Lightweight materials are only part of the equation when it comes to what makes high-performance braking systems superior to factory equipment.
The braking system in many mainstream cars is designed, engineered and built to a price point. With mass production of affordable cars, braking systems are typically built to be good enough for the average driver and to keep costs down.
Of course, there’s always room for improvement. That’s why high-performance brakes are commonly fitted to pricier, higher-performing vehicles, and why some of these even feature further-upgraded braking system components built from exotic materials and backed by the latest braking system technologies.
Furthermore, upgraded performance braking systems are at the core of a multi-million-dollar industry propped up by tuners, driving enthusiasts and motorsports participants around the globe.
The gist? While the braking system in a mainstream, mass-produced car, motorcycle, truck or crossover is good, many better options exist — and shoppers desiring top-level braking performance have no shortage of choices.
Below, we’ll take a look at the world of performance braking systems and braking system upgrades. Whether you’re considering upgrading the brakes on your existing vehicle for a higher performance set or shopping for a new vehicle with the latest in high-end braking technology on board, here are the basics:
Weight is the enemy of fuel economy, handling and performance, which is why automakers are going to more extreme lengths than ever to make lighter vehicles. Often this involves numerous incremental weight-reduction measures throughout the vehicle. One way to reduce mass is by using a high-performance braking system with aluminum brake calipers.
Conventional brake calipers are typically made of iron and steel, which is cheap and durable, but heavy. Aluminum calipers weigh less, saving a few pounds while reducing the vehicle’s unsprung weight — that is, the weight of parts like wheels, axle hubs and brakes that don’t ride on top of the vehicle’s suspension. This contributes to improved handling response, steering feel and overall performance.
Many of the world’s fastest cars do away with commonly used cast iron brake rotors in exchange for something much more exotic. Carbon-ceramic brake rotors have been taking center stage in the most extreme performance braking systems for years; the materials used in their construction have their roots in the worlds of aerospace and motorsports.
By making the brake rotors out of this composite blend of lightweight and alluring materials, many benefits are realized: carbon-ceramic brakes are lighter, have a longer service life, are massively resist thermal fatigue and brake fade, and perform far more powerfully and consistently in racetrack and motorsport use.
Though the use of carbon-ceramic brake rotors is arguably the single best way to improve a vehicle’s braking performance, they are massively expensive — which is why they’re typically only found in big-dollar, high-performance vehicles.
Cross-Drilled or Slotted Rotors
Bridging the gap between high-cost carbon-ceramic and made-to-a-price factory equipment rotors are cast iron ones that are slotted or cross-drilled. These specialty rotors are fitted to many performance cars from the factory and lots of quality options are available from leading manufacturers like Brembo.
These rotors are characterized by a series of holes (cross-drilled) or straight slashes or slots (slotted) that serve several functions. They provide an escape route for hot air and gasses generated at the surface between the brake pads and brake rotor, and they continually refresh the pad surface, ensuring maximum, consistent clamping force between the two parts.
With advanced design and experience from decades of building the world’s best brakes, Brembo’s range of slotted and cross-drilled rotors also feature internal ventilation provisions that are fine-tuned to work with the specific pattern of holes and slots.
Finally, these upgraded rotors also enable a clearing effect, which reduces contamination of water and other materials that can get between the pads and rotors, affecting performance.
All said, a set of cross-drilled or slotted rotors is an accessible upgrade for many drivers and one that ensures consistent access to higher-performance braking and added durability in all situations.
Sporting Brake Pads
Upgraded brake rotors, like those above, are just one of several parts when it comes to a complete high-performance braking system upgrade. With high-quality materials, you get improved thermal resistance and better performance in harsh driving conditions. Brake pads and rotors work in sync for their entire life together, making the selection of the right pad very important. A set of sporting brake pads designed to work with a specific set of upgraded brake rotors is ideal. This combination provides synergistic benefits to performance, stopping power, durability, and resistance to degradation by heat caused by hard driving or frequent race-track use.