Published on July 11th, 2012 | by Gearhead Diva
Racing Prep: Heel-and-Toe Shifting Technique
Just in case you’re visiting from another planet, or you’ve spent your whole life under a rock, and have never heard of heel and toe shifting; read on you’re about to own the track!
In petrol-head terms, heel-and-toe shifting refers to a driving technique used mostly in performance driving. The technique involves operating the throttle and brake pedals simultaneously with the right foot, while depressing the clutch with the left foot and downshifting, as normal.
The great thing about heel-and-toe is it allows the driver to “blip” the throttle to raise the engine speed and smoothly engage a lower gear.
Where it Came From
Although we’ve probably all heard the quick blip of the throttle as a race car enters a turn, what is not as well known is that the technique dates back to the early days of multi-speed manual transmissions. These early devices didn’t have the luxury of synchro’s and the recommended method of down-shifting was to blip the throttle as the next lower cog was selected. This allowed the gearwheels traveling at different speeds to SYNCHRONIZE.
The technique is still as effective as ever. Even with synchro’s, at high speeds (or, if you’re about to drop 2 gears going into a turn) the traditional toe-and-heel makes the transition so much smoother.
This not only reduces impact loads on the drivetrain, but also makes the car more stable at a point in time when there’re a bunch of forces that the driver’s desperately trying to control.
How it Works
Heel-and-toe (also known as double-declutching when used by those magnificent Mack’s, Peterbilts and Oshkosh’s before the auto took over) basically works like this:
- While braking for a corner; with your right foot apply pressure to the brake pedal as you would normally do, but move your heel to hover (making sure not to “ride”) over the accelerator pedal.
- Push in the clutch with your left foot.
- With your right foot still applying pressure to the brakes, roll the outside edge of your foot outward and downward to touch the accelerator pedal. The pedal design on some cars makes this easier to do than on others.
- Use the outside of your right foot to blip the throttle. Blipping the throttle means temporarily raising the engine rpm. The exact amount of revs needed is dependent on a variety of factors, but is usually between 1,000 rpm to 2,000 rpm more than the current engine rpm for a one-gear downshift.
- While the throttle is being blipped and the revs are temporarily elevated, select your next gear.
- Release the clutch, and revel in the mastery of man over machine!
To the inexperienced this can be really awkward, so a little practice might not be a bad idea. A good way to practice is to just sit in your car in the garage and pretend you are doing a heel-and-toe downshift with the engine off. (Be careful if you’ve got a carburetted car – pushing down on the accelerator pedal will cause the accelerator-pump to squirt fuel into the inlet manifold)
Keep repeating the steps until you are familiar with the process. Once you are ready, try it out for real. You can do this at low speeds so that you can concentrate more on the technique than on getting the car through the corner.
Keep on practicing: You’ll know when you get it right. A proper heel-and-toe downshift is so smooth and so satisfying that, once done correctly, you’ll find yourself using the technique all the time.
And besides all the techie stuff… damn, the sound of that 427 bark is music to the soul!