Club Racing: Finding the right brake pad

Images by Jason Isley

Club Racing: Finding the right brake pad

SCCA / SportsCar Magazine

Club Racing: Finding the right brake pad


Regardless of vehicle, brake pads are an easy and cost-effective
way to improve lap times

Be it your daily driver, tow rig, or racecar, upgrading brake pads is arguably the easiest way to improve braking for any vehicle. Simply swapping out your road-going pads for something designed for the task at hand is a surefire way to improve braking performance. But sometimes that simple task isn’t so simple after all.

When it comes to selecting brake pads, the choices often seem endless, but we have found – on more than one occasion – that the application we needed simply didn’t exist. Take our Runoffs-winning H Production Toyota Yaris for example. It’s hard to blame any motorsports brake manufacturer for overlooking this one – it’s simply not a car people expect to see on a racetrack. But with classes like B-Spec gaining in popularity and events like the Tire Rack Time Trials National Tour making it possible to put almost anything into highly demanding braking situations, you may find yourself in need of a brake pad that doesn’t exist.

Years ago, when facing this problem, we were urged to reach out to Porterfield Brakes, as word was they could produce brake pads for anything. A quick visit to revealed that they did, in fact, offer custom brake pads. Surprisingly, we were not limited to Porterfield’s friction materials when ordering a custom pad.

When looking for a custom brake pad fitment, the best place to start is with one of your OE pads. You can trace the backing plate onto a piece of paper and fax or scan and e-mail it to Porterfield and, based on decades of experience in this niche market, the folks at Porterfield can select the appropriate donor pad to start with, which they then cut down to size via their proprietary procedure. It’s that simple — but there are some caveats.

“It has to be in a compound that is available in a size that is appropriate to cut the pad,” says Wendy Charlier of Porterfield Brakes. “Many things factor into the equation, like the thickness of the material, backing plate thickness, and overall size. We do try to select the least expensive version that will work to help keep the ‘custom’ cost down.”

If you find yourself shopping for a custom brake pad and aren’t sure what friction material is right for you, Porterfield can help. “We will make what the customer wants, [but] if they are unsure, we match it to their use,” Charlier says. “It is up to the customer to meet the temperature ranges and modulations required for selecting that compound. Obviously if someone is looking for a Hawk DTC-70 or Raybestos ST47 for a 1,500lb car, we would advise against it. However, at the end of the day, the customer is king, and we give them what they want — with a warning, for sure.”

Back to our Yaris racecar: We wanted a Hawk DTC-60 front pad, but Hawk didn’t make the application. The recommendation from Porterfield was to use a Hawk HB110G.775 as our donor pad — this is a race-specific pad for an Alcon or AP Racing caliper. But this recommendation had us wondering if all pads in a given line are created equal. In other words, is the friction material used for a Hawk DTC-60 on the front of a C5 Corvette the same as one for a Spec Miata?

For that quandary, we turned to Edwin Mangune, the Motorsports Field Manger for Hawk Performance. “A Hawk Performance DTC-60 pad compound is always a DTC-60,” Mangune explains. This was further clarified by Charlier: “Custom pads only refer to the shape, as the compound wouldn’t ever change by model,” she says. “To expand further, a Porterfield R-4 is always the same formulation. This goes for all compounds; if the desired friction or outcome is different, we would select a different compound all together.”

And don’t fret if your car uses drum brakes. “We can reline any brake shoe,” says Charlier. “If a new core is not available, the customer can send in their cores and in about two weeks we send it back relined in one of our Porterfield compounds, R-4, RD-4 or R4-S.”

So, would you want to go to the trouble of having a custom pad produced if there were readymade choices for your car? We think so. Braking feel – modulation and control – are as important as stopping power, so if you find a friction material that you like but the application isn’t available, this is an option if it’s not offered for your car. A few years ago, we heard good things about a limited availability Raybestos compound, so we ordered custom pads for one of our race cars that normally runs off-the-shelf Hawks. Hey, you never know until you try.


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