Heel and toe is a driving technique one uses while downshifting. It is a way of pressing all the pedals at the same time, basically. It's need arises from the following problems:
  • You have not grown your third foot yet.
  • You need to slow down as quickly and accurately as possible for an oncoming turn, while losing as little time as possible in the corner.
  • While slowing the car down, you will most likely take it out of the usable range you were in at end of the straight before the turn.
  • In addition, you can brake the car using the engine, allowing you to more accurately brake the car.

A lot of people say this is a way of slowing down or of downshifting. These are both true, but heel and toeing is a concious decision which will result in an entirely different outcome than if one were to brake, turn, downshift, and accelerate in any other combination. A manual transmission takes a lot of concentration, and heel and toe is probably one of the most difficult things to do well in a car, because you are using all inputs (steering wheel, stick shift, clutch pedal, brake pedal, and gas pedal) and all your limbs at the same time. To put it simply, you can't do more in the car besides chewing gum.

Heel and toe can be used to do a lot of different things depending on the car you are driving. I drive an MR2 Supercharged, which is generally considered one of the most difficult cars to drive well, and one of the most rewarding if you do it right. Because I have a slight rear weight bias, a slight front brake bias, and engine braking comes from the rear wheels, I have a unique situation that very few other drivers have to deal with. However, I've never driven another car to the limits I have driven the MR2, so I can't give advice on others. If you have a front wheel drive car or a rear wheel drive car, please add your thoughts on H&T.

How to Heel and Toe
It sounds simple, it is simple, but it takes lots of practice to do naturally. Basically the situation is this, you need to turn and after you finish slowing down, you're not going to be in the right gear anymore. But, you can't waste the time of doing a separate downshift after you're done braking and turning. That's the compelling need for heel and toe, but there are fringe benefits to it also. You'll get the advantage of engine braking to slow you down. And probably more important than the time you save, you will reduce weight transfers through the corner, making the car more predictable and easier to drive faster.

The easiest way to heel and toe is to begin braking until you get to the point where you can downshift into your lower gear. Now, clutch in while continuing to brake. Shift gears and while holding your toes on the brake pedal, use either your heel or the other edge of your foot to hit the accelerator, revving the engine to the proper speed (That's the namesake of heel and toeing because you're supposed to use the heel and toe of your gas/brake foot, I use the left and right side of my foot because its easier, as do many other people). Now clutch in and continue braking. If you did it right, which you probably won't for a while, you will seamlessly clutch in and the engine will begin to slow down the car in its new gear. The key is seamless: you don't want to upset the car at all.

There are about three negative outcomes, and only one of them is terrible, provided you are not pushing the car to the limit at the time. But, these can be the difference between winning and getting passed. The first possibility is that you didn't rev high enough, either because you didn't physically heel it right, you were afraid to rev the car that high, or because you don't know your car well enough to know the proper engine speed. This will result in a forward lurch (weight transfer), and probably some wheel lock in the back as the clutch grabs and the wheels rev the engine "by hand."

You could have also revved too high. This can be because of the same reasons as above. It will result in the car leaning back as the clutch grabs and the wheels spin a little faster accelerating the car a little. This is probably worse, because it's a bad weight transfer, and can knock the balance out of the car if you're not ready for it.

Finally, and most common in beginners, is that you let the clutch in too early and you get a crazy reaction: first, your clutch will begin grabbing the crank and spinning the engine faster, but will result in more wheel braking and a forward lurch. Now you hit the accelerator to match revs, but the car is partially or fully clutched in, so now the engine revs up to the proper point, stopping the rear wheel lock and getting everything spinning right. But you will overshoot because the engine has already had help from the wheels in getting up to speed, and you'll rev the engine lurching the car back and accelerating it against the brakes. This leads to driver panic, because it feels as if you're braking and accelerating at the same time (because you are) and your feet aren't in the place to panic, so a number really bad things can happen from this. Don't panic in this case, just be smooth.

Now, I told you those first two things were bad, but there is a catch: you can use these mistakes as tools if you know what you're doing. For example, if you're in a hurry and you come up on a tight turn, you can underrev it during the heel and toe, and it should be enough to lock your back wheels. Now, you hit the brakes harder to keep the rear locked without locking the front (because a sliding wheel tends to stay sliding, this is a little easier), and you'll slide the rear around the turn. (Yeah right). You can also use overreving to understeer a car to stabilize it in case you have over turned and want to correct mid-turn for a better heading. These have latin names like ex post and ex ante or something, but only pretentious bastards use latin.

As a side note, I have a friend who firmly believes that heel and toeing should be a direct result of personal exploration and desire to go faster, and that anyone who doesn't figure it out on their own doesn't deserve her car. I think he's an idiot. But he does have a point, if you have to force it, you don't need to do it. However, if you love driving, you'll really be surprised how satisfying it is.

Heel and toe is something that needs to be approached much more consciously and cautiously in a front wheel drive vehicle. As stated so eloquently by killermonkeys, underrevving during heel and toe should be enough to lock your drive wheels.

Locking one's wheels results from the amount of force caused by the car's motion being so great that the tires slip across whatever surface they are usually rolling against. In a rear wheel drive car this would mean your back end slides across the road. However in a FWD car, this means that you've just killed all the traction in the wheels you also use for steering, resulting in nasty understeer.

There are still ways to slide one's back end in a FWD car, either by liberally abusing the handbrake, or by engaging in some left foot braking. During a properly executed handbrake turn you can still slide out your back end, having a higher tire pressure in front than in back will help with this. Judicious use of left foot braking can be used to slow and lock the back wheels while still maintaining some spin up front. Of course either of these activities qualify as some advanced driving techniques and not something to be engaged in lightly.

Interesting note: During the mid-eighties, Audi had designed their cars so that the brake and gas pedals were conveniently located for heel and toe driving. This resulted in one woman who did not understand how to drive her car mashing the gas pedal when trying to brake. The effect, instead of being classified as an example of stupid human tricks was instead labeled unintended acceleration. 60 minutes had a field day with the story, painting Audi as the devil.

Audi sales plummeted and the car manufacturer enjoyed dismal marketshare in the U.S. until the mid-nineties.

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