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. Left foot braking and heel toe are two very important techniques.
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, and you’ll need to learn more to understand what situation requires what kind 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 learn.
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 you’re 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, operated either by a sequential shifter or paddles on the steering wheel.
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, it’s useful on the track as you need a lot of braking force to slow you down from much higher speeds, and you want to be able to move between the gas and the brake at an instant to get the fastest lap times.
What Is Heel-Toe Shifting?
Heel-toe shifting 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 manual transmission cars, as it allows for a lot of fine control when downshifting.
Although it’s becoming less common nowadays (due to the fact that most race cars use sequential transmissions), heel-toe shifting 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.
Left-Foot Braking vs Heel-Toe – 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 use of the clutch pedal). With left-foot braking, you are making more use of all of your limbs, and so it can therefore 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. However, it’s the timing of each movement that is key with heel-toe.
Left-Foot Braking vs Heel-Toe – Their Ease Of Use
Getting used to each technique is one thing, but getting good at it is another. 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.
There is still a lot of precision involved, and that will come with practice. However, with heel toe, you’re using one foot to brake and blip the throttle pedal at the same time, all while also dipping the clutch and changing gears. This can be very tough to get used to if you’ve never driven a manual before, but with time and practice you will be able to learn it. But why would you learn heel toe?
Why Are These Techniques Used?
Both of these braking techniques are used to improve your performance on the track, but heel toe also serves the purpose of making smoother gear changes. Left foot braking allows you to eliminate the delay between getting off the throttle and on the brake, or vice versa. This can allow you to corner faster, while also being able to manipulate the balance too.
When you are approaching a corner and looking to downshift in a manual car, using the heel-toe method allows you to match the revs of the engine and wheels for a smoother shift. It is only useful in a manual car, where rev matching and proper clutch operation are key to making smooth shifts.
Left-Foot Braking Uses
Left-foot braking is especially common in modern motorsports due to the popularity of sequential transmissions. 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.
F1 drivers use left foot braking as they only have two pedals – a brake and an accelerator. They change gears using paddles on the back of the steering wheel, and so there is no need for a clutch pedal. The brake pedal in an F1 car is also very hard, and so being able to use their left foot allows drivers to press the pedal hard enough while also maintaining some fine control over it.
F1 is all about the finest of margins, and being able to instantly go from gas to brake and vice versa allows drivers to instantly accelerate out of corners and brake at the latest possible moment before the next one.
Balancing The Car
Left-foot braking can also be used in regular track racing. 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 slightly applied, while simultaneously using the left-foot to brake, the driver can manipulate the balance of the car to corner easier, while minimizing the risk of going into full oversteer and spinning off. This takes a lot of practice, but it can help to save those extra few tenths over the course of a lap.
With heel-toe braking, the driver can have more control over the revs as they come to a corner under braking, allowing them to blip the throttle as they downshift to get the engine speed closer to the car’s road speed for a smoother gear change. Not only does this help protect the car’s internals, but it also makes for a more balanced car through the corners.
However, many race cars nowadays use sequential transmissions with paddle shifters, eliminating the need for a clutch pedal. This makes heel toe shifting redundant, as the car’s ECU will match the revs for you as you change gears. However, many racing series do still use manual cars, so obviously that’s where there will still be a use for this technique.
Eliminating Turbo Lag
It can also come into play if you’re driving a car with a turbocharger. With heel-toe braking, the driver can keep the RPM high under braking, in turn keeping the turbines spinning, and so 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 can be useful techniques in turbocharged cars.
Left-foot braking involves using both feet at once, and so it’s very useful in non-manual cars. The heel-toe method involves using just the right foot to operate both the gas and brake pedals at the same time as operating the clutch with the left foot. Each technique is used in different situations.
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