The Pros & Cons of Left-Foot-Braking

Performance & Race Driving Tip

Should You Start Left-Foot-Braking?

I often get asked about left-foot braking, so I’ll present what I see as this technique’s pros and cons.

Left-foot Braking Advantages:left foot braking

  • Eliminates the fractions of a second that it takes to move your right foot from the throttle to the brake pedal, and vice versa.
  • It allows your foot to focus 100% on braking, rather than having to multi-task with heel- and-toe during downshifting. You can blend the pedals (applying the brakes and throttle at the same time), which is, in some cases, a benefit.
  • (Note: Blending the pedals can also be a disadvantage – there are teams and auto-makers who strongly discourage left-foot braking at races like Le Mans because they’ve determined that it increases fuel consumption, resulting in an extra pit stop in 24 hours.)

Right-foot Braking Advantages:

  • Allows you to support your body by bracing your left foot against the dead pedal.
From its constant use of the throttle, your right foot has developed more sensitivity, and that can make your feel for the brakes more effective.

So, what does this mean to you?

A good left-foot braker will beat a good right-foot braker. Everything else being equal, left-foot braking has a few advantages over right-foot braking.

A good right-foot braker will beat a mediocre left-foot braker. Dario Franchitti, a right-foot braker, is proof of this. So is Johannes van Overbeek. I’ve had the opportunity to look at Johannes’ data from driving the Extreme Speed/Patron LMP2 car all this year, and I’m convinced he’s one of the best right-foot brakers ever. I would never have known that he brakes with his right foot from the data. With most right-foot brakers, you can see the tiny gap in time between when the right foot comes off the throttle and before it applies the brake pedal. But Johannes is able to do this so fast that it’s practically impossible to see it in the data.

Here’s the big problem: Many drivers left-foot brake because they think they can gain an advantage (or they think it makes them cool), but because they’re less-than-good at it (but don’t realize it), they would be better off right-foot braking. If these drivers had asked me, I’d have said that they needed a good reason to left-foot brake in anything other than purpose-built race cars with a sequential gearbox (and in that case, they should have learned it yesterday!).

Of course, many cars don’t allow you to left-foot brake, because you have to use the clutch. But some drivers will switch their left foot back and forth between the clutch and brake, and many times that leads to disaster. I recommend keeping things simple, which means staying away from switching back and forth during a lap. I realize that some drivers are very good at this (I suspect I’ll hear from a few!), but I wouldn’t be surprised that if they put that much focus into other areas of their driving, they’d be even faster .

Remember, a good right-foot braker will beat a mediocre left-foot braker, and unless you can practice left-foot braking a lot – and I mean a lot – it’s hard to get beyond the mediocre level (if you’re honest with yourself). Again, you use your right foot all the time on the throttle, so it becomes extremely sensitive. But given the opportunity to practice it, and a car that rewards, even encourages it, left-foot braking is the way to go.

Throughout most of my racing career I right-foot braked, because the cars I drove either required or encouraged the use of the clutch. When I got the opportunity to drive a car where left- foot braking was an option and an advantage (a prototype sports car), I was fortunate enough to have an entire day doing aerodynamic testing where I could focus 100% on developing my timing and sensitivity with my left foot. Since that day, I’ve been able to switch back and forth, depending on the car. And there are times when I’m faster right-foot braking, and times when I’m faster left-foot braking.

Note that some drivers, like Johannes and Dario, have resisted the change, not because they’re stubborn or couldn’t handle it. No, the reason they stuck with right-foot braking is they’re really good at it; it allowed them to focus, and excel, on other parts of their driving. Left-foot braking is not a silver bullet that will automatically make you super-fast.

So, should you left-foot brake? Think about what I’ve just said and make a decision based on these two questions:

Will you be faster?
Do you want to learn a new technique?

I know there are some drivers who will argue with what I’ve said here, so listen to what they have to say, as well.

Better yet, ask left-foot braker, Scott Dixon, and right-foot braker, Dario Franchitti, to tell you which is best. Maybe you can encourage them to argue their case against each other!

Check back here often for more tips and advice for performance drivers, race drivers, high performance driving instructors, and anyone else interested in learning to get around race tracks quickly.

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12 Comments

  1. Interesting case of Wayne Taylor’s sons as well: Ricky is a left foot braker, while Jordan is a right foot braker.

    Reply
  2. As a very inexperienced racer, I have attempted to learn left-foot braking in a 3-pedal race car while still using the clutch for gear changes. I learned first hand the point that “… some drivers will switch their left foot back and forth between the clutch and brake, and many times that leads to disaster.” I was able to gather the car up at the exit of turn 4 at LS after using the clutch instead of the brake; it wasn’t fun and I honestly thought I was going to wad it up.

    I still like the technique, but unless I am in a 2-pedal car, I think it is only something I will strive to get better at, but not actually use when driving at 10/10.

    Reply
  3. In my FWD Honda CRX, I use both. It depends on the corner and the need to change gears. Turn 6 at Road America is one place I use left foot braking. The brakes become a negative accelerator. It helps rotate the car and improves the stability on accelaration.

    Reply
    • Racing karts require the use of left foot braking. Even shifter karts with six speed sequential transmissions that I am most familiar with. In karts, using the brake to force fore and aft weight transfer, while still on the throttle seems to be the key to maintaining momentum through corners. Most especially with single gear (non-shifter) karts. The principle of maintaining momentum, even drifting the kart through certain corners is essential to achieve faster lap times. Left foot braking makes that possible. It seems to me that the transfer of that technique to larger racing cars would also be a good thing. But, just in karts, doing so is hard on the brake pads and fuel consumption too.

      Reply
  4. I tried to find out for myself that using left foot braking helps not to reduce the turbo boost by not letting go of the throttle when braking. I leave my right foot on the gas pedal while tapping the brakes w/ my left foot. And felt that the turbo lag is iliminated but, it needs a lot of practice to master the technique.

    Reply
    • I left foot brake when I go pick up milk. But I also right foot brake. I guess I’m just a little brake-curious.

      Reply
  5. In the pro challenge car I have which features a bike engine and sequential gearbox, I left foot brake, but you are right you have to learn to completely come off the throttle for it to be effective

    Reply
  6. Well stated and presented Ross. Cheers

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    • If what I said meets your approval, I’ve accomplished my lifetime goal! 🙂 Thanks Brian.

      Reply
  7. In youtube it´s possible see Ayrton Sena using only heel and toe.

    Reply
  8. Puts me in mind of the bit in your book where you mention Schumacher at Monaco with a quote about him left-foot braking and treating the pedals as ‘Ingredients of speed’ -to paraphrase. Thinking with that mindset has helped me with my left-foot braking and trail-braking.

    Reply
  9. Should you start left-foot braking? Maybe yes and maybe no.

    I read a piece on the advantages of left-foot braking around 60 years ago and, since I drove an automatic transmission, I decided to give it a try. It took a while for it to be a natural reaction to go for the brake with my left foot, but once I became proficient with the technique I have never looked back.

    Using the left foot on the brake has often been suggested to be an “old guy method”, i.e. riding the brake. Of course, it can be such a thing, but when properly done, I suggest there is no safer, more comfortable way to operate the vehicle with two pedals and my brake parts last longer than most.

    With all this in mind, I would suggest caution with regard to experienced drivers attempting to make the conversion to the left foot. I do, however, advocate teaching the technique to beginning drivers who will likely drive nothing but automatics in their lives.

    Reply

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  1. Should You Start Left-Foot-Braking? | FSR Grand Prix of 2016 for Eric Estes - […] by Ross Bentley | Apr 29, 2016 | Driving Tips | 0 comments […]

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