Brake Pads Selection: Choosing the right tool for the job

Brake pads are crucial components in the braking system of any vehicle, but their significance amplifies when it comes to racing, track days or even performance street use. Performance and racing brake pads differ significantly from regular street brake pads in terms of materials, performance characteristics, and operational demands. This article is an introduction to the key aspects of brake pads and provides guidance on how to choose the right ones for optimal performance. We will provide a quick overview of the most popular brake pad compounds from Hawk and Performance Friction, two of the most trusted brands in brake friction. We also have access to many other brands such as EBC, Pagid, etc. if required for your application.


Be ready to compromise

We frequently receive inquiries from customers seeking brake pads that excel in various conditions: quiet operation, minimal dust, optimal street performance and  durability, excellent autocross performance, resilience for a full day on the track, year-round usability and exceptional longevity. We would love to be able to sell you such a brake pad but it does not exist. The current state of materials technology is just not advanced enough to meet all these criteria simultaneously. Performance and racing brake pads inevitably involve compromises. For instance, low dust and quiet operation is just not a consideration for race pads, so expect plenty of both if using such a pad on the street.


The right tool for the job

Selecting the right brake pads involves considering the specific requirements of your racing discipline and vehicle. Here are the basic steps to make an informed choice:

  1. Identify your intended use: Are you looking for an upgrade over OEM for street use? Autocross? Occasional track day? Fully built weekend warrior that only sees the street getting to and from the race track? A full on race car? Your choice of pads should align with your use case.
  2. Understand Your Vehicle's Characteristics: The weight, speed, and braking system of your vehicle influence pad selection. Heavy and/or powerful vehicles may require pads with higher friction coefficients and greater heat tolerance.
  3. Evaluate Tracks you will be racing on: Some tracks place a heavier demand on brakes than others. For example CTMP (Mosport) is easy on brakes. Calabogie and Mt-Tremblant are not.
  4. Seek Feedback: Input from other racers can provide practical insights into the real-world performance of various brake pads in application similar to yours on tracks that you will be racing. Or you can just call us for advice. We are experts in brake friction, do regular testing for brake pad manufacturers and work with numerous race teams.


1. Street Performance & Autocross (Autoslalom) brake pads



Hawk Performance HPS 5.0 

For most people looking to upgrade their OEM brake pads, the HPS 5.0 pads offer increased stopping power over OEM, quiet operation and low dust. Very low rotor wear and can be used all year round.



Hawk Performance HP Plus

Optimal Operating Temperature Range: 200F to 600F (Max: 800F)

HP Plus pads offer significant stopping power increase over OEM. Most drivers that never tried this type of pad will be immediately shocked at the difference in performance. This an excellent choice for street performance and autocross competition and a good starting point for track day work. The trade off is increased brake dust production and noise. The level of noise varies from car to car and caliper brand/type. We do not recommend using this pad at near or below freezing temperatures due to significantly increased rotor wear at low temperatures. So if you plan on using your car all year round, plan on changing to a more street oriented pad such as HPS 5.0 or an OEM style pad for the winter months.


2. Track day and Racing brake pads


We often receive inquiries from customers looking to upgrade to a big brake kit, some before their first track day. Frequently, choosing the right compound for the operating temperature range will make a drastic improvement while costing a few hundred dollars vs. thousands for a big brake kit. A pad that is operated outside of it's optimal temperature range will cause a variety of problems. Too low and excessive rotor wear will occur. Too high and accelerated pad wear and significantly reduced braking power (brake fade) will occur. 



Hawk DTC-30

Optimal Operating Temperature Range: 100F to 800F (Max 1200F)

Hawk DTC-30 is an excellent entry level track/race pad. Smoother initial bite and modulation compared to HP Plus and a higher temperature range. Can also be used for autocross competition if a less aggressive initial bite and smoother modulation is preferred. A popular option for lightweight track cars on street tires (Miatas, Civis, etc.) Can be used on the street in warmer weather.


Hawk Blue 9012

Optimal Operating Temperature Range: 200 to 800F (Max 1000F)

Hawk Blue is an "old school" compound that is still relevant today in certain use scenarios. Medium torque compound with very smooth initial bite, modulation and release characteristics. Works very well in split compound rear applications on FWD cars. Also popular on lightweight formula cars like F1600. Not recommended for regular street use but it can be used to drive to/from the track.


Hawk ER-1 Endurance

Optimal Operating Temperature Range: 500 to 1100F (Max 1600F)

ER-1 is an endurance compound well suited for medium to lightweight cars for Endurance racing, Track Days and Time Attack competition. Medium-high torque, excellent durability and rotor wear characteristics. Not recommended for regular street use but it can be used to drive to/from the track.


Hawk DTC-60

Optimal Operating Temperature Range: 500F to 1100F (Max: 1600F)

Our most popular Hawk track compound. DTC-60 Works well on a variety of cars. High torque & initial bite along with good release and modulation characteristics. Excellent rotor wear characteristics on track.  Not recommended for regular street use but it can be used to drive to/from the track. A popular option for advanced track use on BMWs, Evo and STIs, and powerful heavier FWD cars like Civic Type R, Focus ST, VW GTi etc. Popular with lighter Sport GT and Formula race cars. Experienced drivers with lightweight cars with smallish brakes (older Miatas, Civics) also like this compound.


Hawk DTC-70

Optimal Operating Temperature Range: 600F to 1200F (Max: 1600F)

Racing compound. Very high torque with good release and modulation. Well suited to high power, heavier cars on sticky tires. Camaro ZL1 & SS 1LE, Corvettes, Mustang GT, GT350 & GT500, Vipers, AMG GT, Porsche 911 GT3, GT3 RS, late model BMW M cars etc. Or on brake intensive tracks where a DTC-60 may begin to operate outside it's optimal temperature range. Not recommended for street use.


Hawk DTC-80

Optimal Operating Temperature Range: 600F to 1500F (Max: 1700F)

Very high initial bite and torque. For extreme racing conditions with excellent friction stability even at sustained temperatures of over 1200F. Well suited for heavy, powerful GT Sports car on slicks and aero.


Performance Friction Brake Pads

PFC makes some of the best racing/track pads. They are available in several compounds to suit your application. PFC pads are super popular with Porsche and BMW track enthusiasts and we stock them for most popular models.


PFC 08 

Optimal Operating Temperature: 300F to 1300F (Max: 1500F)

PFC 08 is an endurance racing compound well suited for endurance GT racing and track day use. Medium-high torque with exceptionally smooth initial bite, modulation and release characteristics. Rising friction with temperature and very rotor friendly. PFC's longest wearing pad.


PFC 11

Optimal Operating Temperature: 400F to 1400F (Max: 1500F)

PFC 11 is a sprint & medium distance racing compound. High torque with rising friction at higher temperatures while still offering smooth modulation and release. While not as long wearing as 08, 11 still offers excellent durability. Super popular with Porsche GT3, GT4, RS and BMW M cars.


PFC 331 & 332

Optimal Operating Temperature: 300F to 1300F (Max: 1400F)

PFC's newest compounds, 331 for front applications, 332 for rear applications are formulated to be ABS friendly for the newest generation of track cars. Both are degressive friction pads (progressively lower friction at higher temps). 331 compound offers a more aggressive initial bite than 08 compound and improved release, while still offering excellent overall smoothness and durability. Designed to be paired with 332 compound in the rear.


3. Making sure the rest of the braking system is up to the task

While selecting the right pad compound is critical for optimal performance on the street or track, one must not overlook the entirety of the braking system. 

  1. Brake Rotors: A quality set of rotors such as DBA Slotted Rotors, Stoptech Slotted Rotors as well as Girodisc Rotors will improve the performance of racing pads and offer improved durability over OEM rotors.
  2. Brake Fluid: A quality racing brake fluid that can survive the high temperatures on the track is a must to prevent a soft/spongy brake pedal. Regular bleeding and a yearly flush is a must to maintain peak performance.
  3. Brake Lines: A quality set of stainless steel braided brake lines will improve pedal feel and make it more consistent on track, especially if your car is more than a few years old.

      5. Conclusion

      Choosing the right racing brake pads is a critical decision that can significantly impact your car's performance on track. By understanding the materials, performance characteristics, specific needs and necessary compromises for your specific use case, you can make an informed choice that enhances safety, efficiency, and can even give you a competitive edge.