Project Car Diaries: Flying off Track in My Civic Type R Reminded Me To Revisit Brake Pads
Heading to a turn at 120 mph is a suboptimal spot to realize your brake pads are cooked. But it did give us an excuse to try new ones.
The brake pedal went to the floor. That's never good but is especially not good when you’re in a 2019 Honda Civic Type R doing 120 mph into the famously tricky corner known as Sunset. It was around then, and during the subsequent air time as I lightly jumped off of the camber of the track at Buttonwillow Raceway Park, that I thought “I need better brakes.”
Truthfully, this is the track day rookie mistake. But I had good reason: I was setting a baseline lap time and performance for my car based on how I felt about the car. I already flushed my brake fluid for the top-shelf spirit known as Endless RF-650 and kept the pads I’d used twice at Willow Springs’ Big Willow track which were still working decently. But as I sheepishly found my way back onto the track and into the hot pits to explain myself to track safety, I decided I had a phone call to make. And some more preparation to do.
My five laps of Buttonwillow CW13 (one of the most famous time attack venues in the country) before my brake pads completely shit the bed were half-decent but I could tell the car needed work. At that point, I already had the 265mm-wide Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires that I reviewed previously on a set of 18x9.5 +45 Titan 7 wheels, a Hondata base tune, some shifter parts to crispen my slightly worn-out gear, and some cooling mods in a PTP turbo blanket and heat-wrapped intake tube. Overheating did not become an issue on that cold track day, with ambient temperatures in the low 50-degree Fahrenheit range. But I did have an issue with front grip through sweeping turns, with the car resolutely settling into tire-killing understeer through Buttonwillow’s 100-mph sweeper called Riverside.
What I could manage with my weak brakes, traffic, and some handling issues was a disappointing 2:03.078 in a car that is capable of lap times much closer to 1:57. The strong front grip of my Type R on the street became weakened under the maximum attack conditions of the track, so I needed to find front traction as well.
Licking My Wounds and Calling Some Friends
Limping my car the 100 miles home from the track, I had time to build a mental parts list on what I could use to rectify my issues. The first thing I ordered was a set of Hardrace camber adjustable ball joints for the front of the car, which could go as far as -3.5 degrees. The reason I chose the ball joints instead of a camber plate was simple: the FK8 (10th-gen Civic Type R) cannot fit camber plates on the stock suspension. The spring is short but wide to accommodate the separate hub carrier knuckles, with the width contributing most of the spring rate of the front end. Thus, the solution is swapping the lower ball joint of the hub carrier to add camber.
This has some side effects as it directly affects the steering geometry that Honda worked so hard to perfect. Truthfully, I had already ruined that by adding wider wheels with a 15mm offset difference, which introduced torque steer that stock Type Rs don’t have. But after studying the Cup 2s at home, it was clear that shoulder wear was excessive and the car demanded more camber. The operating principle of the part is simple: it widens the bolt hole and turns it into a slot that can move in and out relative to the center of the car. The 1-degree adjustments are handled by special washers that fit into the Hardrace ball joint.
Also, the brake pads being the failure point was quite clear, with the pads worn to the backing plate. I checked them before the track day and they were at about half-life and lasted quite well at Big Willow. The extra energy of Buttonwillow apparently caused rapid, runaway wear. For anyone who cares, they were Dixcel M Type pads, which were put on by the previous owner. I'm not one to remove partially worn parts, so it's safe to say I got my money's worth.
Luckily, the pads and backing plate were so soft that the hard AP Racing brake rotors on my car escaped with minimal scrap'eage. Normally, I would resurface slotted rotors, but I learned (since I shot my video about it) that AP rotors run incredibly light and the two-piece floating design makes it difficult to do. Instead of spending $800 on replacement rings, I ran the rotors through a set of stock Brembo pads I had in stock, then my main Hawk HPS 5.0 street pads to pseudo-resurface them. Ultimately, it is mea culpa for not swapping the parts earlier.
The adjustable camber joints from Hardrace are adjustable in increments of 1 degree, from 0 to -2 degrees. FK8s come factory with approximately -1.5 degrees of camber. To decide whether to go for the full -3.5 degrees or go for the more street-friendly -2.5, I sought some help from some new friends at Counterspace Garage, who could also help me with my braking problem.
Counterspace Garage is one of the newer players in the performance aftermarket being founded in 2012 by David Leung and Mike Kang. Their brake pads came to my attention at the recommendation of my friend Jack at Savagegeese. They’re a small shop in Santa Fe Springs, California, making modern cars go faster through tuning, coaching, and making their own parts. They’re the modern tuning house and speed parts guys and they’re bringing a fresh look at the Japanese performance aftermarket. Leung is the man who helped me get situated with braking and set me up with a set of the company's C21/C11 track brake pads.
I also got some great insight into how the FK8’s braking system works, confirming some suspicions I always had about the car. According to Leung, the braking system is extremely rigid and highly responsive, built around the car being able to use ABS and brake vectoring seamlessly. As he schooled me in an email, “The CTR has a very responsive brake system that allows for the inherent electronics to do its thing.” Thus, it’s important to get pads tailored for the car. With the CSG Spec C21 on the front axle and the C11 on the rear, the car should have increased performance while maintaining the correct function of its subsystems and the correct brake bias.
Also, Leung told me to just run -3.5 degrees of camber. I was a coward and went for -2.5, with an open mind to -3.5 if my settings weren’t aggressive enough. Either way, with the pads installed and bedded, and my car aligned to have -2.5 front and -2 degrees of camber rear with zero toe, It was time to return to Valhalla. Er, Buttonwillow. As final insurance, I purchased an extra set of Motegi 18x8.5 +35 wheels with a scrubbed set of 255mm Bridgestone RE-71R if the Cup 2s didn’t give me the confidence I wanted.
Getting The Time
It was a great day to get the lap time, with a 55-degree morning and a pretty empty track thanks to Socal Drivers Club. All it took was three laps and I got it: a 1:59.988. By the skin of my teeth. The brakes were incredibly impressive, with amazing initial bite, but my full review will be for later. Meanwhile, the extra front camber increased front grip just enough to nose the car in at the sustained sweepers, but I was still searching for more turn-in. But the Cup 2s were finally dead, slightly delaminated (even at 33 psi hot tire pressure) and worn. So I smacked on my spare set.
1:59.097. An entire second just using real track tires that were already 5 track days old. The car has serious speed. But I encountered another ugly issue as the ambient temperature rose: overheating. I could not do more than 1 hot lap at a time, with the temperature gauge climbing halfway through the lap. Still, there's more time in it on this setup. I need to optimize my brake release and maybe try fourth gear through Sunrise (turn 1), find a braver line through the curb-hopping Bus Stop, get the car rotated earlier for Phil Hill, enter Sweeper a hair faster to utilize the available grip more, and apex the edge of the tarmac not the curbing through Sunset (last turn). Tenths add up, and I definitely lost tenths at the Bus Stop and Sweeper.
So, I hit my initial goal of breaking through the sub-2 minute street car barrier at Buttonwillow, and with minimal mods. But now, it’s down to cooling and getting to my new goal of the 1:57s. And I might just have a solution to both problems with some new parts and willing friends. Also, fixing my driving.
- Confirm that brakes do suck and that the car needs front grip
- Get new brake pads, and add front camber
- Install and bed brake pads thoroughly
- Install FK8 camber adjusters and get professional alignment
- Drive fast
- Hammer and screwdriver for brake pad pins
- 7mm Allen key for rear brake caliper
- 19mm socket for front lower hub carrier ball joint and front brake caliper
- Philips screwdriver for brake shield and brake disk retaining screw
- Just me, no Honda friends in sight
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