THIS IS A GREAT TIME TO LEARN HEEL-AND-TOE
If you don’t know how to do heel-and-toe downshifting, now is a good time to get started. You’ll have all winter long for it to become automatic – like riding a bicycle.
There’s only one excuse for not learning to heel-and-toe: that’s if you’re riding around the track with an automatic or semi-automatic transmission (e.g., Tiptronic, PDK); then you’re excused. Otherwise, get with the program! It’s easy to learn and will help you in several ways.
Heel-and-toe is an essential skill that allows you to downshift while you are braking without upsetting the car. If you want to go faster in the future, you’ll need to be able to heel-and-toe.
Heel-and-toe is also important in preventing damage to your expensive equipment. A downshift without heel-and-toe often sends a big shock through your Porsche’s drive train. It’s a surefire way to increase the wear and tear on your clutch and transmission. The end result is that you’ll have to replace your clutch or transmission sooner rather than later.
Here’s what happens if you don’t have the ability to heel-and-toe: You approach a turn, going fairly fast. It’s obvious that you must slow down to make the turn. You must also get into a lower gear to accelerate out of the turn. You put on the brakes – no problem. But when you shift into the lower gear and let out the clutch, a sharp impact goes through your car’s drive train. Your rear wheels make a loud chirp on the pavement and the car stutters. You get through the corner, but it wasn’t real smooth and you have the feeling that your car didn’t appreciate the shock treatment.
And here’s what happens when you do have the ability to do heel-and-toe downshifts: You approach the same turn. You reduce speed with your right foot on the brake. At the same time you hold the clutch in with your left foot and move the gear lever to the lower gear. With your right foot still on the brake, you blip the gas pedal with the heel or side of that foot. The motor spins up, matching the speed of the gears in the transmission. You let out the clutch, everything engages smoothly, you ease on the power, and zoom away — smooth, easy and fast!
Before You Start
Heel-and-toe is an easy skill to learn, but it takes some conscious practice – 2-3 hours should do it – to get the movement and the sequence right. Then it becomes automatic. It’s something like learning to tie your shoes or ride a bicycle. After a while you don’t even think about it. When was the last time you thought about the sequence of steps involved in tying your shoes or riding your bike?
It’s worth noting here that the name “heel-and-toe” may be something of a misnomer. It is reported that the name comes from many years ago, when the pedals were arranged somewhat differently than today’s standard clutch-brake-accelerator layout. With today’s pedal setup, some people are probably able to scrootch their foot around so that their toe can remain on the brake pedal while their heel stabs the gas pedal. However, most people simply put the ball of their right foot on the brake pedal and turn their ankle so the outside of that foot depresses the accelerator.
Your car may need some physical adjustment to allow for easy heel-and-toe. Porsches are often delivered with the gas pedal well below the level of the brake pedal. With this setup, heel-and-toe can be difficult unless you’re a contortionist. There are several ways to raise the level of the accelerator. You can attach a board to the top surface. (I used a 1″x 3″ piece of wood from a fence that I was building and attached it with baling wire. It worked great.) You can also buy a $99 attachment for your gas pedal that does the same thing. It’s chrome plated. Or you can use the adjustments that are built into your Porsche to change the relative height of your clutch and gas pedal. There are some complexities to these adjustments, however, so do some checking or get some advice before you do this.
Shoes are another consideration, especially for women. Some shoes are simply too narrow to cover the gap between the brake and gas pedals, so don’t waste your time and patience by trying to learn this technique with inadequate shoes. Running and walking shoes work fine, as do most men’s shoes.
How to Learn
Most high performance driving books explain heel-and-toe in some detail. Two of the best, High Performance Driving and Secrets of Solo Racing, have excellent illustrations of the sequence. Go to the bookstore or library. Read the explanations. Pick the one that connects best with you.
Here’s how to get it grooved: Find a big, empty parking lot. Sundays and late at night are good times. Drive around in circles, shifting from first gear to second, then downshift back to first using your new heel-and-toe technique. Go slowly, concentrating on the sequence of movements. Do it 10 times. Do it 20 times. Do it for an hour or two. After a while you’ll feel the beginnings of an automatic sequence. Then move up a gear, shifting up from second to third and heel-toe downshifting back to second. Do it for a few minutes every day for a week and you’ll never forget it. Do it driving to work for a month and it will become completely automatic. Just like tying your shoes or riding your bike.
Where to Get Help
Help is just a phone call away. Your favorite PCA driving instructor will be happy to give you advice or assistance. Good books include High Performance Driving (Bob Bondurant and John Blakemore, Motorbooks International, 1987, pp. 56-58); Sports Car and Competition Driving (Paul Frere, Robert Bentley Publishers, 1963, pp. 26-29); Driving in Competition (Alan Johnson, W.W. Norton, 1971, pp. 60-61), and Secrets of Solo Racing, Henry A. Watts, Loki Publishing Co., 1989, pp. 50-51).