The heel and toe gear change technique is critical on the racetrack but also very useful in every day driving. When you are on the track it is important to keep the car in its power band and if you drive a turbo you want to avoid lag at all costs so need to keep the turbo spinning.
Fast driving is all about keeping the balance of the car and this is so important when braking. As you brake you throw the car’s weight to the front. Under heavy braking, the front wheels lock up and you skid.
Even when changing down a gear you risk throwing more of the car’s weight to the front and if you do this whilst heavily braking it can be enough to cause you to lose control.
As the car slows you need to change down a gear to maintain the power band of the car. You have a few options, either change down a gear and have the engine pull throw you into a skid, release the brake and blip the throttle to match the engine speed with the new gear speed (this means braking early to get enough time to do this properly) or somehow whilst still braking blip the throttle and match the revs.
This is where the heel and toe gear change comes in, the technique involves braking with the ball of the foot (the toe area) and blipping the throttle with the heel to rev match for a smooth down change.
This technique is hard to master. The obvious difficulty lies in having enough control over the brake and being able to adjust the throttle simultaneously. The first few times you do this it will be far from smooth but you need to be patient and bear with it – it does make a big difference when driving and will help you to feel more at one with the car.
Shoe choice is vital and torque cars recommend a fairly thin soled shoe to give you the subtle control and feel you need.
Practice at first in a stationary car. With the engine running put your toe on the brake and use your heel to control the throttle. Bring the revs up to 1500 rpm and hold it there for a count of 5 then let the revs drop and bring the revs up to 2500 rpm. The aim is to do this as accurately and as smoothly as possible. When you have mastered a good level of throttle control on the heel practice braking with your toes the big toe and ball of your foot to be more precise. This will seem relatively easy after the last exercise.
The next stage involves learning what engine speed goes with what gear. As you drive around change down a gear and note the number of revs the gear requires for a given speed. So bring the car up to 30 in 4th gear and change down. The revs will increase from say 2000 rpm to 2600 rpm – this is the number of revs you need to have set before you release the clutch. You will notice the car lurches until the correct engine speed is reached and you are aiming to eliminate that lurch by correctly matching the engine speed. Rather than being a memory exercise you will learn to do this instinctively. When you have become proficient at this move on to the next step.
Practice accelerating using your heel only. As you accelerate let your toes raise and tip to enable you to develop independent control over the heel and your toes.
The next step is to combine all these methods and start performing heel and toe downshifts. To practice keep your speed down and make sure the road is empty.
At first, only apply the heel and toe technique when braking and bringing the car to a stop. But instead of dipping the clutch as you slow up, try changing down a gear or 2. Go from 4th gear to 3rd or 2nd gear but use the heel and toe braking and throttle control method. The aim is for a smooth gear change which is only possible if you increase the engine speed to match the road speed for the selected gear. When you are happy with this method to apply it when slowing up for bends that require a downshift.
Be very careful as the last thing you want to do is skid out of control due to excessively heavy pedal control. Double clutching is not the same thing as heel and toe. Torquecars have covered this subject in the double-declutching article.
Some cars pedals are more suited to this method than others. If you find that the pedal positions are wrong you could try an aftermarket pedal cover set. These often come in a sporty looking drilled metal effect and usually make the throttle pedal a little longer.