Q: I have a question that’s kinda bugging me about heel-n-toe downshifting. I learned one way long ago, then read your very detailed description of the technique in your “Speed Secrets: Professional Race Driving Techniques” and in your “Performance Driving Illustrated” download. More recently, I read an article in NASA Speed News also describing how to heel-n-toe in detail. Your description and his, which is how I originally learned at JRBSR, differ. I have been practicing and employing your technique for about a year, and now I’m confused (a bit). Namely, you describe having the clutch pedal pressed in, selecting the new gear, THEN blipping the throttle (while braking) and then releasing the clutch. Jim Russell taught me, and Joshua described, having the clutch pedal pressed in, moving the gear shifter to neutral, THEN blipping the throttle while selecting the new gear (while braking), and then releasing the clutch. It may be minutiae, in which case I apologize for even bothering you with it. If not, is there a noteworthy difference of when to “blip” the throttle (while selecting the new gear OR after selecting the new gear)? I know that the ultimate goal is a smooth shift with the clutch engaging at appropriate engine and transmission RPM’s so that the car is not unsettled.
A: Good question. In reality you blip the throttle while moving the shifter. But from instructing/coaching thousands and thousands of drivers I’ve noticed that the single biggest problem they have with heel and toe is blipping the throttle too soon (I describe what that does in those other books). By recommending it the way I do, nearly every driver finds it easier – the timing is better.
The process that the Russell school taught (still teaches?) and the NASA article suggests is outdated. There is absolutely no reason to even consider shifting to neutral, then to the desired gear. There was a time, a long time ago, when gearboxes worked better with a slight hesitation in the middle, but not anymore. And when a driver blips the throttle while moving the shifter from one gear to neutral (which is what most do – they begin blipping as soon as they depress the clutch), then moves the shifter to the next gear, the delay causes an unsmooth downshift because the revs have fallen. That’s exactly why I suggest blipping the throttle just before letting the clutch out.
Again, it’s something that should not even be thought about, once a driver has enough time doing it – it’s one smooth maneuver. And the timing just works (as long as the driver is not in too much of a hurry to blip the throttle).