February 3, 2023

Heel and Toe Downshifting: The Ultimate Guide

Blayze | Dion von Moltke

Dion von Moltke

Car Racing

Heel and Toe Downshifting: The Ultimate Guide Image

In this in-depth guide our coaches will explain everything you need to know to mastering the art of the heel-toe downshift driving technique while braking.

Before we get into it, let's first answer one simple question: Do I even need to heel-toe downshift?

The answer to this question depends on the type of car you're in. If you are in a car that needs some type of rev matching (almost any street car), meaning when you downshift you have to slowly release off the clutch if you don't blip the throttle, then YES you need to heel-toe downshift. Without the blip of the throttle you will never be able to roll in enough entry speed.

If you're in a car that has an auto-blip, or you can just drop the clutch after a downshift with no negative effect (like a modern day NASCAR car) then no you likely don't need to heel-toe.

The heel-toe downshift allows racecar drivers to avoid over slowing at corner entry by getting into the lower gear at a higher speed through the blip of the throttle to increase your engine revs. You simply can not get to the limit of the car on track consistently without heel-toe downshifting in a car where you need it.

If you want the abbreviated version of this article, click here to see our Heel-Toe downshifting in less than 60 seconds video!

Table of Contents:

Chapter 1: Timing Your Downshifts

Chapter 2: Blipping The Throttle

Chapter 3: The Knee Pivot

Chapter 4: Should I Skip Gears While Downshifting?

 

Chapter 1: Timing Your Downshifts

As a kid coming out of karting, right foot braking alone was foreign to me when I first started racing and driving cars. To be honest I was horrible at the heel-and-toe technique initially. This forced me to truly understand how to teach myself the easiest and most reliable way to heel and toe on my downshifts.

In this article I'm going to breakdown how I learned to take myself from a terrible heel-toe downshifted to someone that can do it in any car.

Before we get started, let's first highlight the most common problems Blayze coaches see drivers make during the heel toe downshifts:

  • The right knee does not pivot in towards the steering wheel (more on this in chapter 3)
  • The timing of the blip comes too early in the process of heel-toe downshifting
  • The driver begins downshifting too early in the braking zone
  • The driver's foot slips off the brake pedal
  • The driver skips gears while downshifting (more on this in chapter 4)

 

In chapter 1, we're going to first focus on identifying when in the brake zone we should begin our downshifting.

Brake zones are the busiest sections on a racetrack for a driver. It's an are where we see drivers trying to rush through things. I recommend backing up your brake zone a little bit to slow things down while working on improving your heel-toe downshifting.

We often see when drivers feel rushed in the brake zone they tend to start downshifting too soon after their initial brake application. When you start downshifting too early it makes the heel-toe downshift more difficult.

Why? Because you are going faster early in the brake zones, the higher the speed, the more blip you need to get into the right rev range for the next gear.

Do you ever struggle with knowing what gear you should be in, in a certain corner? Click here!

The ideal place in a brake zone to start our first downshift comes right as we begin our release off of peak brake pressure. Let's take a look at data to show exactly where we want our downshifts to happen.

A key note to add is to ensure you get all of your downshifts done before the turn in point!

heel-toe

The red line is a good looking brake zone. We want to see the most brake pressure at the start of the braking zone.

heel-toe-2

Almost immediately the red line is starting to trail off from threshold braking.

heel-toe-3

This is the zone in the braking that we want to get our downshifts done in. Between where we release off of peak brake pressure and begin our turn in at corner entry.

Want to learn more about mastering all parts of the braking zone? Check out our in-depth braking masterclass here!

 

Chapter 2: Blipping The Throttle

In this section we will cover two main topics:

1) How much throttle do we need when blipping the throttle?

2) When to time the blip

So, how much throttle do we need when blipping? A small hit of 10% throttle is all we need.

But, to be able to blip with that little amount of throttle we have to time our blip perfectly. One of the most common mistakes our coaches see racecar drivers make is starting their blip far too early.

The heel-toe downshift consists of the following steps:

  1. Begin braking
  2. Press clutch in
  3. Hand moves out of current gear and into the next gear
  4. Blip of throttle
  5. Release the clutch
  6. End of braking

 

We want our blip to come as close as possible to the depress the clutch step. The reason behind this is because as soon as we finish our blip the revs begin the fall. The entire point of the blip is to get our revs high enough to match the speed so we can quickly release the clutch.

Let's pretend we need to get the RPM's up to 5,400 to in third gear to smooth and quickly depress the clutch. Driver A blips, then moves out of the 4th gear gate, into the third gear gate, and then releases the clutch. Driver B moves out of the 4th gear gate, into the third gear gate, blips, and immediately releases the clutch.

The difference in time between the blip and the clutch release between driver A and B could be as much as a few tenths of a second. That doesn't sound like a lot, but the car could easily lose more than 2,000 rpm's in that amount of time.

That means driver A needs to add a much higher amount of throttle to get the RPM's up to 7,400 to account for the lost RPM by the time they release the clutch. While driver B can get away with a much smaller blip.

Driver B then has a much easier time with heel-toe downshifting by not needing nearly as much of a throttle hit.

 

Chapter 3: The Knee Pivot

The one adjustment I made that made the single biggest impact in my heel and toe shifting was the knee pivot.

As I approach a corner and it's brake zone, I pivot my right knee in towards the steering column before I start to hit the brake pedal.

Let's try a little exercise right now so you can see why this helps:

Sitting in a chair try and position yourself in a similar position to how you sit while driving.

Your legs should be out in front of you like they are resting on pedals. Now, simply shift your right knee in towards the imaginary steering column.

Now, look at your right foot. See how it shifts your toes in and your heel out? Shifting your knee in naturally puts your foot in the perfect position so that the ball of your right foot can hit the brake pedal and your heel can blip the throttle.

Now on track when I approach any brake zone with a downshift I will naturally use this knee pivot before the brake zone.

For any of you that use the side of your foot to blip the throttle, I would coach you to stop doing that. I used to do that all of the time, but there is one core reason why I stopped... my foot slipped off the brake pedal far more often and far more easily than when I used the ball of my right foot to hit the brake pedal.

The most important part of the heel and toe braking is to remember your priority is always the braking. Getting more of your foot on the pedal is vital from a safety perspective.

I've also found drivers using the ball of their foot are more consistent on the brake pedal while blipping the throttle. We don't want to see a big release off of brake pressure as we blip the throttle as that would mean we are not slowing the car down very efficiently.

 

Chapter 4: Should I Skip Gears While Downshifting?

An example of skipping gears while downshifting would be going 6th – 4th – 2nd vs. 6th - 5th - 4th - 3rd- 2nd in a braking zone. There are a few core reasons why I coach drivers to avoid doing this:

  1. More variance in speed opens drivers up to more mistakes
  2. More variance means you have to be more perfect, which creates more mental fatigue
  3. Less reps to practice your heel toe downshift

 

A lot of drivers want to skip gears because they believe they do not have enough time in the brake zone to finish their downshifts. This more highlights that they need to practice and perfect their heel toe technique!

When done right there is not a single brake zone that you should struggle with finishing your downshifts in.

The biggest issue with skipping gears is that it opens you up to make more mistakes. There is a much bigger speed variance in going from 5th to 3rd which means not only is it more difficult to time the downshift and it likely means you need a much larger blip.

I see drivers locking rear tires (because of incorrect timing) about 3x more when skipping gears vs. when not skipping gears. Every time you lock your rear tires you are overheating them and losing rear grip.

By having to be more perfect at every step in the downshift while skipping gears it also stresses you mentally more. That extra unnecessary mental load can really break us down throughout a long race.

We almost always begin skipping gears when we struggle with our technique. What does that do? It takes away an opportunity to practice our heel toe downshift! That means we can't work on the core reasons why we think we have to start skipping gears in the first place.

 

Learn More With Blaze!

The secret to mastering any skill is practice! Are you looking to start your racing journey? Could you use direct feedback from a professional coach on how to improve your racing and motorsport skills?

At Blayze we give you a personalized coaching session from the very best coaches in the world. For a truly unique and personalized feedback experience, submit your performance video to one of Blayze’s highly qualified coaches. The custom-developed coaching session can help you improve your on-track, so you are performing at your very best in every race. One easy click here will take you to more details on our coaching sessions.

Blayze | Dion von Moltke

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About the coach

Blayze | Dion von Moltke

Dion von Moltke

Daytona 24 Hour Winner

Car Racing

I've spent 20 years of my life in this sport that we all love so much. During that time I was fortunate enough to have a 10 year professional career where I won the Rolex at Daytona 24 hour, the Sebring 12 Hour (twice), and became an official driver for Audi. After retiring from professional racing I became a co-founder at Blayze. My goal with building this platform is to make it more affordable, accessible, and convenient to learn personally from the best coaches in the world!

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