High Performance Driving: Heel-Toe Downshifting





Introduction: High Performance Driving: Heel-Toe Downshifting

In high performance driving and racing, lap times are key to success. One important aspect of driving fast is the task of gear-changing. Under hard braking before entering a corner at a race track, it is essential to be in the correct gear before applying power at corner exit. To do this properly in a manual transmission car with an h-pattern gearbox, it is necessary to "heel-toe downshift" under braking.

The purpose of "downshifting", or shifting the transmission down from a higher gear to a lower gear, is so that a driver can accelerate their car as fast as possible when exiting a corner that they had to slow down for. Heel-toe downshifting saves time on the track because, if it is not used, time will be lost gaining control of an unstable car or shifting into the correct gear before the gas is applied. The time taken to shift into gear just before accelerating out of the corner can cost valuable time, so shifting down while braking kills two birds with one stone. The reason the "heel-toe" technique is required in this process is so that the driver is able to match the RPM (revolutions per minute of the engine) of the next gear down by hitting the throttle (gas pedal) with their heel (known as "blipping" the throttle) and braking with their toe.

This technique, that will be explained in the following steps, will allow smooth and quick downshifts while braking for a corner. The whole process will take about 1-2 seconds per gear change, depending on the car and driver. The necessary steps are broken into small windows of time, and should be practiced individually without driving while first learning. The skill level of this task is a beginner to advanced driving technique and the driver should first know the basic techniques to driving a road course (i.e. driving line, braking technique, how to drive a manual transmission, etc.).

Warning: Race car driving is a dangerous sport and can result in serious injury or death if proper safety gear is not implemented. The technique shown in this instructable is purely meant for use on an off-highway racing facility. Obey all traffic laws and do not try this on the street. I am not responsible for any actions taken by those who read and use this instructable.

Necessary Equipment: Manual transmission car that is safe enough for track use, as well as proper driving safety gear.

*Note: The car used in this instructable is a 1995 Mazda Miata with a 5-speed manual transmission. The steps outlined are a process of downshifting from 4th gear to 3rd gear in this car, but the steps apply to any gear your car is currently in when you follow this instructable.

Step 1: Apply Brakes

While approaching a given corner on a track, take your right foot off the gas and rapidly apply the brakes to the desired pressure, while moving your right hand onto the shifter. 

-This should be as quick as possible, so time lost transferring from throttle to brakes is minimized.
-Your left hand should still be firmly placed on the steering wheel.
-The instructions here are given for a left hand drive car, so hand movements in a right hand drive car will be opposite of these instructions.
-Place your left foot onto the clutch pedal if it is resting off to the side so you are ready for the next step.

*Note: Avoid stomping on or mashing the brake pedal, as you do not want to lock the brakes of the car up. Locking the brakes will cause the car to become unresponsive, uncontrollable, and not stop quickly enough (i.e. lost time on track).

Step 2: Engage Clutch, Shift to Neutral

With your left foot, quickly press in the clutch and move the shifter from its current gear into neutral at the same time.

-When the car has been shifted into neutral, quickly release the clutch.
-This step is very quick, and is almost instantaneous with the following foot placement shown step 3.
-The brakes should still be applied throughout this step with your right foot.

Step 3: "Blipping" the Throttle

While keeping the ball of your foot on the brake pedal, roll the heel of your foot onto the gas pedal, pressing the gas quickly to 40-70% of full travel (blipping the throttle).

-The goal of this is to "match" the RPM needed in the next lower gear so that the rear of the car does not become unstable while downshifting. This is critical because under hard braking, the rear of the car becomes unloaded and "light", so rear instabilities (in a rear wheel drive car) from improper downshifting will have a larger effect than expected.
-Depending on the engine and throttle response of the car in use, the suggested 40-70% travel on the throttle blip is just that, a suggestion. It will take awhile to get a feel for how much is necessary and will take plenty of practice.
-After blipping the throttle, roll the heel of your foot back off of the gas, keeping the ball of your foot on the brake pedal, to ensure no more gas is applied until the next downshift (if another downshift is necessary).

*Note: If this step is skipped, it can cause significant damage to the car's transmission because it will become highly loaded and have to match the RPM needed for a lower gear on its own.

Step 4: Shift Into Gear and Release Clutch

Press the clutch in and quickly shift down one gear from the previous higher gear while smoothly and quickly releasing the clutch back out.

This will take a lot of repetition and practice, as every car's drivetrain system is different and will require a different timing for the releasing of the clutch.
-The brakes should still be applied throughout this step with your right foot.

Step 5: Repeat Process, Drive Away

Repeat steps 2-4 while still braking for the corner if you need to shift down more than one gear.

-Continue to repeat these steps while braking until the desired gear is reached for corner exit of a given corner of a race track.
-Do not try and shift faster than your car can handle, as it will cause instabilities and tend to harm the transmission.
-When braking and downshifting is done and you are in the corner, roll your right foot off the brake pedal and onto the gas pedal to accelerate away from the corner when desired. Accelerate away, you are done!

Concluding Remarks: This technique, like any other in high performance driving, will take plenty of practice and time to learn. Once it is learned in the car while it is off and not running or moving, it can be practiced on track and perfected. After several repetitions, muscle memory will tend to take over and the process will become easier as time goes on. Remember to only do this with proper safety precautions taken first and only do this on a race track. Have fun, be safe, go fast!



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    21 Discussions

    Why do you shift the car into neutral before changing gear? Couldn't you just keep the clutch down, blip the throttle, and go right into the next gear without having to put the shifter into the neutral position?

    1 reply

    When you shift to neutral, you release the clutch, blip the throttle to get the transmission gears up to speed without transferring power to the wheels. Blipping with the clutch in makes the gears half to "catch up", and can upset the car.

    I know I'm way late but if somebody could help me out that'd be awesome.

    1 reply

    Man, I have been doing what you described. Haven't experienced any issue. Also wondering why there is a need to put to neutral. Let me know if you have found out the answer.

    I know I'm way late but if somebody could help me out that'd be awesome.

    I downshift 100% as much as I upshift. I currently have a vette posi 5.83 rear end in my S10 and the engine braking it provides actually allows me to not use the brake as much. in fact, There have been many times in wet weather, the lightness and brake bias thats built into my truck has caused rear lock-up under heavy breaking. It just works better in my situation to use the engine and the technique i use to release the clutch to slow my momentum than try to threshold brake, as I have manual brakes. The tall rear gear I have also naturally causes me to blip the throttle. seeing as I'm not racing, or trying to slow down into a corner while apexing and maintaining propper powerband, my feet are pretty neutral. I honestly have troubles heel toeing in my s10, my 99 miata, and even my 93 miata. 40-70% of a heel blip seems radical seeing as my brake pedals, even under HARD braking was still sitting so high above my throttle pedal. I'm 100% sure apexing a corner into 3rd from 6K 5th on a straight.. over and over again. I believe I would get used to it. just as you get used to how much brake you DO need going into and through turn 5 to get a good run down the straight to turn 6. repetition, or practice, makes perfect lap times. I also personally have never double clutched in any of my manual cars. If I'm in a race car, clutches and syncros, aka transmission, can be changed between races. In normal driving, there's no use for race techniques, so no worries about wear.

    Now, not to throw a monkey wench in such a great 'ible, but I dont actually clutch KICK, but I will drop the clutch with this 5.83 posi on a dirt road to slow the rear tires a great deal. the truck honestly, on a dirt road, handles like a Quad racing ATV, as being predictable. So i can yank a lower gear, pop the clutch with a flick and the rears will slide out predictably, as well as engine braking, allowing me to be on throttle in power band as i apex the corner and exit the corner slap sideways. Thank god for Georgia dirt roads that go "yump - dip -hairpin -dip - yump - hairpin" rince and repeat for 15 minutes of HARD driving. Was the mos fun I've had in QUITE some time. On pavement the light arse and thin front anti sway bars just makes the truck roll, roll the tire over and scrub off speed. I must say when i TRIED to go in over my head to HAVE to get to the opposite lane's white line... it rolled over, scrubbed off speed and only 2 tires went over the yellows..... My 99 miata had a Kaaz 2-way 4.11 LSD, flyin' miata Rspec springs, kyb adjtb, 0 offset 15x8's on stretched 205's was set up TIGHT. If the car got loose, it would murder you... so you would brake early, roll to apex as you downshifted, easing off the clutch... it was a slow in fast out thing. I could decimate higher horsepower cars that would be eating my rear bumper in, but missing the apex as I stomped them all the way out... hell tha car could handle high speed corners like a dream! i miss it!

    To the OP, I raise this glass to you sir, for bringing back such great memories!

    No it's not the same as "American" anything - it is the same as WRX driving!

    I use the Heel-Toe shifting when drifting :-D

    I dont have a manual yet but im wondering why cant you just shift straight from 3 to neutral w/o the clutch? then continuing to blip into 2nd w/ the clutch.
    Also, when do you downshift? after the entry point/before the apex, or before the entry point? And finally, a little off topic but in go-karting you would gas about .5 secs before the apex, does this also apply for track racing? thanks, very clear instructable

    4 replies

    I believe you could shift out of 3rd into neutral without the clutch, but I have never really done it that way. The main reason I didn't was that forcing the transmission out of gear takes more force than when using the clutch to go to neutral and may cause you to go past neutral and shove the shifter into the next gear down and grind a gear.

    This kind of downshifting is done while braking. Your braking point is almost always before your turn in point, and can continue all the way to the apex, depending on the corner. So to answer your question, downshifting will usually be before turn in, but can continue almost up to the apex. Most downshifts will be done well before encountering the apex though, depending on the car.

    When you get back to throttle in any kind of kart or car, it is always dependent on your car's power and where you are apexing at in the corner. Like you said, in a kart, since you usually are power limited, throttle will be applied earlier than in a car so as not to lose time and momentum. When in a powerful car, it will be harder to get to full throttle at the same point as the kart because you will be traction limited. Depending on where you apex (i.e. early or late apex), your corner exit will differ and you will be on power either sooner or later than a "geometric" apex to the corner (theoretical fastest way through a corner). A later apex will mean you need to have a slower entry speed, but will have a higher exit speed than a geometric apex, and an early apex will mean you have a higher entry speed and lower exit speed compared to a geometric apex. Apex point all depends on what the next portion of track is.

    Ohh i get it. Thanks! Does engine braking put added wear on the engine? In other words does the benefit of saving brake pads due to engine braking(block, transmission, clutch wear) saves money in the long run. provided you have perfect rev matches.
    Also, is it better to downshift from 4th gear to 2nd at 6000 rpm or 3rd at 3000rpm(im guessing gear ratios)?
    @kriley0, I've read somewhere that the ideal(fastest) line for a corner is a somewhat late apex, due to braking power is greater than acceleration power. is this true? its kinda hard to find info online because of noobs in forums.
    I know that drifting/handbrake turn is better than grip if the corner is too tight, is there any exceptions for this?
    Thanks a bunch!!!! I cant w8 to get a miata!

    Technically yes engine braking wears out your engine faster, anything that makes it rev faster will mean it'll perform more revolutions overall. Realistically though, as long as it's done properly the effect is minimal. Engine braking has very little to do with racetrack driving however.

    Downshifting is relative, the primary objective is to have your car spinning at the right RPM for the corner. Say for example you car accellerates strongest at 4,500 RPM and redlines at 6,500. Your goal is to come out the other side of the corner in whatever gear gets you closest to 4,500 RPM so you can immediately accellerate. That being the case it seems that staying in third would make more sense, as it would give you 3000 RPM to play with on the other side, however, most down shifting is done before the apex, whilst braking. That being the case 6000 RPM may be better. An example may make more sense. Coming up to corner, heavy braking, downshift from fourth to second @ 6000RPM, continue braking, as speed keeps dropping so does RPM to say 4000 or so, turn in, balance car, accelerate away. Essentially the goal is having the right gear at the exit of the corner, if your redline lets you shift early so your not having to shift whilst trying to get mid corner balance then shift early. On a mechanical perspective, shifting from fourth to second  would mean the synchros need to work harder than they would fourth to third.

    Whilst you where asking Kriley I may be able to help with your other query, the fastest line is relative to the corner and the straight before and after it. It's hard to write and easy to draw, but think of it like this, you need to slow down to turn. You can either slow down early, turn the car early (before the apex) and then clip the apex late as you power out, or you can slow down late, clipping the apex early as you brake into the corner, turn late (after you've passed the apex) and then power away. If you turn early you can get the power down early, this is good if you have a long straight after the corner and you want as much time as possible to accellerate. If you have a long straight going into the corner then you want to brake late so you can keep your high speed up as long as possible. That's how you pick a late or early apex. The braking power to accelleration affecting the choice of apex is not true, it only applies to a straight line, on a circuit its all about finding the best way to connect up all the corners and whilst braking late (early apex) lets you make the most of the power going in, it stuffs up the power coming out.

    Drifting isn't faster for a hairpin unless its a loose surface, however for racing applications it does give a wider margin for error when your right on the edge of adhesion than understeering does.

    You downshift when you need more speed to keep the car in line when in a curve.When you feel you don't have enough power to keep it in line it's already too late : the car is already skidding off the road…

    I drive my car using downshift capability every day (I'm in Europe and most of us drive manual cars, so I'm nothing of a hero when saying this !!…).

    What this Inst' doesn't say is that in a tight curve the car will tend to skid : if you control it with you hand brake you can get out of the curve much faster and gain precious seconds by controlling the skid… But then this is car racing at a higher lever than this Inst' and just another matter. DON'T USE YOUR HAND BRAKE ON THE ROAD : YOUR LIABLE TO RUIN YOUR CAR, YOUR HEALTH AND OTHER PEOPLE LIVES !…
    Also this Inst' is on heel-toe downshifting : this also is for car racing, DON'T DO IT ON THE ROAD, as you may well loose the control of your car by getting mixed up with clutch, brake, speed, etc !…

    This said, downshifting is very handy on daily driving because of 4 reasons why.
    1) You are always on the good speed / engine rpm ratio : your car will live longer and your mechanic will like you less as he won't see you so often ;
    2) you have a good use of your engine brake : which is a true benefit as it helps to slow down the car in a very smooth and effective way … plus your brakes will last longer …
    3) In a curve, when you downshift at the exact moment your car will "engine brake" while coming into the curve and just a spilt second after will gain speed at the crucial moment in the curve when it is needed to keep the car in line and not skid off the road in an uncontrolled manner… 
    Remember speed keeps you in line when in a curve.
    4) It makes for comfortable driving for passengers : when the driver only uses his foot brake he has to constantly adjust his / her speed in the curve giving small pulses to the brakes which results with a sensation of being constantly jerked… 
    Not so when downshifting a regular car (or with and automatic car !…)

    Downshifting comes naturally to any driver who drives a regular car. You may try it without qualms.
    Don't worry too much, don't ask too many questions ; just do it (but skip the heel-toe combination : which is meant to keep constant power to the engine in order to gain milliseconds in a curve, you don't need this to drive kids at school…).
    Practice in curvy back roads, driving slowly (using 3rd and 2nd gear for instance) then you'll gain confidence and it will become second nature.
    When I taught my daughter how to drive, she could do it the third time she was at the wheel, and she mastered it pretty fast. She was 15 at the time and it was just a taste of how a complex machine as a car could be mastered… Now she's like most Europeans and she uses it moderately I guess … and for the benefit of all !… (But no heel-toe !…) 

    Don't rush, don't race… use this as an extra tool that will give you more confidence with your car and your driving abilities.

    Maybe you'll want to do more : at this point this will become heel-toe, and hand brake skidding, car racing and having pleasure on a dedicated circuit. But that is an entirely different matter.

    A personal example, to show you how natural downshifting can become. Last May I rented a car at the Albuquerque N.M. Airport. T'was years I didn't drive an automatic car. At the 1st stop my left foot searched frantically for the clutch as I had the reflex to downshift and engine brake !!!… Resulted in coming too fast at the stop and had to crush the brake pedal and almost stalled the car. No harm done : it was 11:30pm and the road was empty as a dried arroyo in august. Rest of the ride was uneventful … but for a while I remained somewhat uncomfortable with my automatic car !!…
    So it's all a matter of habit and practice.
    And practice is mainly common sense !!!!…
    Best wishes

    Isn't this the old American "double-clutching" that evolved in the days of non syncro transmissions? I understand the purpose for racing because even though the trans is synchronized it has limitations such as going from top gear to a couple gear positions lower. I use it in my everyday driving of my little Nissan truck. I can even shift up and down all gears with no clutch, but don't do it all the time.

    2 replies

    I think the "double-clutching" technique is used primarily in drag racing. I'm not really familiar with it and have never understood it....I also am pretty unfamiliar with drag racing.

    Your both right. Clutching once into neutral and then again into the next gear is a double de-clutch.

    Using the right foot to press the throttle whilst also applying the brake is a heel-toe. This technique can be used while single and double de-clutching.

    Shifting without the clutch is skip shifting, which also often uses the heel-toe to rev match. Coincidentally this one of the more preferred drag racing techniques as you only ever upshift.

    People argue A LOT about double de-clutching in racing, for me personally it boils down to whether you want to put more wear on your synchros (Single) or your clutch assembly (Double). But its a pretty moot point either way, modern drivetrains can take a lot of abuse on both of these components and come rebuild time you'll replace both of them anyway. I prefer single clutching with a rev match as it's the fastest option.

    Couple things. First, great 'ible!! Second, what kind of racing are you doing? I grip and grew up drag racing, and have never seen anyone shift like this. I could see in a drift situation, but you never say. Thanks and keep up the good work!!

    2 replies

    Really the only time you'll be doing this kind of downshifting is when driving on a road course. The exact time you will be downshifting is during the braking zone on the track as you approach a corner. This is so that you are ready and in the correct gear by the time you get to the point you are going to accelerate away from a corner.

    Exactly, it is all about staying in the engine's power band. Nothing like coming out of a corner with no power because you are not at correct gear/rpm combination.

    If you want difficult, take a look at the motorcycle road racers who have to do this with the brake and gas on the same hand!