Most of my “How To Drive Fast” column is, unsurprisingly, about how to drive fast. As well as posing techniques, some of my pieces offer a glimpse into the inner-workings of motorsport, while others are just plain ridiculous. Siphoning through the bunch, you’ll notice I haven’t much talked about safety. So let’s start now, mixed with a dollop of speed for good measure. Here is why braking with your left foot will make you faster on the racetrack and, more importantly, safer on the road.
Left-foot braking is surprisingly uncommon. You might think that, in a land where 99-percent of cars come equipped with two pedals and an automatic gearbox, most drivers would already do this. Apparently not.
This confuses me. I mean, how many people do you know with two feet? I’m guessing a lot, so if you only have two pedals, wouldn’t it be logical to place one foot on each?
Am I missing something here?
If you drive a go-kart at your local track, do you use one foot? No. Because you can’t, as there is a steering column preventing it. Does that bother you? I bet it doesn’t, and the freedom to momentarily overlap both pedals makes you faster.
Of course, if you are used to driving a manual car – as I was – then you may be forgiven for using your right foot. After all, it’s how you learnt to drive: left foot for the clutch and the right for the throttle and brake.
Growing up in the UK, everybody drove a stick. In America, automatic transmissions have been preferred for years, so for many, the aforementioned argument for right-foot braking is null and void.
I’ll admit, many fine racecar drivers brake with their right foot, even in today’s two-pedal cars. Rubens Barrichello was famous for his incessant right-foot braking; he tried, at the request of the Ferrari engineers, to left-foot brake but immediately went back. His reasoning was that right-foot braking consumes less fuel and is easier on the brakes. But let’s be honest; if a left-foot braker wants to save fuel and take care of their pads, they can do so by simply allowing a short time-lapse between releasing the throttle and applying the brakes. Done.
Additionally, passé drivers will state that it isn’t actually slower to brake with their right foot; but, conversely, every engineer will disagree. At speed, the transition from moving your foot from the right pedal to the left takes time, even if you have reactions like a cat drinking coffee. Imagine going 150-mph or more; how far do you think you would travel in the tenths of a second it takes to switch pedals? At least 30-feet. Likely more.
Plus, the ability to dab the brake while keeping the throttle depressed can be advantageous in faster bends, as well as touching the brake to set the front during acceleration out of a long turn when the front begins to wash out.
If you drive a stick, there is no reason why you too can’t use your left foot during times like these. Before the infusion of paddle shifters, many of the top rally drivers would switch between left and-right foot braking, depending on the circumstances.
Don't believe me? Listen to the late, great Colin McRae explain (if you can understand a word he says).
The real reason many drivers refuse to switch is because it feels unnatural; like writing with you left hand if you are a righty. Unlike writing wrong-handed, what at first feels strange, ends up feeling normal. But, as a driver, you get used to doing things a certain way and it becomes your “style.” Any deviation can often be slower until you fully adapt.
Right-foot braker, Dario Franchitti, stated it’s “Hard to unlearn,” and after an entire career doing it one way, the issue of muscle memory is certainly a valid point. I know when I transitioned, it took a number of days to adjust; but I was still in the junior ranks.
When you first try, for whatever reason, you usually end up pressing the brake pedal with too much force; braking feels jerky and, if you have a passenger, they may even throw up. Initially, it makes you feel a little off key, like you have lost your rhythm.
Learning this technique, as I mentioned, is not only crucial for the racetrack, but it is imperative for the road; reaction times are everything when attempting to avoid a crash. Almost all accidents could be avoided if we had just one more second. Think about that. Just one more second. I’m not suggesting it takes a second to switch pedals, but even if it takes three-tenths, that’s close to a 30-percent improvement.
How many times have we been distracted and nearly rear-ended someone? If you’re honest, probably quite a few. Many of you may have skipped the “nearly” part; or the tool behind you did and crashed into you. Either way, a few tenths is huge.
With today’s automatic cars running prevalent, there is no excuse not to left-foot brake. Transitioning from a manual back to an automatic is not as confusing as you’d think; in fact I do it myself. On the road, we aren’t looking to set lap records like a racecar driver, so there is no reason why you can’t slowly adapt to the unusual sensations. Start off by trying it during a quiet drive, and as you get more comfortable, incorporate it into your daily routine.
Still not convinced? How about this: it will make you faster on the track and safer on the road. Now who does like the sound of that?
Photo Credit - Getty Images