October 13, 2006

Performance Friction PF01 review: the best so far

There are two moments in my driving "education" that stand out: the first is when I realized that brakes are not something you can take for granted. The other, a consequence of the first, when I discovered that braking could be taken to a level I never imagined.

Anyone who has tracked their street car knows what burning pads smell like and many will also know the unsettling feeling of quickly finding their pedal getting longer and longer after only a few laps pushing the car. It's the worse feeling in the world and while our fathers and grandfathers had to learn to deal with cars that had no brakes, there is little reason for us to suffer.

Without a doubt brake pad choice makes for long internet discussions, just check any car discussion group and even in the small Axis group we tried quite a number of pads collectively, off the top of my head I can think of:

Performance Friction, Pagid, Porterfiels Hawk, Ferodo, Carbotech,

I always come back to Performance Friction. MY first experience was with the PF 97 compound. Man, I still remember the first time I had those on the car, I was bedding the pads in at night on a dark road.....WOW lightshow! sparks flying out the side of the car! incredible. And on the track the 97 compound really has huge bite.

But there is a price to pay: I don't care what others say, PF97 EAT rotors, big ridges will appear on the surface of a both the stock and cryogenically treated rotors after even one track week end. I switched to the BMW "Euro" floating rotor and I got some relief but not much. Much of the wear came not when the brakes were hot at the track but rather when they were cold, on the street or at autox. Despite the warnings the pads work fine cold but seem to just dig into the disk like a hungry shark.
People loved the flames shooting out the wheels when braking at autox though...definite crowd pleaser.

I'm pleased to report however that one not need to look at rotors as consumables quite so often: the PF01 compound seems to be different from the 97 in one key way, it does not eat rotors.

Again, nothing is free. This compound does not last quite as long as the 97 but it brakes better and it will save you from having to buy rotors so often. I use the pads on both the front and the rear on the M Coupe.

The other big issue with brakes is of course fade, there might come a point where the stock components will just not cut it.
Stee solved the problem on the M3 by slapping a four wheel set of Brembos. This is the ultimate solution but a very expensive one, price it sometime! Stee was very clever about buying some choice used bits but it still came to a sizable investment. The running costs are also to consider, a set of PF-01 for the Brembos is in the $700 range, replacement rings are some absurd amount though you can use Stoptech parts and cut the price.

As much as I would like to this it was simply not in my budget but again thanks to Performance Friction I found a workable solution with their Direct Drive rotors. This is a real cool (pardon the pun) product, a true two piece rotor that works with the stock BMW caliper.

When I decided after a couple of track days where brake fade had been an issue to optimize my system, I installed these rotors on the front along with new PF-01 pads, Stoptech stainless steel lines (teflon coated as they should be), and Motul brake fluid. The result has been a fantastic brake pedal feel and stopping power and NO fade at all even during a 40 minute session at Watkins Glen. It was a cool day but as I said there was not even a hint of fade.

I noticed after the session that the temperature across the rotor was remarkably even more even that on stee's brembos and definitively more even than on a stock BMW rotor on another M3. I also experienced no brake judder from pad deposits at all... A great set up I would highly recomend to anyone tracking who is not yet ready to go for a BBK.
I think the guys at Off Camber Motorsport are going to be offering the Direct Drive rotors and of course the have the best price I've found on PF pads, make sure you give them a call.

Anyway...here are 2 laps from the last day at the Glen...Stee and I only really got one good dry session. Actually it was not all dry, the downhill left turn 6 and the off camber turn 9 both seemed just never to dry fully. I make a big mistake going into turn 8 on the second lap and the front end washes out. I get some of that push in turn 1 as well but there, as long as you let the car go wide over the turtles and keep the momentum, the penalty is not so bad speed wise. For time reasons I had to fill up at the track with 100 octane...and man, I burned through 10 gallons in 40 minutes...boy was that fun!

I tried using the divx codec, let me know if it works for you, especially the window users.


  1. DivX works okay for this Windows/Firefox user, after downloading the plugin.

    But the quality isn't so hot. Looks like very high frame rate, but poor resolution and color. You can see all of these little squares with visible borders.

    Thanks for the brake pad feedback!

  2. Josh,

    that's interesting because on Safari it looks pretty decent, definitively not blocky or jumpy. hmmm. this whole codec thing is such a drag. Quicktime always looks best to me but people tell me they have issues loading it... bah humbug! :)


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