The Basics: Learning To Heel/Toe Downshift

By Winding Road Staff

March 08, 2017

We coach many, many drivers during the racing year and we find, more than occasionally, that drivers either have little experience with heel/toe downshifting or they aren't very good at it. Some drivers are not that fluid with operating the shifter in a fully manual race car either. If you think about it for a minute, this isn't that surprising, since the percentage of manual street cars is very low (even Porsche dealers suggest that 90% plus of their new 911 sales are PDK) and some makes really don't offer a full three pedal set-up anymore and haven't for more than a decade (we're talking about you, Ferrari). People just don't get to practice manual shifting that much.

But by far the largest percentage of race cars use a manual gear box with three pedals. So, drivers need a way to get better. We offer the following tips:

1. If you have a manual car, you can practice on the street, regularly. Here is a link to a detailed, step-by-step course for street practice: tinyurl.com/38wynta

2. Having done step 1, you need to get to a track and practice there because the speeds and brake pressure levels in racing are different (heel/toe is actually easier at the track). We suggest signing up for a track day and using part of it as pure heel/toe practice. Don't try to run as fast as you can, focus completely on doing 100 or more heel/toe downshifts (do more than enough to get it into your subconscious).

3. If you don't own a manual car, get one. A used NA or NB Miata is under $5000. If you maintain it, it won't depreciate much. You can turn it into a Spec Miata (or a great ChumpCar if it is a 1.6L NA) at some point. You can use it to teach your kids to drive a manual. If you shop for a nice one, you can even take your significant other on a drive in the country to see the fall leaves or do a wine tasting.