Improving Your Heel & Toe Downshifts
Heel and Toe downshifting is a tricky race driving technique that will make you faster but, when you can do it, how can you improve?
In this article, learn the most common mistake racing drivers make when trying heel and toe, plus learn two ways you can improve the situation.
Heel and Toe Is Faster
The performance (and reliability) benefits of using heel and toe are well known and include:
- Reducing the chances of the driven wheels locking
- Reducing the chances of unsettling your racing cars balance
- Ensuring your in gear revs perfectly match the road speed so there is no delay when you want to accelerate
- Reducing the stress on the engine, clutch and gearbox so they perform at their best for longer
Heel and Toe: No Longer A Common Skill
Originally a technique developed to enable gear changing in older vehicles, heel and toe is rarely needed in regular driving.
The result is that when you are asked to perform heel and toe as a racing driver, you may struggle.
In fact, heel and toe can remain challenging even once you can do it.
One major issue many people have in applying the heel and toe technique is that they struggle with braking consistency.
For the best braking, you want to be braking at the absolute maximum grip that the tyre can give.
To do this you need to brake consistently hard, by applying constant pressure to the brake pedal.
When you are just using your right foot to brake, applying constant pressure is fairly easy. However, what tends to happen with heel and toe is that when you go to do the throttle blip, your foot lifts off the brake pedal.
This reduces the brake pressure and means you are not getting the maximum possible deceleration.
It sounds incidental but in practice, it can be significant. If you are not braking to the maximum your racing car can deliver it is costing you unnecessary lap time. Worst, if you are in a race it could mean you get out braked and losing a place.
Look Closely Again At The Video:
At the time of writing, this video has been watched over 1.3 million times on YouTube with over 1000 likes and only 46 people downvoting it. You might say then that the majority of people think that this video is a good example of heel and toe.
But look again carefully when his right foot is on the brake pedal.
Can you see when his heel moves across to blip the throttle, that even he is slightly reducing the pressure on the brake pedal?
It does not look very much but I would expect that to show up in the data.
Inconsistent braking pressure whilst doing heel and toe is very common in race driving.
Luckily I have found it is also largely preventable (or at least reduce-able) with better pedal box ergonomics.
Here follows two tips for you to consider implementing, if your racing pedal box allows it:
1. Pedal Offsets
This is really two things in one. There is:
- the relative pedal fore-aft spacing of the brake and throttle (when not being pressed) and
- the lateral gap between the brake and the throttle pedal
Relative fore-aft spacing of the brake and throttle
When you press the brake down hard, your foot often goes past the point where you can easily roll it on to the throttle pedal for the blip.
To heel and toe, you are forced to lift your foot up to be able to get on the throttle. This lift reduces the brake pressure and means you are slower than you could be. Slower, even if you manage to get back fully on the brake again, once the change is completed.
It is better to be able to blip the throttle whilst still at maximum brake pressure. To achieve that you can typically adjust the throttle pedal position to be slightly further away from you.
This does create a slight step up when you are going from the throttle to the brake. The benefit, however, of being able to maintain constant brake pressure control during downshifts, is worth it, in my opinion.
Lateral gap between the brake and the throttle pedal
The other offset is the lateral placement of the throttle to the brake. If the throttle and brake are too far apart then you will never be able to heel and toe. Often this is the case in normal road cars. Equally, if the brake and throttle pedal are too close together, then you will keep catching one or the other when you do not intend too. What you are after is the perfect lateral pedal placement for the size of your foot.
Personally I tend to brake on the right-hand edge of the brake pedal. I know not everyone likes this, but it means that setting the pedal spacing laterally becomes fairly easy. If I am catching the throttle when not intended then I know to move the throttle pedal position across until I don’t.
Luckily, you do not often have to change the whole pedal assembly for this, as the pedal plate itself can often be adjusted laterally on its own – or replaced with a larger / smaller one as necessary.
2. Add A Heel Board
Until recently I would never have thought about adding a heel board. Interestingly, I switched pedal setup from one very similar to that shown in the video, to a floor hinged setup.
Clearly I was expecting that switch to take some adjustment. However, I was really struggling with good brake modulation – especially during heel and toe.
We tried all sorts of different things to help improve the situation. This included lots of pedal placements but also brake bias and brake pads changes, all to try to improve the situation. In the end, adding a heel board was the key.
Frankly the heel board was revelation!
Again it took some tweaking in term of distance and positioning. Once set up though, having an “anchor” for my heel was transformational.
The heel board helped with not only with heel-and-toe-accidental-brake-pressure-lifts but also with everything to do with brake modulation.
Heel and Toe: Wrapping up
The nice thing about these two simple tips for improving your heel and toe performance is that they are cheap, easy and quick to try.
Many people struggle with good braking during heel and toe downshifts. This is not because they are not capable drivers but, I am sure because they have underestimated the importance of their pedal box ergonomics.
If you have ever struggled to improve your heel and toe braking consistency then give these two suggestions a go.
You might find it makes you faster, more confident and more consistent under braking.
Best wishes as always.
Learn a race track with no testing time –> https://www.yourdatadriven.com/how-to-learn-a-race-track-in-your-lunch-break/
How to drive fast. A mental model –> https://www.yourdatadriven.com/how-to-drive-fast/
Are you really maximising your racing cars grip? Find out for sure –> https://www.yourdatadriven.com/maximising-your-racing-cars-grip/