy will have their first ‘Boot Camp’ for drivers ages 10-15, coming up July 31st – August 2nd. This will be a three-day clinic with a variety of topics covered from on track, in the classroom, physical training, kart maintenance, and nutrition. Space is limited, so visit their Facebook event page.

Next month, EKN will review another topic with the Alan Rudolph Racing Academy. For now, find out more about them and their facility at SpeedsportzRacingPark.com

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