Hand brake entries are one of the most basic entries performed. From watching lots of Formula Drift in car footage, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s the entry of choice for over 85% of drivers/tracks. As a result, this is likely one of the tools the average driver will want to learn first.
Here is a video of Conrad Grunewald at Wall NJ doing this technique (0:17-0:24)
- Go fast
- Turn in
- Press in clutch
- Yank hand brake
- Let off clutch and get back onto gas (if you haven’t already)
To some, this may seem really simple and “of course”. To others, this will seem too difficult. The first point of “go fast” is an absolute necessity. Anything below ~25mph will either not lock the wheels or will not have enough momentum to carry into a full drift. You’ll likely just skirp for a bit.
Turning is the most important part of the equation. It gives the drift a direction prior to the hand brake being pulled. Without any weight transfer/direction, the car will simply skid in a straight line. Notice how Conrad doesn’t have to give it much steering input. He simply points and pulls the hand brake.
Pressing in the clutch is one of the things that makes sense but many people forget. Without the clutch depressed, the wheels will not lock. Or if they do, the car will stall immediately. Finally, letting the clutch back out and getting onto the gas will allow the driver to continue the drift and modulate.
What’s Going On and Why
If you’re not a nerd like me, you can probably skip this part. But I find it the most interesting. Here’s a quick drawing of what’s going on the moment after the hand brake is pulled. Red/blue spectrum relates to friction being applied to the tires upon entry. Blue is less friction, red is more friction.
Once the vehicle has momentum, the car wants to roll at that same speed (first law of motion). When turning, you’ll apply some friction to the front tires. This will slow the car down. The rear tires, now locked, will at first apply 100% force (red) to the road but quickly will give up once the contact patch can’t hold on any longer. If you’d like more reading on tire forces, look up pacejka’s formula.
At this point, friction has been “overcome”, and the rear will try to pass the front of the car. This is due to the front having more friction applied to it than the rear. It’s not a huge difference, but it’s enough. This is also why lower speed hand brake initiations tend not to be very effective. There isn’t enough momentum and frictional difference between the front and the rear to cause oversteer.
The car must be physically traveling fast enough to have the potential energy to use this initiation. Since you are off throttle (and you’re applying a brake), this entry type will slow the car down minutely. For pro levels, this means that the technique will only be used in corners where you aren’t accelerating (IE – you have enough run up).
Excessively holding the hand brake will excessively slow down the car. If performed incorrectly (too much hand brake or too much weight transfer), the car will tend to want to over rotate into a “J turn”.
Here’s Tyler McQuarrie (0:07-0:11) holding down the hand brake a bit more than Conrad in our first video. Notice how he quickly gains more angle than Conrad did.
Beginner Level Usage
Personally, I tend not to teach beginners this technique at first. They are generally going too slow into a corner for this technique to be effective. Some drivers, however, are more aggressive and tend to go into corners faster. These are the types of beginner drivers that could make use of this technique.
Generally, beginners either don’t turn in prior to pulling the hand brake, or they forget to press in the clutch. The second most common issue is holding the hand brake for too long or giving too much momentum and spinning.
Intermediate Level Usage
Intermediates will likely already be using this technique frequently. The major use is to reliably set angle upon entry. It’s a very predictable method to consistently place the car in the same places every run. Variable amounts and applications of the hand brake can be used to pivot the car, tighten line, and slow the vehicle down.
Higher Level Usage
Higher levels tend to use this technique to variably set a car in the initial corner and use it in tandems to approach the car in front if the lead car is going too slow. Especially for larger corners, I’ve seen this technique used multiple times to “stretch” out the entry. This is very useful as FD has “initiation zones” where you have to have initiated by the final cone.
Most often, hand brake entries are used in conjunction with a slight feint. On courses like ovals, the initial weight transfer can be difficult so a feint becomes extremely useful. Also, if not enough forward momentum is available, this is a great way to mitigate speed loss upon hand brake entry.
For an idea of how often hand brake + feint initiations are used at a higher level: