Left-foot braking is a specialized high performance driving technique that allows a car to be slowed with minimal effects on the car’s balance, followed by very rapid resumption of acceleration. It provides unique benefits in particular applications. However, it takes time to develop reliable left-foot braking skills. The winter “off-season” is an especially good time to do this.
Some people originally learned to drive with an automatic transmission, using their right foot on the gas pedal and their left foot on the brake. For these people, left-foot braking is a simple, intuitive and safe way to drive on the street. However, for those who drive cars with manual transmissions in high speed driving events, left-foot braking is an advanced technique that must be approached with thought and planning.
In concept, left-foot braking is uncomplicated. The left foot works the brake pedal while the right foot remains on the gas pedal. The two feet establish an appropriate balance between acceleration (right foot on gas pedal) and deceleration (left foot on brake pedal) to slow and settle the car without a great deal of back-to-front weight transfer.
Normal (right-foot) braking produces the following sequence of events: You approach a turn under full power. At the appropriate moment you take your right foot off the gas pedal and press the brake pedal. The car’s balance shifts strongly from the rear to the front wheels, which provide most of the braking. When the car has slowed sufficiently, you take your foot off the brake pedal and gradually depress the gas pedal. (You are also doing some steering during this time.) As the engine speeds up, the car begins to accelerate and its weight transfers back to the rear wheels as the car moves through the turn.
With left-foot braking, the sequence looks like this: Approaching the turn under full power, you bypass the clutch pedal and rest your left foot lightly on the brake pedal. At the appropriate moment you press the brake pedal with your left foot, while maintaining moderate power with your right foot on the gas pedal. The car slows somewhat and its balance shifts forward just enough to help it turn. When the car has slowed sufficiently, you lift your left foot off the brake pedal and add more power with your right foot. The engine was already producing significant power during braking, so it the car now accelerates immediately.
Left-foot braking makes for quick and seamless transitions. Instead of moving your right foot from the gas pedal to the brake pedal and then back to the gas pedal you’re simply using both feet simultaneously to manage the opposing forces of acceleration and deceleration. This happens very quickly and smoothly, and helps the car maintain stability.
Left-foot braking has a special benefit for turbo-charged cars. The right foot continues to apply power while the car is being slowed with the left foot, so the engine can be kept at high RPM, staying on the boost. Maintaining engine speed during braking also provides similar benefits for normally aspirated cars. By keeping engine speed up while braking, the car seems to leap forward as soon as left-foot braking pressure is released.
Reservations and challenges:
Left-foot braking is an advanced driving technique that should be used only by drivers who have mastered the basics of high performance car control. It is not a good idea for those who are still working on the fundamentals of high-performance driving. This is definitely not for beginners! If you have any doubts about the suitability of this technique for you, check with a PCA driving instructor.
Here’s another reason for caution: Slowing the car safely is our most important safety skill. Consequently, do not try left-foot braking unless your basic car control skills are well-ingrained. Confusion or hesitation at the end of a long and fast straightaway could be disastrous.
It should be noted that left-foot braking is helpful only in certain turns in which no downshifting is required. (Remember heel-and-toe?) Select situations where you want to reduce speed slightly as you enter the turn, and can benefit from faster transitions and minimal unsettling of the vehicle.
Extensive training is required. This is not training for conceptual understanding, but training to build a reliable physical habit. We all know where the brake pedal is located, but your left feet has many years reinforcing the habit of reaching only for the clutch pedal. Left-foot braking requires that a new pattern be developed, in which the left foot reaches over the clutch to land on the brake pedal. To be safe, this pattern must be thoroughly ingrained so there is no confusion or hesitation under pressure.
In addition, the left leg and foot must be trained to modulate pressure on the brake pedal. Your right foot has developed a sensitive touch on the both the gas and brake pedals – and maintains that sensitivity with daily training. On the other hand, your left leg has done nothing but mash the clutch to the floor. It lacks the delicate touch that is required on the brake pedal. First attempts at left-foot braking are often clumsy and abrupt, sometimes locking up the brakes.
Training left-foot braking sensitivity can take some time. High performance driving guru and former racer Bob Bondurant spent two months practicing left-foot braking with an automatic before he attempted to use it in a race car. The winter off-season is a good time to start.
How to Learn
Driving on the street is a great way to learn left-foot braking. Even if your daily driver has an automatic transmission you can practice left-foot braking as you drive to work or to the grocery store. For obvious reasons, your first attempts at left-foot braking should not be at high speed or in challenging situations. Make your first attempts at slow speed and in situations where you have plenty of room around you. An empty parking lot is a good place to start. Gradually expand your use of left-foot braking as you gain confidence and touch. I started practicing in December, driving to work. By springtime I had developed reliable left-foot braking skill and was ready to apply it in PCA driving events.
If you need help, contact your favorite PCA driving instructor. You may find it particularly helpful to ride with an instructor who uses left-foot braking. You will be able to observe specific turns where left-foot braking is helpful, how it is used, and the benefits it provides. With your left-foot touch refined from several months of winter training, you’ll be off to the races!