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  • Joshua Allan

Heel and Toe Technique

This article first appeared in NASA SpeedNews in July 2016

Heel-toe downshifting requires blipping the throttle pedal while simultaneously pressing the brake and clutch pedals and moving the shifter into a lower gear. Proper heel-toe technique insures braking stability and mechanical durability. Without heel-toe, shift times are increased with potential for vehicle instability and powertrain damage. It requires equal parts art and science and hours of deliberate practice. The technique outlined here will program your mind and muscle memory for heel-toe downshifting that is second nature. Thin soled shoes are recommended.

Set up to brake with right foot on the throttle and left foot on the rest pedal. Rotate your right foot at the heel to transition from throttle to brake. Place the ball of your right foot on the brake with the other half hanging over the right side so the arch is covering the throttle. Apply firm brake pressure and depress the clutch while moving the shift lever to neutral. Maintain steady brake force while rolling your right foot to blip the throttle to match revs. Downshift into the lower gear and release the clutch. Continue to apply steady brake pressure until brake release for turn-in.

This sequence is practiced while stationary with the engine off. Start with your right foot on the brake pedal and feel the various ways of positioning your foot. Practice steady, firm brake force while rolling your foot on and off the throttle. More brake force equals more pedal travel, which makes the throttle blip easier. The brake pedal should be slightly higher than the throttle under all braking conditions. Long travel or a spongy pedal should be resolved by bleeding the fluid or adjusting the pedals for proper positioning. Finally, practice the full sequence: brake, clutch-in, shift to neutral, blip throttle, shift to lower gear, clutch out, ease off the brake. Start slowly to ensure each step is done properly in the correct sequence. Repeat this several times until you feel a rhythm.

When you are comfortable, try it on the road, at speed. Get the car up to 45 mph in 4th gear on a long straight with minimal stops. Practice matching revs without the brake: clutch-in, blip, downshift, clutch-out. Note throttle travel and duration to match revs smoothly. Then practice the full sequence as you approach corners and stops. Be safe! Done properly, the car should not lurch from either a variation in brake pressure nor excessive mismatch in vehicle and engine speeds. It may feel like driving with two left feet at first but will become second nature with practice and will bump your driving up to the next level.

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