The Basics: Learning To Heel/Toe Downshift

Features, Racing I By Winding Road Staff I March 08, 2017

We coach many, many drivers during the racing year and we find, more than occasionally, that drivers either have little experience with heel/toe downshifting or they aren't very good at it. Some drivers are not that fluid with operating the shifter in a fully manual race car either. If you think about it for a minute, this isn't that surprising, since the percentage of manual street cars is very low (even Porsche dealers suggest that 90% plus of their new 911 sales are PDK) and some makes really don't offer a full three pedal set-up anymore and haven't for more than a decade (we're talking about you, Ferrari). People just don't get to practice manual shifting that much.

But by far the largest percentage of race cars use a manual gear box with three pedals. So, drivers need a way to get better. We offer the following tips:

How to Heel-Toe Downshift

1. If you have a manual car, you can practice on the street, regularly. Here is a link to a detailed, step-by-step course for street practice: tinyurl.com/38wynta

2. Having done step 1, you need to get to a track and practice there because the speeds and brake pressure levels in racing are different (heel/toe is actually easier at the track). We suggest signing up for a track day and using part of it as pure heel/toe practice. Don't try to run as fast as you can, focus completely on doing 100 or more heel/toe downshifts (do more than enough to get it into your subconscious).

3. If you don't own a manual car, get one. A used NA or NB Miata is under $5000. If you maintain it, it won't depreciate much. You can turn it into a Spec Miata (or a great ChumpCar if it is a 1.6L NA) at some point. You can use it to teach your kids to drive a manual. If you shop for a nice one, you can even take your significant other on a drive in the country to see the fall leaves or do a wine tasting.

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