Driving Techniques 2: Heel and Toeing
When driving on-track and equally on the road there are always tips and tricks you can learn. Often mentioned but not always well understood is that of heel and toeing. Before I explain what it is I am going to mention the benefits and the reasons behind it. This technique is aimed at keeping the car on the smoothest possible transition from braking before the corner onto corner entry. Itís main aim is to help maintain the balance of the car whilst simultaneously allowing maximum braking.
What heel and toeing is, is essentially a Ďblipí of the throttle to match engine revs whilst changing down a gear and braking. All at the same time of course! Sounds difficult, but with a bit of practice, not only do you get round corners more quickly, but you are also much kinder to your carís gearbox, clutch and engine.
Probably the easiest way to explain it is to take you through a virtual corner. So here I am approaching Redgate at Donington. Iím in 4th gear at around 105mph or so. To take the corner I need to reduce my speed to 60mph and be in 3rd gear. I am still accelerating as I am approaching the corner. At the braking point I put the brakes on very hard to slow down in as short a time as possible. Now, timing is key to doing this well. As my speed drops just below 75mph I push the clutch down and change into 3rd. before I let the clutch up, I roll my right foot (which is still on the brake) and turn it slightly anti-clockwise to Ďblipí the throttle. This sends the engine revs up and as I let the clutch out the engine speed matches the road speed in that gear. Next I turn-in to the corner and get back on the power easing the throttle on to balance the car for the exit of the corner. Two main advantages here; firstly the car hasnít been unbalanced by me changing gear and braking. Secondly the net result is that Iím on the power earlier and everything is that much smoother.
So what happens if I donít heel and toe? Well I enter the braking zone, brake hard, then as the speed drops I change down and as I let the clutch up the engine revs suddenly soar, which in turn unbalances the car as the rear goes light and I have to deal with all this before I turn into the corner!
A year ago at Bentwaters I experimented with not heel and toeing at a tight left hand corner. It was a second gear corner and I found that if I didnít heel and toe I actually locked the rear wheels as the clutch came up!
So in effect when you heel and toe you are pressing the brake and accelerator at the same time. This is the trickiest bit by far, how to maintain consistent even braking and in the middle of it blip the throttle? As I described earlier, I like to roll the outside of my right foot onto the throttle. This is certainly the way to do it with the most feel. But if you have standard pedals then you may find they are too far apart to do this easily. I have a Sparco pedal set in my car for good reason and that is to put the accelerator and brake closer together so that I can roll my (narrow) feet more easily.
If Iím driving a friendís car I use the Ďotherí way. Literally use the ball of your feet to press the brake and kick the accelerator with your heel. Itís less easy to keep a constant pressure on the brake doing it this way, but it gives the same results as rolling your foot. It may be less exact but it works just as well.
One of the best things about heel and toeing is that you can practice it every time you drive your car on the road. Please remember though that the first few times you try it make sure no-one is in front of you. Try it at slow speeds on a quiet road. Cruise along in 4th then try the technique going into 3rd. Better still simply sit in your car and look at your right foot on the brake pedal see how you can push the brake and hit the throttle as you do it. Make sure that your foot is in no danger of slipping off the brake. I was practising this a few years ago and tried it approaching a roundabout. I wasnít going overly fast but my foot slipped right off the brake and I had to get on the brakes pretty quick to stop in time! So be careful!
Lastly, in order to help heel and toeing, think about getting a pedal set. You can buy a funky Sparco Aluminium set for under £20. Make sure it is a Ďbolt oní set and not one that clamps over the existing pedals. What you need to do is to take the rubbers off the brake and clutch and drill through the remaining metal pedal. Then itís a matter of bolting the pedal cover to the pedal. Make sure that the brake pedal cover is absolutely secure. You donít want this to come loose! By law there is supposed to be 50mm between the brake and accelerator. Itís very much up to you if you keep to this. Youíre unlikely to get prosecuted if they are closer than this distance and you would be pretty unlucky to fail an MOT because of it.
To heel and toe well and to drive well, you need to have the maximum feel through the pedals as possible. A lot of people drive in trainers and while this may be comfortable, because of the thickness of the sole it literally robs you of feel and feedback through the pedals. Okay the clutch isnít all that important but the accelerator and brake certainly are. Try to wear as thin soled shoes as possible. Best is of course racing boots as they are designed solely for this purpose. They do cost, but in my opinion they are worth it. Expect to pay around £30 or so for Ďclubman style bootsí. FIA approved nomex boots start around £60 plus.