Heel-and-toe downshifting is the art of selecting a lower gear in a manual transmission, matching engine revs and simultaneously braking. It’s done to keep balance on braking while entering a turn, and, yes, at first the footwork feels as complicated as it sounds. But the reward for learning and perfecting this maneuver is the ability to shave seconds off lap times … and bragging rights in the paddock.
Two drivers well-versed in the dark arts of the heel and toe are Andrew Caddell, a senior instructor at DirtFish Rally School, and Daniel Bloom, founder of Apex Driving Events. Based in Washington state, DirtFish is a driving school that features the Subaru WRX and BRZ. Meanwhile Apex – which runs driving schools at road courses primarily in the Northeast United States – has a cadre of road and race cars to choose from. Drivers can also bring their own cars to Apex’s events across the country and learn techniques such as this.
In a performance driving situation, heel-toe shifting combines braking and downshifting as the driver approaches a corner. It controls the tire speed and keeps the wheels from locking and the back end from getting loose. But there’s more to this move than just smooth deceleration. “Heel-toe does a few things,” Caddell explains. “You are preventing (wheel) lockup and smoothly downshifting, but you’re also preventing over-revving the motor.”
So when would you use a technique such as this? It’s not something you should be practicing on off-ramps, as Bloom points out. “If you are coming into a turn in the real world and you feel the need to use it, you’re probably coming in too fast.” Sage advice. Save it for track days.
1 We do not recommend racing your vehicle. Racing may void the vehicle warranty. See Subaru Warranty and Maintenance Booklet for details. If you do race the vehicle, do it safely and lawfully on approved racing tracks. Drive responsibly at all times and obey all traffic laws.