Friday, September 23, 2011

Brakes Anonymous: A 10-Step Approach to Healing with StopTech BBK

As most “track junkies” will tell you, below is the natural brake “upgrade” progression for someone who tracks his/her car regularly:
  1. You start out by taking your car to the track with its stock brakes and pads.
You realize that your stock setup can only take 3 to 4 laps of abuse before braking performance starts to seriously fade away
  2. You upgrade to performance brake fluid and pads. This is better.
 But with confidence comes expectation. You begin to yearn for harder and stronger braking power
  3. You replace your brake lines with stainless steel lines. For better pedal feel they say… You still want more.
  4. You go all out and upgrade to “race pads”. Yeah, baby.
 While braking force and consistency are indeed vastly improved, the pads squeal like a teenager at a Justin Bieber concert under light braking and you’re ashamed of driving your car around town
  5. You cannot take it any longer and decide to use said race pads only for track days
. You begin to time yourself swapping pads out before and after each track day to see if you have a career as a Formula 1 pit crew
  6. The hell with it, you’re tired of swapping pads. You’re too old for that.
 You bite the bullet and upgrade to a Big Brake Kit (BBK) and hope this nonsense is over
  7. You’re so fast now that you burn through pads at a record rate. If you get 5 days out of a set of pads, you feel pretty good
  8. You’ve heard about this brake cooling kit thing. That ought to help out. You need one of those
  9. Of course, you realize that having two gaping holes in the front of the car can be hazardous when you’re not at the track. It’s like riding on a motorcycle with your mouth wide open. Bad things can happen
  10. You conclude that the only logical solution is to turn your car into a dedicated track car…
Well, I am at step 6.

Earlier this year, I purchased a StopTech BBK for my daily driver/track car (2009 BMW M3). While there are many highly regarded BBK manufacturers (Brembo, AP Racing, etc.), I settled on StopTech based on reputation, ease of pad removal, cost of the kit and cost of consumables (pads and rotors).

StopTech kits are available for most cars and come in various flavors and colors. Mainly, you decide how many pistons you want (2, 4 or 6) and whether you want the standard or Trophy calipers, which reduce weight by 20%. And look way cool!

I went with the Trophy kit and 4-pistons all around because of clearance for my 18” rims. All kits come with StopTech’s own Street Performance Pad, which StopTech says is a light track day pad.

After about 10 track days this year, I am very impressed. This is some of best money I’ve spent on the car: Braking is strong, consistent, and predictable session after session. After 30 minutes on track, my brakes work as well as after the first lap with maybe a bit more pedal travel.

The Street Performance Pads are truly phenomenal. They do an amazing job on track and are quiet around town: Best of both worlds. Their limit of effectiveness seems to be at about 30 minute sessions. After that, some fade starts to appear. However that’s perfect for me. After 30 minutes, I’m ready for a break anyway.

The pads do wear out fairly quickly (I’m on my second set of front pads after 9 track days) but they are extremely easy to replace (thanks to the pad retaining bridge on the outside of the caliper) and super cheap: About $70 for the 4-piston pads and $110 for the 6 piston pads.

Now let’s hope I don’t move too soon to step 7 in the list, or I'd have to find a second job to pay for it…