Heel-and-toe shifting can help you save your gearbox, your occupants necks, and make you feel like a driving master. For new drivers it can seem like a mysterious move that’s only possible in anime – but rest assured, it’s simple and you’ll be able to figure it out with some practice. There are multiple ways to do a heel-and-toe downshift, and different cars require different techniques for an optimal execution. We’ll go through a few.
There are plenty of videos tutorials out there, but for those of you who have an easier time learning by reading, this little run-through might help or inspire you to try a little heel-and-toe yourself. I’ll provide technique ideas for three different common pedal situations.
Floor-Hinged Throttle Technique
This method of heel-and-toeing is the simplest. It’s an easy motion and takes minimal ankle movement. A lot of European cars have a floor-hinged throttle pedal that makes things a lot simpler.
When cars have a floor-hinged throttle, the spacing of the throttle to the brake pedal are usually much closer, and that makes heel-and-toe much easier. Generally, I do a toe-and-right-side-of-foot technique. I keep it simple; ball of my foot on the brake pedal, and use the right edge of my foot to blip the throttle pedal. The tight spacing of a floor-hinged pedal allows minimal movement, and the easiest downshifts with maximum control over the size of the blip.
Closely Spaced Top-Hinged Throttle Technique
Many Japanese cars have a top-hinged throttle pedal and require adjustment in your heel-toe technique when coming off a floor-hinged pedal. The Japanese method of performance driving differs greatly, from Euro-style. Just watch Tsuchiya mob any JDM car around a track, and you’ll see the skill required.
Some cars like Hondas and Subarus have a closely spaced top-hinge pedal box, that allows some ease in heel-and-toeing. Generally, with these cars, I position the ball of my foot much higher on the brake pedal, to where my toes are clear of the top of the pedal. This allows the ankle to swing over to the closely spaced throttle pedal. It will feel unnatural for a few days until you get into practice. This technique requires much more ankle movement and rotation, closer to 45 degrees, instead of just dipping the right side of your foot. It feels pretty cool and makes you feel like Tsuchiya every time. Don’t stick your ankle at the 45-degree angle, but quickly sweep up, and sweep your foot down onto the throttle pedal for maximum blip!
A Wide Spaced Top-Hinged Throttle Technique
The less performance-oriented cars in the world don’t consider heel-and-toe in their pedal box design. Every car deserves a good downshift, so here are some tips on getting the heel-and-toe right on these cars too.
With wider spaced pedals, I actually use my heel and toe. I put my toes just above the center of the brake pedal, with the ball of my foot just below center. This gives your heel maximum reach to the throttle pedal. The thing to focus on is to just hit the center-bottom of the throttle pedal with your heel. I aim to sweep onto the center of the pedal and sweep off from the bottom. It feels awkward every time, and kind of hurts if the car is janky enough. But if you want to feel cool in your dad’s shopping cart of a car, you have to sweep the pedal in what feels like an unbelievably exaggerated way.
Take these tips with you, hop in your parents’ car, and pretend you’re Ayrton Senna blazing around Monaco… except you’re just grabbing some rose milk tea at the local coffee shop. The most important part of learning how to heel-and-toe, is to just do it, constantly. Do it when you’re slowing for the highway on-ramp, do it when there’s a red light, do it with your parents in the car so you can really feel how smooth you’re being.
My parting tip for you is: don’t downshift into first, and practice a lot.