Don't Be Afraid To Ask Questions – Part 4: The Heel-Toe Downshift

A Duo Demonstrates the Less Popular Heel-Toe Face Kick
A Duo Demonstrates the Less Popular Heel-Toe Face Kick

In this series so far, we have explored the inner workings of the automotron. Today however I feel like discussing one of the many savvy techniques people use when they are operating an automo-go of the sporting variety … and doing so at 12/11ths (yes, our scale goes to 11 here at Hooniverse.. HELLO CLEVELAND!). This technique is the oft-discussed, but oft-not practiced, Heel-Toe Downshift. How do these fleet-footed drivers manager this technique, and also what purpose does it actually serve? Hop, Skip, Heel, Toe, and Jump to learn more about this popular driving skill.First the why…
This technique is popular with those pushing their car hard because it allows them to setup properly in and out of corners. As a Heel-Toe master enters a corner he needs to begin braking but he also wants to be smooth through the corner and be setup to rocket out of the exit. This is accomplished by braking with part of the right foot, clutching with the left foot, and applying throttle with the other part of the right foot, and finally steering and shifting with the hands. This allows the driver to slow down for the turn, but also raise the revs of the engine to match the speed of the transmission in the lower gear that is about to be selected. The result is a smoother shift, a faster turn, and a better lap time.
Now the how, in more detail than mentioned above…
First off, the term heel-toe is a bit of a misnomer these days. It should be called ball-ball, but when I say that it only elicits schoolgirl giggles from Mitch and Rob, a disgusted stare from Tim, and a late night text message from Charles .. wait, how did you get my number Charles? The reason for this that you modulate the brake and the throttle together with the upper parts of your foot. Unless you have freakishly small feet and a flexible hip, in which case… ask Charles for my number. Ok back to the how-to, as you enter a turn in which you need to brake but also need to downshift and hammer out, you apply the brake pressure with the left part of your right foot. As you do this, your revs will start to drop since you are now off the throttle. Clutch in and move the shifter to the lower gear you desire. Before you clutch out and are still braking, use the right part of your right foot to put pressure on the throttle. This raises the revs to allow for a much smoother transition when you let that clutch out. Once you are in gear and done with your braking, gas it and pass the other driver whose car just bucked when he did not heel-toe.
This application is not just beneficial from a speed/lap-time/racing standpoint. This technique is good on the street as well.. it makes for smoother shifting, rapid corners on a nice curvy road, and more importantly, it places less stress on the wear and tear parts of your vehicle.
If my ‘splainin wasn’t up to snuff for you, or you are a more of a visual learner then please enjoy this video:
(It is not specifically about heel-toe technique, but it shows it off nicely… plus, I love this video)

[Source:, Edmunds, Wikipedia, and Youtube]

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  1. Maymar Avatar

    I get heel-and-toeing in theory, but I've never really gotten it in practice. Then again, my car with a stick was lacking in the tachometer area, so I was still working on perfecting the simpler act of blipping the throttle.

  2. LTDScott Avatar

    Interesting, Senna doesn't literally "heel and toe." He just rolls his foot sideways off the brake and uses the right side of his foot on the gas pedal. This is exactly how I do it and I'm pretty darn good. Helped a lot on the track. I could never get my foot at the right angle to literally have my heel on the gas.

    1. LTDScott Avatar

      and I typed that before reading the text. Looks like you already covered that.

    2. AteUpWithMotor Avatar

      Yeah, on most modern cars, that's pretty much what you have to do, because the accelerator and the brake are on different planes. I find it easier when I have boots on, because the sole is wider, and it makes it easier to catch the gas…

      1. Deartháir Avatar

        With my Harley boots on, I do it accidentally in the Corrado! There's not enough room between the brake pedal and the transmission tunnel to fit the whole sole, unless I pull it back and slide it under the brake. Every so often, I forget, and just say I'm heel-toeing it.

  3. joshuman Avatar

    I recognized those loafers before I even pressed play.
    The heel-toe action is in use by me whenever possible. Typically, this means a mundane right on yield gets a third to second downshift. It makes the turn more enjoyable, especially when I actually do it correctly.

  4. Tanshanomi Avatar

    I discovered that the brake and accelerator pedals in my old '92 Toyota truck (my last MT vehicle) were simply too far away from each other to make it work. I tried doing it in my Town Car, but it just confuses the AOD tranny.

  5. skitter Avatar

    Just like the basics of driving a stickshift, it's all about practice. And Braff, for us freakishly small of foot, or freakishly wide of pedalbox, it's more in the knees than the hips, despite what you may have heard from Charles.
    Hint: Braking harder will bring the pedal heights closer together in many cars.
    Hint: 5-2 will take a much larger blip than 5-4. Also, I find the deeper I am in the powerband, the easier the engine is to spin up. In other words, it's easier if you don't drop to idle while in neutral.
    Here's a good article that discusses heel and toe as well as other shifting techniques:
    Finally, in my search for that piece, I stumbled across this:
    Highlight: “Most people, when faced with cornering beyond 0.4 g or hitting a tree, choose the tree.”
    My hoon is on for safety / Save the Enzos.

    1. AteUpWithMotor Avatar

      “Most people, when faced with cornering beyond 0.4 g or hitting a tree, choose the tree.”
      This neatly summarizes my experience on highway 234 with my parents (in their 2003 Mazda Protege5) on Sunday afternoon. They started freaking out because I carried a little too much speed into a series of decreasing-radius turns, and would not stop hooting until I lifted and braked. I was in no danger of running out of grip, even if the lateral forces were a little higher than my passengers would have liked, and the best thing would have just been to carry it through. In a FWD car, jumping off the throttle in mid-turn rarely does anything but tuck the nose in a little, but it's pretty clear my parents haven't had a RWD in a long, long time. In a 356 or early 911, jumping off the throttle and onto the brake would have put us through the guardrail.
      Different engines require some adjustment of technique. My car, which has an undersquare engine (long stroke, relatively narrow bore), doesn't lose speed as quickly. My parents' car, which is oversquare and smaller displacement, loses RPM very quickly once you're in neutral, so I inevitably mistime the first couple of shifts.

      1. skitter Avatar

        A friend of mine reports that the G-meter is by far the most dangerous part of his Z06.
        I can get to 0 .7G… AAAH! TRAFFIC!

    2. SSurfer321 Avatar

      I LOVED that C/D article. Best article in YEARS from them. My mother-in-law was in an accident over two years ago and is still afraid to drive/ride in a vehicle. Anything farther than 10 miles and she chews her nails off. I want to take her to Skip's to teach her not to be scared…and so I can learn to properly hoon a vehicle.

  6. Jeff Glucker Avatar
    Jeff Glucker

    I am going to practice this in the 2010 Corvette Grand Sport as I make my lunch run to In N Out…
    yes, every part of that sentence was intended to make you all jealous.

    1. Deartháir Avatar

      And all of it failed. I'm drifting the Corrado in the snow on closed winding river-roads, with Clone Wars playing on the display, and a good coffee in my travel mug. I couldn't be much happier.

    2. engineerd Avatar

      While our Canadian friend throws snow in your face, I'm sitting here salivating. Only 3 weeks until I'll be in SoCal raising my cholesterol level at In-N-Out.

  7. Deartháir Avatar

    It's one of those techniques I worked out due to necessity before I even knew that there was a name for it. One of the other techniques for which it is fantastic is for quickly navigating snowy mountain roads that are casually draped over the hills like a garland on a Christmas tree. These were the roads where I grew up, and since my first few cars were woefully underpowered — especially the Rambler — I learned quickly how to maintain both speed and traction through snowy corners. My technique is sloppy, by my estimation, but the advantage to using it is that you eliminate compression slides when downshifting for a corner leading to a hill. Many is the time I've failed to use it and found myself going slower than I should, with my rear wheels sliding without traction, and being forced to downshift again to attain enough speed to manage to climb the hill. Using the heel-toe technique allows me to keep my speed — and therefore revs — up enough to tackle the hill properly.
    Nice write-up, Braff… even if it did cause me to giggle like a schoolgirl.

  8. Alff Avatar

    Necessity, thy name is Alfa Romeo 2nd-gear syncro.

    1. dwegmull Avatar

      I had the same "experience" with my Austin Metro…
      The way the pedals were setup I did press the brake with my right heel and the throttle with toes.
      Now of course I drive "boring" cars: one with automatic, the other with a single gear (it's electric).

  9. Jeff Glucker Avatar
    Jeff Glucker

    ok fine…
    The 2010 Bentley Continental GTC Speed arrives in about an hour…

    1. Deartháir Avatar

      I went across a narrow bridge at 70 km/h on snow, at a 45° angle from the direction I was travelling. Intentionally.
      Do that in the Bentley, and I'll be jealous.

  10. Age_of_Aerostar Avatar

    And all this time I was putting my right shoe on sideways!!!!

  11. Tim Odell Avatar
    Tim Odell

    Just watched the video…weird technique on the feathering the gas pedal, there…

  12. Eggwich Avatar

    I've been playing the heel-toe game for a few months, and I gotta admit, I still kinda suck at it. Reason/excuse being, while my pedals are set up nicely for HT in so far as their distance apart, my brake pedal is much higher than the gas (as it should be). So, to do a real effective HT shift, I have to brake pretty hard. This makes sense for on the track, but for daily driving, I just don't mash the brakes enough to get the chance to HT that often.
    I think it's good to note that because of pedal setups like mine where strong brake pressure is needed, heel toe is best practiced at some speed, so it's best to head to an empty parking lot somewhere to work on it. You (I) can't practice heel toe at 10 mph, and you don't want to practice it at 25 mph in live traffic, unless you are a total jerky malerky.
    What I haven't seen mentioned is a combo of my two favorites, and what I feel is better than the regular HT, the Double Clutch Heel Toe. As someone else already pointed out, double clutching allows your layshaft to match speeds with your engine, resulting in shifts so smooth you would think your whole drivetrain was made of soft, delicious bread. Seriously. If you are bothering to rev match, double clutch and blip while you're in neutral, you'll be amazed at how smooth it is.
    Ernywho, the DCHT is kind of confusing, and I'm no expert at it, but it combines the smoothness of a DC shift with the efficiency and effectiveness of a HT shift. It's top dog. When I do it, and often when I DC, I often cheat and skip the first clutch depression, instead just popping the car out of gear and into neutral. This may be real bad for my synchros, people say don't do it, but my car sure makes it easy, so I still do it. I'm not recommending it, I'm just saying if you think DCHTing takes too long, just pop it into neutral when you first lay on the brakes and skip the first clutch disengagement, it simplifies things a bit.
    When I first got into this stuff I discovered, which is all about manual transmissions and different shift-related stuff. I still go there often enough, but like many forum boards, most of my conversations now are about why the Mustang doesn't suck (and your car does) and that while Lil Wayne may be annoying, it doesn't make him any less of a musical prodigy. Digression, it's everywhere these days.
    I'll post a lengthy post from LHOswald at Standardshift about DC and DCHT as a reply to this message…

    1. Eggwich Avatar

      Following is pulled from this thread on Standardshift:…
      i'll explain single clutch upshifts, downshifts, and rev matched downshifts and double clutched upshifts and rev matched downshifts. even heel toe single clutch and double clutch rev matched downshifts! im going to use alot of reference to my signature in this post, so make sure you know where everything is!
      in a single clutch upshift, you just push the clutch to the floor, put the shifter in whatever gear your going to (1-2 2-3 3-4 4-5), let the revs fall to the right amount and let out the clutch. in this shift your synchronizers in your gearbox (aka transmission) are slowing down the layshaft (shown in my signature) for what particular gear you selected. if they were not synchronized, the gears wouldn't be able to engage because the speed would be so high that it would just grind, or it would grab, and potentially wreck your transmission.
      in a double clutch upshift, you push the clutch to the floor, put the shifter in neutral, let out the clutch, wait until the revs fall almost to the point where you want them, push the clutch to the floor, put it in the next gear, and let out the clutch. in this shift, your doing the work of the synchronizers, as your engine is connected to the layshaft of the transmission. so instead of your synchronizers slowing down the gear allowing it to engage, your attaching your layshaft to the engine, and allowing the engine to slow the layshaft down, thereby doing the synchros job.
      in a single clutch downshift, you push the clutch to the floor, put it to the next lower gear, and let out the clutch. the synchronizers have to speed up the layshaft during your shift, and since there was no rev-match, when you let out the clutch the difference between the layshaft and engine is pretty large. so when you connect the two, the somewhat lower speed of the engine is going to try and match the higher speed of the layshaft of your transmission
      and slow down your car when you let out the clutch. so your synchronizers have to speed up the transmission, and your clutch has to speed up your engine.
      in a single clutch rev matched downshift, you push the clutch to the floor, and as you move the shifter to the next lower gear, you rev match your downshift to the amount that the engine will be in for the next lower gear (if you did dump the clutch right now) so that the engine will not drag the transmission down to match its speed (thereby slowing you down) and let out the clutch. here do you the job of the clutch, but not the synchronizers
      there is no plain double clutch downshift, because to double clutch it and do the work of the synchros, you have to rev match it
      in a double clutch rev matched downshift, you push the clutch to the floor, put the shifter in the neutral, let out the clutch, rev match to the amount that the engine will be in for the next lower gear (if you did dump the clutch). while you are in neutral with the clutch out (the clutch is considered "engaged" when the clutch is out, because the engine and transmission are coupled, through the clutch) when you rev your engine, your layshaft and your gears speed up with the engine, this is how double clutch rev matching downshifts are accomplished. push the clutch back in, put it in the next lower gear, and let out the clutch. in this shift, your doing the job for the synchronizers, and your clutch.
      in my book, this is considered the 3rd hardest shift (in terms of skill) next to the single clutch heel toe downshift, and the double clutch heel toe downshift.

  13. Eggwich Avatar

    Continued, it was too long:
    in a single clutch heel toe rev matched downshift, your doing the same as if you were doing a single clutch downshift, but this time you have your foot on the brake throughout the entire shifting process. but i haven't grown a 3rd foot you say? this is where the "heel-toe" action comes into play. so as your braking coming to a corner, you want to stay in the best gear as possible for whatever speed your at. so if it is anywhere between (im using estimates, and the speeds are for racing not for normal street driving) 0-30 you should be in 1st, 30-60 you should be in 2nd, 60-80 you should be in 3rd, 80-100 you should be in 4th) this is how that is done. as in a single clutch downshift you push in the clutch, and rev match as you brake and shift to the next lower gear. but how do you touch your gas while your foot is still on the brake? the most common technique is to spin your foot so that the "toe" of your foot (the ball of your toe under your big toe) is still on the brake, while your "heel" blips the gas to rev match the shift as necessary. after its at the right amount, you let out the clutch.
    in a double clutch heel toe rev matched downshift you (the brake is applied throughout the entire shifting process, just as in the single clutch rev matched downshift) push in the clutch, put it in neutral, and let out the clutch. now your engine is connected to the layshaft and you can move it as you please. once the engine speed is at the desired amount, push the clutch back in, move it to the next lower gear, and let out the clutch. your doing the same thing as a single clutch heel toe downshift, but your letting it out in neutral as you rev it so that your doing the job of the synchronizers. this is considered the hardest shift to accomplish flawlessly, and if you can do this, you are a driver among drivers.

  14. engineerd Avatar

    I just recently started trying to teach myself to ball-ball (yes, I did that for Mitch and Rob) shift recently. I suck at it, and traffic on Telegraph Rd. during rush hour isn't exactly the best place to learn. So, I just wait until the opportunity arises then badly mess up the technique. Oh well, I keep trying.

  15. Tim Odell Avatar
    Tim Odell

    I've got H-T down pretty well on my WRX, but can't make it happen on my Jeep. The pedals' planes are simply too far away.
    Not like it matters all that much anyways, as I'm not trying to hold revs at the threshold of traction while turning in a Wrangler with a 4" lift. Besides, that thing's apparently got a clutch made of adamantium. It's at 83k miles on the original, complete with lots of off-roading and 2 kids learning to drive stickshift in it.

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