Mercedes-Benz Driving Academy
Mercedes-Benz Driving Academy
Mercedes-Benz Driving Academy. Click image to enlarge

Article and photos by Jonathan Yarkony

Trail braking.

That was the first and last lesson of the day at the Mercedes-Benz Driving Academy Mastering Performance program we attended at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in Bowmanville, Ontario.

You may have heard of trail braking, as I had, and you may even be doing it to some degree in your everyday driving. However, in a performance-driving environment, trail braking is honed to a science (or practiced as a dark art) necessary to achieve the best possible results on track.

So what is it exactly? In a nutshell, it is the slow and measured release of the brake as you turn in to a corner. Sounds fairly simple, and if you do indeed find yourself proficient in this skill, consider a career in racing. Sir Jackie Stewart was purportedly a master of it, and used it effectively to dominate Formula 1 in his era.

However, it’s not as simple as it sounds, or at least it wasn’t to me.

Nowadays it is a prerequisite for success in racing, as are all the techniques and tools taught at the various racing and driving schools, but many introductory driving schools do not even touch on the subject, and focus instead on braking zone, turn in, apex, exit, which the Mercedes-Benz Mastering Performance also covers. Also, since these M-B Driving Academies are conducted exclusively in Mercedes vehicles, which are all equipped with automatic transmissions (thereby taking the tricky heel-toe downshifting out of the equation), it leaves them time to focus instruction and drilling time on the more advanced braking technique. This technique also takes far more prominence as more and more cars move to exclusively automatic or automated dual-clutch transmissions.

My experience at other schools I’ve attended is that they teach you to have all your braking done by the time you begin turning in. However, the big point that Mercedes Chief Instructor Danny Kok introduced, and which we later practiced in various exercises, was to have most of the braking done, but to save a bit of braking (as much as your skill will allow) for the turn-in and to come off the brakes in inverse proportion to the amount of steering input for the turn, carrying your braking almost to the apex and almost to the point of getting back on throttle.

Mercedes-Benz Driving AcademyMercedes-Benz Driving AcademyMercedes-Benz Driving Academy
Mercedes-Benz Driving Academy. Click image to enlarge

The science of it: braking shifts weight to the front of the car, exerting more downforce on the front tires, which are the ones steering the car. Greater downforce means more grip for the tires, and more grip for the tires means you can carry higher speeds through the turn.

Similarly, after clearing the apex, our instructors reinforced that we should roll onto the gas gradually, increasing throttle proportionally to unwinding the steering wheel, getting back onto full throttle only when the car and wheel are completely straight. This also, I am terrible at. At the beginning of any track day or event, my instinct is to treat throttle and brakes like giant toggles that simply switch on and off. Events like this Mastering Performance session afford a novice driver the chance to practice good driving habits and develop the motor memory that will make it second nature.

After these trackside lessons, supported with diagrams and doodles, and an overview of oversteer and understeer and the inputs that cause them, it was time to feast on the all-you-can-drive buffet of Mercedes metal served up for us in pit lane. The lineup included such appetizing models as the SLK 55 AMG Roadster, C 63 AMG Coupe and Sedan, SL 550, and the mighty SLS AMG GT Coupe, as well as more common models like the B 250, E 350 4Matic and CLS 550.

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