Big Brake System Benefits you may not have Considered


As we've been preparing for the launch of our Competition Brake Systems for the FR-S / BRZ, I've seen a lot of chatter on the forums about whether or not the FT86 platform needs an aftermarket brake system. While it's true that there have been quite a few FT86's tracked without major brake issues using just a pad and fluid change, that simple solution may not be the most economical or logical conclusion long-term. Before writing off a brake kit as "unnecessary," I would urge you to take a closer look at the realities of the situation.

Below I've compiled a list of some of the benefits of aftermarket brakes that aren't widely recognized or acknowledged. For the FT86 platform, these benefits are even more relevant and important due to the nature of the car.

Weight & Rotating Mass
The Competition Brake Systems we're putting together using AP Racing components are 5 to 10 lbs. less unsprung weight per front corner vs. the OEM equipment. Our smaller Sprint system knocks 20 lbs. off the nose of the car, which meaningfully improves overall F/R weight distribution. At this time, I don't believe unsprung weight reduction of that magnitude is possible via aftermarket wheels/tires or suspension on this car.

A sizeable body of work has been written on the merits of low rotating mass. The focus of most of this work has been related to lightweight wheels. It's been proven repeatedly that heavy wheels and tires essentially sap power from a car, impeding both acceleration and braking. Road & Track recently explored this topic when modifying an FR-S with aftermarket wheels.

The same principles are true with brakes. As with wheels and tires, brake discs are part of the rotating assembly. A heavy brake disc is more difficult to accelerate, just as a heavier wheel is. On a low powered car such as the FR-S or BRZ, lower mass is even more critical.

Adding horsepower is the common route to an improved power-to-weight ratio and increased acceleration. Reducing weight achieves the same thing, but with additional benefits. Shedding lbs. improves your power-to-weight ratio, but also makes the car handle better, easier on brakes, decreases wear and tear on tires, and allows for greater fuel efficiency.

Most enthusiasts don't bat an eyelash at spending $2,000 on a header and exhaust system that sheds some pounds and adds some horsepower. On the FT86, our brake systems are effectively accomplishing the same thing. As an added bonus, you get a wide range of additional benefits.

Spares/Long-term running costs
While there is a higher initial cost of a big brake kit vs. simply upgrading the pads and discs, the long-terming running costs of an aftermarket brake system are sometimes actually cheaper.

From what we've seen so far, track compounds in the pad shape we use in our brake systems are less expensive than the same compound in the OEM FR-S/BRZ shape. The pads in our system also have a 50% thicker friction puck. Since the discs in our system are far superior, the pads will also be running cooler. All of that adds up to far superior wear rates per pad set. Let's say the pads for our system are $175, while the same compound in the OEM shape is $225. If you would normally go through 4 sets of OEM-shaped pads in a season, that would be $900 in pads. If you only go through 3 sets of pads with our system, that's $525, a savings of $375. Over three seasons, that's $1,125 in pad savings alone. That is already half of the initial investment in a kit, and that doesn't factor in any of the other benefits.

Disc replacements for BBK's are obviously more expensive, but it's a similar situation. The discs in our system are going to last far longer than an OEM or OEM-style replacement disc. AP Racing discs have an array of features specifically designed to deal with track temperatures, including specialized crack resistant metallurgy. For every few sets of OEM style discs you go through, you'll use one set of the AP discs. I just had a customer on the corvette forum post that he got two full seasons out of one pair of our discs. He went on to say he had 3 dozen cracked OEM discs in his garage!

Because overall system temperatures will remain lower with a big brake kit, you will be putting a lot less heat into your brake fluid, and will likely have to bleed your brakes a lot less. Racing brake fluid isn't cheap, and constantly feeding it through your system can get expensive.

Wear and Tear
If you've ever tracked a car much, you know that there is a lot of associated wear and tear on parts surrounding the brakes. A huge amount of heat is built up in the area of the bearings, ball joints, etc. Running a big brake system keeps overall temperatures lower. Additionally, the aluminum hats on the 2-piece discs in a brake system are better at keeping heat out of the bearing area.

Convenience, Enjoyment, and Track Time
This is one huge factor that always seems to be overlooked...if you've ever been lying under the car in the pits bleeding your brakes while your friends are zooming by, it just plain sucks. If you've ever driven half a session, and then had your brakes start to fade, right when you were getting in the groove and setting your best lap sucks. If you were playing cat and mouse with a friend and you have to let up because your brakes are flaking sucks. Track time is expensive. You want to use it having fun and driving hard, not babying your brakes and tiptoeing around. A sorted, track optimized brake system allows you to forget about the brakes and just drive. You'll also spend less time bleeding, and you probably won't feel the need to tote as many spares around.

Resale value of car and brake system

If you try to sell your car in five years, and your OEM calipers are a burnt mess, that's likely going to cause some concern for the buyer. That's why most of the Porsche guys with PCCB's still run aftermarket iron disc systems at the track. They put the OEM ceramics in a box, and put them back on the car when they sell it.

Additionally, a brake system from a top-tier manufacturer holds its value well on the used market. I've seen some of our AP kits sell for 60-70% of their original price on the used market. That means you pay $2000-$2500, gain all the benefits of the system for the years you own it, then get $1200-$1700 back on them when you sell. Between the resale value and the consumable savings, you're basically covered on the total cost of the system.

Along the same lines as some of what I wrote above, having confidence in your brakes is an awesome feeling on track. It allows you to focus on everything else going on out there. Having confidence allows you to push harder and improve your driving. If you're in a competitive situation (Time attack or wheel-to-wheel), this can make a huge difference in the outcome.

Initial Cash Outlay

If you plan to buy front and rear race pads, SS lines, good fluid, and a duct kit, you're probably looking at what, $750? Throw in some slotted discs, and you're over a grand. What will you have to show for it? Some pieces of iron that you'll throw away, and some black fluid. Even SS brake lines are wear and tear items that will need to be replaced.

Many of the things I noted above are outside of, or in addition to, what most people typically associate with a big brake system. Do you absolutely NEED a big brake kit. No, particularly if you only drive on the street. The OEM brakes will stop the car. If you look carefully at the situation however, a BBK becomes a more logical purchase than you originally thought. People tend to dwell on the upfront investment of $2k, but you have to look deeper than that to understand what you're really getting long-term. In my opinion, if you plan to track your car regularly and keep it for 3 years or longer, a quality BBK is almost a no-brainer.

OEM BRZ front corner brakes weightEssex Sprint Kit on Scale

Essex Sprint Kit vs. OEM FT86 brakes on scale

Written by Jeff Ritter


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