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 and the NASA article suggests is outdated.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).
This Q&A is timely for me, thank you for posting it. I often feel like I blip the throttle too far before the clutch peddle is released. RPMs begin to fall. I also feel like the heel/toe downshift sequence “for me” can over slow the car. It overslows because I have only one sequence that I run through. By sequence I mean “I brake in this gear and this speed, and down shift and brake and clutch release at this speed”.
Thank you for a new “thing to try” for my notes. I’ll be at Summit Point in a couple weeks. Look forward to giving this a spin.
But if you blip throttle just BEFORE you disengage the clutch won’t you get an acceleration surge just when you’re trying to brake?
An earlier blip is required for a double clutch downshift. The sequence goes: clutch, neutral and blip throttle and release clutch momentarily, clutch, new gear, maybe blip again (if you haven’t been keeping the throttle open to maintain rpm), release clutch. I’ve never had a car with really strong syncros, so I’ve used both techniques. A double clutch downshift is very difficult to do smoothly because of the time delay going from neutral to the new gear and essentially having to match revs twice in a very short period. Without double clutching, it is definitely best to get the transmission from the current gear to the new gear as quickly as possible, and make the clutch release and slow as practical for maximum smoothness. Also, any delay with the transmission in neutral (without double clutching) will only allow the input shaft to slow down, making it that much more difficult to get into the new gear.
Related question – I know a driver who is INCREDIBLY fast and smooth as silk. After a couple years of knowing him and how fast he was, in pretty much any car, we realized he doesn’t heal-toe-shift at all.
This is amazing on its own but when you watch his videos, the car is not upset at all on down-shifts. Any thoughts on how that is possible?
He won the PRO3 championship a few years ago and holds several track records in the PNW.
There are always exceptions to the rule, and there are some drivers who have done well without heel & toeing, but they are in the minority. It reminds me of a few years ago when many senior executives of companies actually started wearing black turtleneck shirts because that’s what Steve Jobs wore! Just because Jobs was successful, was his people management style something that every executive should copy? Just think how fast the driver you’re talking about could be if he did heel and toe?!
I think it’s important to note that the brakes slow the car, the heel/toe is to help make sure you’re in the proper gear smoothly for the turn, it’s not a braking aid.
As for the double clutching above, that’s for non-synchro transmissions and you move from the gear to N, release the clutch in N, blip, then shift to the next gear. The idear here is to bring the transmission gears up to speed to aid the downshift.
Thanks for the above! Having read your speed secrets books, I’m still slightly confused on the timing of the blip. You mention to make the change and then blip and release but you also say to engage the clutch as the revs are falling. If you have already made the shift then blip then the revs would be increasing.
As long as the timing works, is it ok to blip at the same time that you are moving the shifter through the gate?
Also what about cases where the revs are too high rather that too low – should you just hold the clutch in a fraction of a second longer?
Ideally, you want to engage the clutch when the revs are dropping. But it’s all happening quickly and almost at the same time. The reason I suggest engaging the clutch when the revs are dropping is that is the way to learn it. After a while, with practice, it does become something that happens almost simultaneously, and in fact, you won’t be – or shouldn’t be – thinking about it. But that is if you’ve got the basic timing right when you’re first learning. Yes, it’s okay to blip while moving the shifter, but what you don’t want is the revs rising while you engage the clutch because that will likely try to accelerate the car. And yes, if the revs are too high, you can delay the release of the clutch slightly (but not too long). Just practice it to the point where it all meshes nicely, and it’s seamless – and you don’t have to think about each step, but it feels like one action. That takes some time, but the good news is that means you’re driving a lot! Have fun!