Hand braking mid run can serve multiple purposes. Generally, it’s used to minutely slow down while maintaining/gaining angle. There is an option to extend a drift by repeatedly pulling the hand brake. But that’s another article (click on it!). During tandem, the hand brake is frequently used when approaching the car in front and needing to slow down without losing angle.
Here is a video of Matt Coffman in Seattle using his hand brake several times through a run for various reasons.
- Be drifting
- Press in clutch
- Yank hand brake for a short to long period of time
- Release clutch (can clutch kick additionally)
- Modulate gas pedal
The hand brake pull strength should be enough to lock the wheels. The duration depends on the needs of the situation. To simply maintain angle, the duration should be fairly short. The longer the wheels are locked, the more the car will pivot. Subsequently, the more the car will slow down. Because of this, most people think of this as a beginner’s technique. It can easily be used to “fix” mistakes by significantly slowing the car and giving more time to react.
Clutch kicks can be added if too much speed has been lost but it won’t help much. In some cases it can help add angle but this varies based on lots of unpredictable criteria. In tandems, a quick hand brake grab can be enough to prevent contact with the car in front but maintain angle.
What’s Going On and Why
The car is slowing down
While off throttle normally, the car will naturally slow down. But if the gas pedal was simply let off, the car would straighten. With the hand brake pulled, the angle is maintained because…
The rear is trying to pass the front
The rear tires have almost no grip and very little friction while the front wheels are scrubbing a bit and rolling in the correct direction. The momentum of the whole car is allowed to slide more in the rear due to its less friction than the front. Simply put: the front has more friction than the rear
The clutch must be in. The clutch must be disengaged. The engine must not be powering the wheels. If not, and the hand brake is strong enough, the engine will stop. Some vehicles have weak hand brakes or drum actuated parking brakes. A factory refresh, adjustment, and sometimes upgraded pads will help. If the hand brake can’t lock up the wheels when not drifting, it might not be very useful during a drift.
The longer the wheels are locked, the more the car pivots and the more the car slows down. Here’s Masashi Yokoi at Long Beach holding down the hand brake to slow down and gain significant angle on the final hair pin (0:25-0:30)
Beginner Level Usage
This is a difficult one to pin down for newbies. Lower hp cars can make use of this when they don’t have enough power. But the down side is that it slows the car down more the slower the car is going from the beginning. For higher horsepower beginners, this can be used to slow things down a bit to gain composure. This has the double edged sword of being a potential crutch in the future.
The simplest usage is for decreasing radius corners or hair pins. Otherwise, it’s simply a tool to maintain angle or quickly gain some angle.
Intermediate Level Usage
Once past the beginner’s stage, intermediate drivers should be tandem ready. Hand braking is very useful to keep from hitting the car in front when following. In high stress and low angle situations, this can be used to gain some angle without speeding off into a wall. When there isn’t an ability to clutch kick because of lack of power, not enough gear, or the added momentum would cause an off course situation, this is a perfect usage.
Here is a video of Forrest Wang at Irwindale using this on an inner bank to maintain angle when coming in hot to the inner bank (0:18-0:21). A clutch kick here would have sent him into a wall.
Higher Level Usage
At the D1/FD level, the hand brake is used everywhere. Occasionally it’s used to cover up mistakes and points deductions are made. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for the hand brake. Notable usages include the last corner at Irwindale and the last corner at Long Beach. Again, decreasing radius corners or hair pins. For anyone not left foot braking, I see hand brakes followed up by clutch kicks on banks.