How to Slow Down Faster: The Math behind Brakes. Part 1: The Prologue


     My first post in “The Math” section will be in tribute to the system that helps stop the car: the brakes.  This little system is what keeps you from slamming into that wall at 60 miles per hour like you do in your dreams.  We all know that friction is what causes us to slow down and eventually stop, but how do we calculate it and use that to find the approximate stopping power of our vehicle?

      Race cars need to stop as fast as possible, under the least amount of time.  Every millisecond counts for them, and so the best braking setup must be engineered for them.  The brakes on that race car works under the same principles that the brakes on beater on the next block does.  All brakes work under the principles of friction.  We push two surfaces together to create friction, and that’s what stops our car from whatever speed we’re at. 

     While some people may claim that bigger brakes are for wusses, or that brakes aren’t needed if you want to go fast, it’s actually the complete opposite.  Larger and more efficient brakes allow you go faster and harder than before, pushing the limits even further.  For example, let’s say a typical car needs to brake 100 meters before a corner to be able to make the turn.  At that distance of 100 meters, let’s say the vehicle is traveling at 100 miles per hour.  Now let’s increase the stopping power of our car and have it attack the same corner.  With a shorter stopping distance, the vehicle can brake later now, allowing the driver to push the car harder for longer.  Let’s say that the car only needs 80 meters to slow down now.  With that extra 20 meters, the car will be able to accelerate to an even higher speed, and the deceleration of those 80 meters well be more brutal than that from 100 meters.

     If we want to drive/race the car that can stop more efficiently, we’ll need to find the “perfect” braking setup.  And that’s where math comes in.  We’re going to find how to calculate a vehicle’s braking power, its stopping distance, and eventually its perfect braking system.

     I’ll explain the basics of what we’re going to work with in the next post.  Stay tuned.


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March 2009
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© 2009 Rusi Li

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