A common debate amongst drivers at the racetrack is which foot is better to use for braking? Left-foot braking vs. right-foot braking – which is faster? Professional racecar driver, Dion von Moltke, takes us through his method for helping new drivers learn effective braking techniques.
I am a left-foot braker any time I can (when I don’t need to use the clutch during heel and toe braking). I have been fortunate to be teammates with some of the very best drivers in the world. From my personal experience, the resounding answer to the question above is, it depends on the driver. I don’t believe the left-foot braking technique for the vast majority of brake zones is any faster than heel and toe braking. Plenty of professional racecar drivers are still right-foot brakers. One of the fastest drivers on one lap speed that I was lucky enough to work with, Spencer Pumpelly, is a right-foot braker.
Why Some Racers Switch to Left-Foot Braking
There are a few reasons why drivers switch to left-foot braking. It comes down to what feels most natural. The first experience I had driving anything was in go-karts where you have to left-foot brake. So, when I jumped into a race car for the first time and had to right-foot brake and learn to heel and toe, I struggled.
For me, the struggle wasn’t the actual hit of the brake pedal or learning to slowly ease off the brakes and make small brake pressure adjustments with my right foot. The struggle was more in the technique of heel and toe, and initially, I thought left-foot braking was better.
If you find this is true for you I recently wrote an in-depth article on how I overcame my struggles on the heel and toe braking technique by focusing on three core parts of the technique.
Proper Braking Technique in Non-Downforce Cars
The other major reason I hear drivers speaking about why they want to switch to left-foot braking is to cut down on the time it takes to go from throttle to the brakes. The issue with trying to cut down the pause time in between throttle and braking is it causes drivers to be overaggressive on their initial brake application. This tends to be worse with drivers who start left-foot braking to cut down that time. Are you already asking, “isn’t threshold braking supposed to come right away in the brake zone?”
It is… but for those of us driving in softer sprung non-downforce cars, there is a small technique clarification we can help with. When drivers are too aggressive to the brake pedal on the initial hit they can overload the front springs and tires with the weight transfer happening too fast. A slightly slower ramp up or even a super short pause at around 50% pressure (a very small pause only about 1 tenth of a second) can help load the front of the car to be ready for threshold braking.
I had an in-depth conversation on this topic with a very good friend of mine, Jürgen Zürn. Jürgen was a factory Audi Sport engineer and one of the best engineers I had the opportunity to work with. Here is what he said about this topic:
“I teach my drivers always to hit the brakes at maybe 50% or so initially. Then hesitate for a little while, maybe 0,1s, and then go for threshold braking pressure. This way the front is already loaded and you do not go into ABS or locking wheel right from the beginning”
The Exceptions to the Rules
There are some very rare exceptions where left-foot braking will provide a true and clear advantage. These situations are more common for front-wheel-drive cars than any others. Left-foot braking in a front-wheel-drive car can allow a driver to keep a little throttle still engaged while they are coming off the brakes. That little bit of throttle allows the differential of the front-wheel-drive car to turn better.
There are very specific corners where a driver can take advantage of this technique. In over three seasons of racing front-wheel-drive cars, I believe I only used this technique once or twice. To be honest, I believe most drivers at the amateur level tend to over-think things when they try to do something like this. However, there are rare occasions where it can be very effective when done right.
What Is the Answer? Left-Foot or Right Foot Braking?
The answer is up to the individual driver. I recommend doing whatever is most comfortable for YOU. If you are a right-foot driver and you keep hearing how you should switch to left-foot braking because it is “faster,” ignore the talk.
If you are a right-foot braker and are struggling with parts of the braking zone such as your feel of the brake pedal as you apply the brakes initially, releasing off the brakes slowly at corner entry, or brake modulation as you are locking up turning into the corner then try left-foot braking to see if can help you.
How Do You Learn How to Left-Foot Brake?
For anyone that isn’t a go-karter this can be a clumsy process to learn how to do. There are no secrets here, our left foot starts out numb and it takes time to build the feel we need. The best thing you can do to learn that feel quicker is by practicing it often and consistently.
You can practice left-foot braking on the streets, but your passengers will be happier if you try this on your own first. If you have an automatic car, go around your block a few times and work on getting a feel for that slow brake release down to the apex. You will most likely need to work on smoothing out your initial brake application as well. No matter what, this will likely take a lot of time to perfect, so patience will be important!
It is incorrect to think a driver is quicker simply because they learned how to left-foot brake. This skill won’t hold you back. Instead focus heavily on the art of trail braking as that is what separates drivers. We have our in-depth article on what is trail braking and learning to master it here.
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