Mike Stevens | Sep 10, 2008

Okay, you’ve no doubt heard of ‘heel and toeing’, and perhaps (as I know some of you practice this technique) have already mastered the art. But what’s the big deal? What is it good for? Why do it? And most importantly, how do you do it?

Many people get confused with what ‘heel and toeing’ actually is. Some people think it’s just 'rev matching' and others confuse it with another technique called 'double clutching'. Technically speaking it’s neither of those.

Heel and toeing is critical on a race track, but it can also be applied to driving on the road, although it does take some practice before it comes naturally (and we will get to that later).

Driving at track speed is all about keeping the car as ‘best-balanced’ at all times, and this is especially true under hard braking. A physics principal called the KAMM circle comes into play here (and that’s a whole other topic in itself). As you brake, physics takes over, and the weight of the car is transferred to the front of the vehicle. Under heavy braking, if done inexpertly, the wheels can lock up (many race cars do NOT employ the use of ABS - some have the ABS units removed - so heel and toeing is VERY important here) which will induce an uncontrolled skid.

Changing down through the gears at speed, combined with braking can load even more of the car’s weight to the front. So what are the options here?

Well, you can brake hard before the corner, before you absolutely need to. This will help you balance the car better, but will also result in a slower time.

RaceCar

You could release the brake and ‘blip’ the throttle to ‘rev-match’ the gear you’ve next selected as a downshift, but you need to do this early too (releasing the brake to ‘blip’ can reduce your control over the car). Or you can heel and toe.

This technique involves braking with the ball of your foot but at the same time ‘blipping’ the accelerator with your heel for a rev match, for a smoother down-change. Thus the ‘heel and toe’ aspect of it. Sounds logical and easy doesn’t it?

It’s not! I found it hard to get used to (and absolutely right) when I first took the plunge to see what all the fuss was about!

Managing the balancing act between accelerator and brake can be tricky – especially at speed. There were times where I pressed the brake so hard I felt like I was either going to be jettisoned out the windscreen or have my retina detached from my eyes.

It can be a hard technique to master, yet some people have the knack and can pick up the basic principles in just a few hours. You see, simultaneously depressing the brake and accelerator with the right amount of force and control on each pedal is something none of us were trained to do when we first got our licences.

SPARCO-SPEEDWAY-NOMEX

Some cars make it even harder with the placement of the pedals. On top of that, footwear is also an important factor. Believe me, having the right footwear will make things easier for you in the short term. If you have a pair of slim-fitting sneakers with a thin sole, they would be ideal to start off with. (Don’t try starting off with the Blundestones – it will add to the frustration in getting it right.)

Practice is the key here. Start off at a deserted car park, much like the one your dad used originally in your first driving lesson.

You can practise your pedal ‘feel’ at first while stationary. Just put your toe on the brake and use your feel on the accelerator to control the RPM of your car. Holding a fixed RPM for a little while, then raising and holding, lowering and holding will give you a good start on what you are trying to achieve.

Another method in getting your head around it is – when driving normally – to try using your heel for acceleration and toe for braking independently. The more you try this technique, the smoother the process will become until it becomes second nature to you.

Knowing your gears is also an important part of heel and toeing. By that I mean knowing what RPM your car will be in on a down-change from gear to gear is important. So, while you drive around normally, pay attention to the revs and the car speed when you down-change gears. This will help you understand how much you need to ‘blip’ the throttle on the down change when you are ready for heel and toeing.

Like anything, practice is the key!

Till next time, happy and safe motoring!

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