Braking is one of the most important aspects of driving, both in regular life and on the track. However, there is a lot more skill involved in braking in a race car, as every fraction of a second counts. There are a few different techniques you can use, each with their own pros and cons.
The 4 main differences between left-foot braking and heel-toe braking are:
- Left-foot braking uses one foot for each pedal, while heel-toe uses one foot for both
- Left-foot braking is much more intuitive
- Heel-toe technique is more useful in cars with manual gear boxes
- Left-foot braking is much more common
These differences are not enough on their own, as more detail is required about each in order to determine which situations require which type of braking. You will probably find yourself more inclined to do one over the other, but let’s look at why both are very useful skills to have.
What Is Left-Foot Braking?
Left-foot braking is the practice of braking with your left-foot instead of your right foot. This makes full use of both feet when driving, with the right foot only operating the gas pedal. This technique is becoming more common on the track, as race cars now tend to have sequential transmissions.
Not The Most Intuitive
If you have never tried it before, left-foot braking in a car with a manual transmission can be very difficult to get used to. This is because you are so used to using your left-foot for the clutch pedal, which requires a lot of pressure to disengage the clutch, that if you try to use your left-foot for the brake pedal you might find that you apply too much pressure and brake too harshly.
This can be very dangerous on the road, as cars behind you won’t have much time to react to your almost emergency stop. However, on the track it can still be a useful skill to know, but we will touch on specific applications in a later section.
What Is Heel-Toe Shifting?
Heel-toe is a technique that allows the driver to use just their right foot for both the brake and the accelerator pedals. This can be a very useful technique in a in manual transmission cars, as it allows for a lot of fine control when downshifting.
Still A Useful Skill To Have
Although becoming less common nowadays (due to the fact that most race cars use sequential transmissions) heel-toe braking can still be a very useful way to balance the car’s engine and wheel speeds. We will talk more about when you might want to use heel-toe braking shortly, but first let’s compare how both techniques are actually used in practice.
The Use Of The Feet
Usually, left-foot braking involves the use of one foot at a time, while heel-toe braking usually involves both feet (due to the clutch pedal). However, if you are driving an automatic car in both cases, then you will of course only need to use one foot for heel-toe braking as well, as there will be no clutch pedal. This is the main reason that people tend to forget about heel-toe braking.
With left-foot braking, you are making more use of all of your limbs, and so it can thus be thought of as a more efficient way of braking. However, it will require you to be very precise with your left-foot, which can often be difficult if your dominant foot is your right. With heel-toe braking, although your right foot needs to do more at one time, it is often easier to get used to.
Their Ease Of Use
Getting used to each technique is one thing, but getting good at it is another. While heel-toe braking requires – in most cases – the exclusive use of your right foot, it requires a few finer movements in order to balance the use of gas and the brake.
Left-Foot Braking Can Be More Intuitive
This is why left-foot braking may be more intuitive for some people, as it only requires one kind of action on each foot. As you only have to press with varying pressure in one direction with one part of your foot, left-foot braking is often an easier way to do things. As we have touched on above, however, it may be easier to get used to left-foot braking in an automatic car.
Why Are These Techniques Used?
Both of these braking techniques are used to help with smoother gear transitions, and thus they are both used in similar situations. The idea behind both left-foot braking and the heel-toe method is to use the accelerator at the same time as the brake to match the revs.
Essentially, you will want to “blip” the throttle with your right foot with both of these techniques, in order to make for smoother downshifts. With left-foot braking, and thus usually in a car with an automatic gearbox, this is less important as modern transmissions are built to offer as smooth a shifting experience as possible.
Saving Time And Wear
However, being able to blip the throttle at just the right time can not only save you time on laps, but it can also save some of your car’s internals from excessive wear as a result of rapid downshifting. With heel-toe braking, the ability to apply pressure to the throttle at the same time as the brake is the entire premise of the technique, and thus the point is to use it to make smoother shifts.
When you are approaching a corner and looking to downshift, using the heel-toe method allows you to match the revs of the engine and wheels for a smoother shift. It is most effective in a manual car, where rev matching and proper clutch operation are key to making smooth shifts. However, in an automatic car it can still be important to match the revs, more so to save the car from excessive wear.
Left-Foot Braking Uses
Left-foot braking is especially common in modern motorsports due to the popularity of sequential transmissions, as we have already discussed. However, there are specific situations that really make use of left-foot braking and take advantage of the fact that one foot can be used for the accelerator while also operating the brake with minimal difficulty.
One such application is within rally racing. Rally racing involves a lot of sharp, hairpin bends on a very adverse road surface, and so a lot of skill is required when cornering. One of the most common techniques used by rally drivers is the handbrake turn, and this involves guiding the car into controlled oversteer in order to smoothly go around the tight corners without losing too much speed.
Left-foot braking can be applied in a similar way, especially when driving a front-wheel drive car. In these cars, left-foot braking allows for the driver to almost or fully lock the rear tires but not the front, due to the constant application of power to the front wheels and thus increased brake bias to the rear tires (compared with rear-wheel drive cars). This sends the back end out, much like in a handbrake turn.
A Different Application
It can still be useful in rear-wheel drive cars too however, but not in the same fashion. This is because the car can be sent into oversteer much more easily by simply applying excess power, causing a (controlled) loss of traction at the rear. Here, left-foot braking can be used when the car is at opposite lock and about to spin, in a case of too much oversteer.
By being able to apply the brakes and the throttle at the same time in this situation, there is continuous power at the back wheels, while the front tires lock (or almost lock) up. This gives the rear tires more grip, and while the fronts have much less grip, they can be brought back around again.
On The Track
Left-foot braking can also be used in regular track racing when the driver is cornering with a lot of power. A common result of lifting off the throttle while cornering is trailing-throttle or lift-off oversteer, and it can cause the car to slide due to a rapid transfer of the weight of the car from the rear to the front under excessive deceleration.
By being able to keep the throttle down, while simultaneously using the left-foot to brake, very mild oversteer can be induced. This can allow the driver to turn into the corner with more ease, while minimizing the risk of going into full oversteer and spinning off. This takes a lot of practice, but it can help to save valuable seconds over the course of several laps.
As we discussed in an earlier section, both of these techniques can be used to match the revs of the engine with those of the transmission, making for smoother transitions. With heel-toe braking, this is especially true, as the driver can have more control over the revs as they come through the corner under braking, with the revs in the optimal range for maximum acceleration at the exit.
Aside from being able to control the revs of the engine, keeping your foot on both the gas and the brake at the same time eliminates the need to switch pedals with your foot when you are ready to accelerate again. Although you can swap pedals within a fraction of a second, if you can eliminate this transition period altogether you can save valuable time over the course of a race.
If you are driving a car with turbochargers this is especially useful. Essentially, a turbocharger uses a turbine to force compressed air into the engine, increasing its efficiency and giving the driver more power. It takes time for the turbos to activate after the driver presses the accelerator, and this is called turbo lag. It is essentially the time it takes for the turbo to kick in.
During a race, and indeed in any situation, the driver wants to minimize this time difference. With heel-toe braking, the driver can keep the RPM high under braking, in turn keeping the turbines spinning, and thus when the brake pedal is released the car has maximum power right away. Left-foot braking can also be applied in the same way, and so both are useful techniques in turbocharged cars.
Left-foot braking and heel-toe braking are two techniques used to minimize the transition between the pedals and thus make the driver more efficient. Left-foot braking involves using both feet at once, and so is very useful in an automatic car, while the heel-toe method involves using just the right foot to operate both the gas and brake pedals at the same time.
Both techniques can be used to match the revs of the engine with the transmission, and thus improve gear shifting. However, each technique has specific applications in which they are particularly useful. Although less common due to the popularity of automatic transmissions, heel-toe braking is still a useful skill to have, while left-foot braking is often more intuitive and more effective.