When you think of performance modifications for a project car, most people jump right to increasing horsepower. But not all mods need to make your car go faster to actually make it perform better. One easy bolt-on upgrade to consider is better brake pads. Think about it — if you make your car slow down quicker, the reality is that it will make you faster around a track. Based on this information, we decided to install a set of high-performance brake pads on our “The Way of the FiST” Ford Fiesta ST project car.
Carbotech Performance Brakes has earned its reputation on race tracks around the world for making brake pads that outperform its competitors. Carbotech’s brake pads are known in racing circles to handle extreme heat and provide excellent pedal feel to the driver. As evidenced in my own race car, if you aren’t wearing your seatbelt, these brake pads will toss you through your own windshield if you slam on the “whoa” pedal hard enough. This increase in stopping power offered by Carbotech comes from years of development and testing through racing with Carbotech’s own blend of a Ceramic Kevlar-based pad compound.
Carbotech doesn’t just make brake pads for road racing, but offers special compounds for autocross, track days, and endurance racing. The autocross compound, titled the AX6, is designed to quickly come up to temperature and offer great initial bite. For those that want to take their car to a track day, the XP10 pad compound can handle extreme heat and will stay consistent lap after lap. With this increased performance comes some downsides if you use your car daily on the street. Expect a fair amount of brake squeal from the Ceramic Kevlar-based pad and a considerable amount of brake dust on the wheels. But, if all you care about is performance on the track, these are the pads for you.
One of the interesting concepts when discussing different brake pad compounds is the idea of creating brake bias between the front and rear brakes by utilizing different pad compounds. Carbotech’s founder, Mike Puskar, helped us select a brake pad compound that would allow the rear brakes to do more of the work. According to Mike, “passenger cars are set up from the factory with more front brake bias. If a vehicle locks up its rear brakes first in a panic stop situation, the vehicle will spin, which manufacturers can’t have happen for safety reasons. Knowing this was built into the architecture of the braking system, for racing a vehicle that doesn’t have a brake bias adjustment, we suggest using our autocross compound rear brake pad, the AX6, in conjunction with our road racing compound front brake pads, like the XP10. The difference in the pad compounds provides a little more rear bias into the system giving you more overall braking.”
One of the things Puskar suggested when upgrading to his high-performance brake pads in an OEM brake system is to upgrade the brake fluid to keep up with the high temperatures racing causes. Street cars doing track duty, like our “Way of the FiST” Fiesta, create a lot of heat in the brake system. Utilizing a racing brake fluid that can handle the high temperatures is an easy upgrade and doesn’t cost much. We replaced the entire capacity of the Fiesta’s brake fluid with Prospeed RS683 Xtreme Performance Brake Fluid.
We ordered our brake pads from Carbotech pre-bedded (you can see the red “Pre-Bedded” stamp on the box in previous photos). When ordering online from Carbotech’s website, you can choose the option of pre-bedding. If you don’t order the pads pre-bedded, you can follow the simple instructions on the website for mating the new pads to the rotors. According to Puskar, “proper bedding of pads and rotors will result in greater performance, longer pad life, and less rotor wear.”
To bed the pads, Carbotech suggests performing the following procedure on a race track: Start this process by pumping your brakes a few times to ensure proper installation. Once on track, perform several moderate (medium) near stops (to a very slow rolling speed) to thoroughly warm up the pads and rotors. This should take 1-2 laps. This allows a thin layer of the pad material to be transferred into the micro-grooves of the rotor. After the pads/rotors are warm, perform a series of hard near stops (to a slow rolling speed) until some brake fade is felt. This process should take about 2-4 laps (depending on the track). Once this occurs, then stay off the brakes (as much as possible) and bring your car into the pits/paddock to completely cool. Do not lock the tires during this operation.
With our fresh set of Carbotech pads installed on the Fiesta, we were itching to get to an autocross event and feel the difference of the improved pads and upgraded brake fluid. The first time I drove the car and really stabbed the brake pedal, to the point where the ABS would kick in, I knew right away the time and money spent on the Carbotech pads and the Prospeed brake fluid was worth it. The amount of braking bite I had would allow me to go really deep into corners and push the car hard around the track.
The new and improved Carbotech-equipped Fiesta ST was definitely faster around the autocross track. I was able to go deeper into every corner and use the weight transfer to toss the car around on the brake pedal to get the car to rotate exactly how I wanted it to on a tight autocross course. The brakes were so good, I had to re-learn how to drive the car. I adjusted to drive even more aggressively than I normally do on an autocross course. The end result? A first place victory in the SCCA H-Street class.
Like we said before, you don’t always have to make your car faster to go faster. By being able to stop better, you can improve lap times. That was certainly accomplished on our “Way of the FiST” Fiesta thanks to the race-bred brake compounds from Carbotech Performance Brakes. Another win in the books.