Car nerds and trackday bros love to talk about their heel-toe shifting. There’s another way to get the same job done, as it turns out.
Team O’Neil Rally School’s Wyatt Knox (he’s a 2WD national rally champion here in America, if you were curious) explains first in this video how and why you would want to learn heel-and-toe downshifting. The trick is that as you’re slowing down and downshifting for a corner, you clutch in with your left foot and roll onto both the gas and the brake with your right. This lets you match engine speed with your wheel speed, and all of the gears an output shaft business in the middle. Basically, it keeps you from juddering your car around and crashing.
The problem with heel-toe downshifting is it takes a lot of work from just your one foot. You need to brake just the right amount and throttle just the right amount with the same foot. On pavement there’s more room for error, and you tend to see trackday and sports car drivers using this alone. On slippery gravel, snow or ice (conditions familiar to any rally driver) this is a bigger ask.
A simple solution is to just shift down without using the clutch at all. It sounds like witchcraft, but watch the video and see that it’s not as difficult as you might expect.
“I made it through that corner,” Wyatt explains, “just as nicely [as with heel-and-toe shifting] without breaking the transmission. We’re still driving along even in this which has a very fragile transmission.”
Shifting up, he notes, is slower without the clutch than it is with it. He wouldn’t do that in racing, but going down the gears gives him “all of the benefits of heel-and-toe braking, without all the kind of fancy footwork.”
I remember when I first saw someone do this in a car. I believed that it was impossible. A little practice though and I’ve found it’s not the hardest thing to get right, and something worth trying out.