What Gear Should I Use To Drive Fast?

Performance & Race Driving Tip

Speed Secret: Use the tallest gear possible

shifting-gearsIs that a 2nd- or 3rd-gear corner?

How many times have you found yourself in that situation where you feel you’re in between gears in a turn. Second gear seems too low, and 3rd gear just doesn’t give you enough oomph out of the corner?

My recommendation is to attempt to make the taller gear work. Once you’re going reasonably well through the turn, use 3rd gear. Sure, the engine might feel a bit boggy, but work at carrying enough speed through the turn that it doesn’t bog down. Using a taller gear will force you to work at carrying more speed through the corner, plus make you unwind the steering wheel to let the car run free as you exit it.

Even if you find that the ultimate solution is 2nd gear, using 3rd gear for a number of laps will have helped.

Often, when you go to the lower gear, you’ll force yourself to over-slow the car. By driving through the turn in the higher gear you will have gotten used to the higher speed, and then even if you go back to using 2nd, you’ll be less likely to over-slow the car.

There are other advantages to using a taller gear:

Because your engine will have less torque at the lower RPM, it’s less likely to upset the balance of the car when you modulate and apply the throttle.

The less you do, the less chance to make an error (hey, that’s a Speed Secret!). So, the fewer downshifts you make, the less likely you’ll make a mistake that will upset the car.

When you’re learning a track, or working on other parts of your driving technique, having one less thing to do – like downshifting – gives you more focus to put into more productive areas of your driving.

Unsure what gear to use? Go with the taller gear for now (you can always experiment with a lower gear, later). As always, the “Use the tallest gear possible” Speed Secret applies more often than not, but it’s not an always-do-this rule. There are always exceptions to the rule, but it’s a good guideline.

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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1 Comment

  1. This is a perfect tip. I was racing with ChumpCar at Watkins Glen two weeks ago and I had this same dilemma. Last year at WGI, one of my teammates did a 180-spin heading into the boot, hit the outside wall and it rolled the car on the rebound. This year in our practice session on Friday I couldn’t get comfortable downshifting to 3rd, which matching the revs without upsetting the car. Partly my poor rev matching, partly due to me thinking about his spin and finally, that corner is a pain 🙂 I decided to just keep it in 4th and not worry about it. I might have been marginally slower, but 100% more confident.

    I also had the same thought process coming into the bus stop. I kept it in 4th through the bus stop and all the way to the toe. My teammates were downshifting to 3rd for the bus stop, up to 4th into the boot, then to 3rd, then back to 4th, before downshifting to 3rd for the toe. I found I was braking less, therefore slowing less through the bus stop and shifting only once between the back straight and the toe, where my teammates were shifting 5 times. Easier on the transmission too and in ChumpCar in a 1994 Volvo 940 Turbo, it’s good to be easy on parts.

    As always, thanks for all your tips. Some are new, other reinforce my current habits.



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