There are a few basic facts that must always be kept in mind when discussing brake systems:
1) The brakes don’t stop the vehicle – the tires do. The brakes slow the rotation of the wheels and tires. This means that braking distance measured on a single stop from a highway legal speed or higher is almost totally dependent upon the stopping ability of the tires in use – which, in the case of aftermarket advertising, may or may not be the ones originally fitted to the car by the OE manufacturer.
2) The brakes function by converting the kinetic energy of the car into thermal energy during deceleration – producing heat, lots of heat – which must then be transferred into the surroundings and into the air stream.
The amount of heat produced in context with a brake system needs to be considered with reference to time meaning rate of work done or power. Looking at only one side of a front brake assembly, the rate of work done by stopping a 3500-pound car traveling at 100 Mph in eight seconds is 30,600 calories/sec or 437,100 BTU/hr or is equivalent to 128 kW or 172 Hp. The disc dissipates approximately 80% of this energy. The ratio of heat transfer among the three mechanisms is dependent on the operating temperature of the system. The primary difference being the increasing contribution of radiation as the temperature of the disc rises. The contribution of the conductive mechanism is also dependent on the mass of the disc and the attachment designs, with disc used for racecars being typically lower in mass and fixed by mechanism that are restrictive to conduction. At 1000oF the ratios on a racing 2-piece annular disc design are 10% conductive, 45% convective, 45% radiation. Similarly on a high performance street one-piece design, the ratios are 25% conductive, 25% convective, 50% radiation.
3) Repeated hard stops require both effective heat transfer and adequate thermal storage capacity within the disc. The more disc surface area per unit mass and the greater and more efficient the mass flow of air over and through the disc, the faster the heat will be dissipated and the more efficient the entire system will be. At the same time, the brake discs must have enough thermal storage capacity to prevent distortion and/or cracking from thermal stress until the heat can be dissipated. This is not particularly important in a single stop but it is crucial in the case of repeated stops from high speed – whether racing, touring or towing.
4) Control and balance are at least as important as ultimate stopping power. The objective of the braking system is to utilize the tractive capacity of all of the tires to the maximum practical extent without locking a tire. In order to achieve this, the braking force between the front and rear tires must be nearly optimally proportioned even with ABS equipped vehicles. At the same time, the required pedal pressure, pedal travel and pedal firmness must allow efficient modulation by the driver.
5) Braking performance is about more than just brakes. In order for even the best braking systems to function effectively, tires, suspension and driving techniques must be optimized.
For maximum brake potential, vehicles benefit from proper corner weight balance, a lower CG, a longer wheelbase, more rear weight bias and increased aerodynamic down force at the rear.