This maneuver takes a bit of coordination and a lot of practice. If you are now in a situation where you can do a bit of driving with no destination in mind, and, chances are, have a lot of open roads available to you, it’s a great time to give it a go.
For those of you who are not aware heel-toe shifting is a technique that professional race car drivers use to maintain engine speed when downshifting. Normally when you downshift (or upshift) you put the clutch, lift off the gas, select your gear and then you are back on the throttle. However, this causes your RPM to drop for a moment. The heel-toe downshift, is a way to blip the throttle during that transition so the RPMs are matched to the gear. There are some cars that have manual transmissions that will do this for you, but it’s so much more satisfying to learn how to do it yourself.
A few years back I was determined to get this right and I practiced almost every day during my commute in my 2010 Mazda3 hatchback. It took me about a year or so to really get the timing down so I no longer had to think about it.
Some folks say that you can only heel-toe shift when you are driving aggressively, while it is certainly a solid technique to employ if you are really pushing your car, I have found that you can do it safely and effectively driving at normal speeds. It’s a wonderful way to feel like a racecar driver on regular roads without worrying about getting a speeding ticket.
We have covered this topic before via our friends from O’Neil Rally School, and there are a few variations on heel-toe shifting including toe-heeling and even clutchless shifting in certain circumstances. Personally I have found the method of braking with the edge of the pedal then being able to quickly roll with the ball of my foot onto the gas works best for me. Often the pedal placement in your car and your shoe size will determine what will be most comfortable for you.
If you are looking for a very cool diagram and a more detailed breakdown of the technique. check out this post from The Art of Manliness. As for some other video tutorials check out some links below:
For additional inspiration check out the great Walter Rohrl and Ayrton Senna:
Go out for a drive and give it a shot. Take it slow, be safe, and with enough practice, you will be shifting like a pro.
This story was originally published on March 23, 2020