Heel & toe shifting

Heel and toe is the art of changing down a gear and rev matching while braking. By combining the braking and gear change when approaching a corner instead of performing them as two separate actions you’ll be faster in any driving discipline – an essential skill to master. Before trying heel and toe, might be worth learning about rev matching, which is the precursor skill.

Read our related article on rev matching

What does heel and toe shifting achieve?

  • Reduces stress on the driveline
  • Prevents forward weight transfers when downshifting
  • Reduces the chances of wheel lock in extreme cases
  • Allows rapid, smooth down changes before entering a corner

How do I do it?

This technique is possible by turning your right foot inwards, using your toes to operate the brakes and your heel to increase the throttle. Although this sounds complicated, it’s actually a relatively easy technique to master with a bit of practice. The technique is vital on the track, but will also make you a much smoother driver on the road.

Video

Here’s a video showing the technique

Heel and toe, step by step:

Step 1

Heel and toe is mostly used to change down in anticipation of a corner. Diagram 1 (below) shows a driver accelerating in third gear, approaching the top of the power band with the road speed increasing.

Accelerating in third gear

Diagram 1: Accelerating in third gear

As you approach the braking point of a corner, cover the brake pedal with the ball of your right foot. The brake is the priority of the two pedals, so ensure good contact and no risk of your foot slipping off. In some cars it is very difficult to heel and toe due to the pedal position. It’s useful to wear racing boots or thin soled shoes to increase your pedal feel and decrease chances of your foot sliding off the brake.

Step 2

When you reach the braking point, press the brake pedal and reduce your road speed to a point where it’s possible to change down without over-revving the engine (see Diagram 2 below). In this example, the driver is in third gear, reducing speed before a shift into second.

Braking hard before a corner, engine speed decreases as road speed drops

Diagram 2: Braking hard before a corner, engine speed decreases as road speed drops


Step 3

When it’s possible to change down and while still braking, rotate your right foot and prepare to press the accelerator with your heel. Alternatively if your pedals are close together it may be possible to use the side of your foot. At the same time, press the clutch with your left foot to disengage the wheels from the engine.

Rotating the right foot in preparation to press the throttle, pressing clutch

Diagram 3: Rotating the right foot in preparation to press the throttle, pressing clutch


Step 4

Once the clutch has been pressed, engine speed will start to drop rapidly. Increase the engine speed using the throttle with the heel of your right foot in order to match the revs in second gear to the road speed. You will have already mastered rev matching, so this should be an easy job now.

 

Pressing the throttle to raise engine speed

Diagram 4: Pressing the throttle with the heel to raise engine speed


Step 5

When the road speed and the engine speed match, select the gear which will allow you to exit the corner quickly, in this case second (shown in Diagram 5). This step is done very fluidly with Step 4.

Changing to second gear

Diagram 5: Changing to second gear


Step 6

Come off the brake, smoothly and progressively release the clutch. Tackle the corner then accelerate smoothly and prepare for the next bend.

Release the clutch, and accelerate out of the turn

Diagram 6: Release the clutch, and accelerate out of the turn

Congratulations, you’ve just successfully shifted using heel and toe. But practice makes perfect – use this technique every day until it becomes second nature and you’ll start to shave seconds off your lap time.