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When it comes to racing, everyone wants more power. But when you want to make real, consistent improvements to your car’s performance over a lap, brake upgrades are a better place to start. Whether you’re lapping on your own or racing door-to-door, brakes are often the key to faster lap times overall.

Updgraded AMG Brake pad and rotors, a high-end setup that can help with faster lap times.
Mercedes-AMG Brakes | Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Engine power and speed are not equal

At first, this concept might seem counterintuitive. Engine power means better acceleration and more top speed, so it should naturally lead to faster lap times. And while that can be true, the overall lap time variance is often marginal when all other factors are equal.

Why is that? Physics. And while a full-on lesson about g-forces, grip differential, and balance would paint the fullest picture, in simple terms it’s all about balance.

Take two cars with the same engine performance and upgrade the brakes of just one of them. Depending on the vehicle, the ability to brake harder and later will help that car gain time in multiple places throughout a lap.

Meanwhile, the car with power modifications will have an advantage in just a few acceleration zones and, in most cases, one longish straight. In a door-to-door battle, the car that can brake later often wins out, even if it’s a few mph down at the end of the longest straight. Both when defending and when on the attack, being last on the brakes is a big advantage. But it isn’t just braking later that matters.

Corner speed is more important than straight-line pace

Upgraded brakes can help with handling balance through a corner as well. Not only can cars with less power and more brake carry more speed into a corner, but on exit as well.

Under braking, weight transfers to the front wheels. This simultaneously loads the front tires with grip while unloading the rear wheels. The result is sharper turn-in and better rotation through a corner. That lets the driver get back to the throttle sooner on corner exit, making up for the power difference against a higher-powered car.

Flip the script, and the opposite happens. Because the car with more power and less brake performance is going faster, that driver needs to brake for longer entering the corner. Not only are they slowing down for longer, but the weight transfer isn’t as aggressive, so they’ll also find reduced turn-in and rotation. As such, they’ll have to wait longer to get back on the power to make the corner exit. All the while, the driver with a brake upgrade has already swept across the apex with their right foot buried in the floorboards.

Upgrading brakes balances more power

As with all things in life, balance is key. A car that has upgraded brakes and no engine isn’t going to set a very fast lap time. But if you’re looking to make a big jump up the time charts and have the budget for just one big mod, Car and Driver says performance brakes provide the biggest rewards on the timing sheet.


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