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Heel-Toe downshifting. New pedals?

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I am trying to perform heel/toe downshifting technique learned from Skip Barber Driving School. :drive: Will I need new pedals in my Boxster? Skip Barber teaches using rolling of foot while on brake and applying gas with right side of foot (not heel). It was much easier to perform in their cars (stock) by moving your knee left to right with foot cocked to the left. I can't seem move my knee enough in the Boxster due to the center console. I thought about cocking my foot the other direction and applying brake using arch of foot and the gas with ball/toes of foot. I haven't experimented yet. I have many after-market pedals available, but do not have any first-hand experience with them. autovation.com seems to be pretty popular with 3/8-1/2" additional surface areas left of gas, while carcrafters.com has a new line not requiring any drilling with only a 1/4" increase. Any thoughts and suggestions would be appreciated.

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I also don't have a problem (996). I use a similar method to Skip Barber- rotate my right foot so the "ball" of my foot is on the brake and the right side of my foot is on the accelerator.

My feet are size 11, so maybe the gap is easier to overcome with big feet? ;)

Edited by Chronos
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I use the same heel and toe technique as you described, in my 2003 Boxster S. I have no problem in the 986 and always use the technique on the track when braking and shifting down from high rates of speed. Once you learn the technique it comes natural and I also do it on the street along with a double clutch downshift. That is probably unnecessary in the 986 but it helps to practice, and is easier on the clutch and gearbox.

I move my knee a bit to the right as I roll the right side of my foot to blip the accelerator. I am only 5'8", if you are taller perhaps that may be why you experience a problem with the center console. On my old 911, the accelerator was too low in relation to the brake pedal and as I rolled my foot to blip the accelerator, sometimes my foot would slip off the brake. In some high speed situations that got scary! On the 911 you could adjust the height of the accelerator pedal, that solved my problem. I suspect that if you could get the gas pedal higher it would solve your problem. I don't think you need more area on the gas pedal, you just have to get it higher relative to the brake pedal. I wonder if the 986 pedal is adjustable like the 911?

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On my 1985 911, I eventually went to an adjustable accelerator pedal made by Wings Engineering of Ridgefield CT. It clamps onto the existing pedal and has 6 way fine tuning in 3 axes. It was easy to install (no drilling) and I liked the full adjustability. It cost about $110 and comes in a standard width and extra wide version. In the past, Wings Engineering has advertised in Porsche Panorama but I checked the last few issues and could not find the ad. Unfortunately, they do not have a website. If you do a Google search on: "Wings Engineering" and Porsche, you will find some reviews, comments and perhaps a source to purchase.

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Thanks for everyone's input. Now that I know other people can perform this technique stock, I will try experimenting with foot and seat positions. Being 5'6", I usually keep my seat forward with doesn't leave much knee clearance under steering column. Maybe moving seat further back would help. A quick internet browse showed: Wings Engineering LLC, CT, USA, Tel 202-438 2222. I couldn't get through now and will try again tomorrow.

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Boxster technique:

Brake with big toe pad of foot in normal orientation. Blip with right side of foot while trying to keep the brake pressure steady.

This DOES NOT WORK with light braking!

Cram on the brakes hard and it comes together just right.

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I must not be doing this right. For the life of me, I can't blip enough rpm to perform downshift. The gas pedal seems too low compared to brake pedal unless I brake really hard (then I am slow down enough to shift without blipping anyway). Is my gas pedal different in my '00 Boxster S compared to the 996 & '03 986 above boarders have mentioned? I was unable to reach Wings Engineering all day. I am hesitant to purchase an after-market gas pedal unless others can confirm it helps.

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If you learned the heel and toe technique at Skip Barber you were probably in the Formula Ford type cars. If I remember correctly, in those cars the brake pedal was rather small. That made it easier to fully apply the brakes with only a portion of your right foot, and to blip the gas with the right side of your foot. The Boxster has a much wider brake pedal, so don't use all the pedal as you would in normal braking. When I do a heel and toe downshift in my Boxster or my Vette, my right foot is about 1/2 on the right side of the brake pedal. The other 1/2 of my right foot rotated down to blip the gas. On my cars I have done so many throttle blips on downshifts that the right side of the brake pedal is noticeably worn. Every downshift gets a blip from me whether on the track or on the street!

If your gas pedal is too low relative to the brake pedal you may find that this half and half technique will not work well because you may not be able to get effective force on the brake. If that is the case then it gets a bit hairy in braking down from high speed, i.e. foot slips off the brake.

If you think that the gas pedal is too low, try this experiment. Cut a piece of 1/2" plywood in the same shape as the gas pedal. Go some place really safe and deserted. Attach the plywood to gas pedal with racer tape. Try some low speed heel and toe maneuvers. If that solves the problem then you know that the gas pedal is too low, and it is probably not a fault with your technique. Then, you have to figure out how to raise the level of the gas pedal. I suspect that the level of the gas pedal can be adjusted just like on the 911, but I can't say that for sure. If not, then, you need one of those thick aluminium pedal covers. I have noticed a few postings on the web about problems in contacting Wings Engineering. They may be out of business.

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re:>>I must not be doing this right. For the life of me, I can't blip enough rpm to perform downshift. The gas pedal seems too low compared to brake pedal unless I brake really hard (then I am slow down enough to shift without blipping anyway). <<

Sounds like you are doing it right - you're just driving too slow.

The gas pedal IS to low UNLESS you are braking really hard, but that is pretty much the point. When you are fully accelerating, cramming on the brakes at 100% (a little early for safety's sake), heel-toe downshifting and heading for the apex the brake pedal gets low enough for a good heel-toe.

If you are pulling up to a stoplight (medium-hard braking) and heel-toe downshifting to sit in front of a red light with your foot on the clutch the gas pedal seems too far away.

I've never measured but it feels like an ABS pulsing braking moment puts the pedal about 3/4 of an inch closer to the floor than good, solid brakeforce. You could add a fat/wide pedal cover to your gas pedal and improve the geometry for the stoplight vanity shift, but I suspect it would mess up the geometry of a full blown racing downshift. IMO unless you practise heel-toe in the way you want to use it, you are pretty much miseducating your muscles. Training your foot to mainatain xxx lbs of brake pressure while throttle blipping may be one of those skills you can't learn at half-pressure.

I'm still in the lower run groups at DE, so I claim no proficiency, but I find myself not bothering with heel-toe on the street and only once or twice a lap at Watkins Glen-mostly without planning. Lime Rock only has one corner worth a heel-toe and it is usually too crowded to bother on a DE day.

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I don't agree. If the pedals are set properly you should be able to heel and toe even at low speeds. The way to thoroughly learn this technique, is to do it all the time, even on the street, even in traffic. That is the only way in which it becomes an automatic action done without even a split second of thought. On the track there is not enough time to think about more than a few things at a time, and one of them should not be how to heel and toe.

As for putting a piece of wood on the gas pedal in order to raise it, this is not my original idea. It was recommended by Henry Watts in his book "Secrets of Solo Racing", page 50. In his book, Watts talks about the relationship of brake and gas pedal heights and he concludes that in some cars the pedal heights are not set properly for the heel and toe maneuver. I do a lot of driving in Europe in rental cars (they are all manual trans) and I have encountered huge differences in pedal heights in various cars. In some, the heel and toe maneuver was practically impossible, and these are usually underpowered cars with small engines that must be downshifted constantly.

I would also suggest that as one masters the heel and toe technique, one should also add double clutching. When Sinbad was at the Skip Barber school the only way to get a smooth downshift in those non-syncro Formula Fords was to do a heel and toe combined with a double clutch. A lot of people say the double clutch is not necessary on a modern car with a full syncro gearbox. They are welcome to their opinions and are probably right, but I have been doing heel and toe double clutch downshifts all the time - I mean always, every downshift - for the last 40 years. I have never had to replace a clutch or repair a gearbox on any car I have ever owned, and I generally keep my cars for a very long time (had my 911 for 15 years and my Vette is 9 years old).

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There is, of course, the opposite argument to that. (I'm not claiming to be the authority one way or another, just providing fuel for conversation). If the gas pedal is too far forward, then under heavy braking, it might make for an improper balance if the brake pedal is pressed almost all the way, and the gas pedal is too close to you.

I agree with the entire thread, in parts. After moving from my Acura into the Boxster, the pedals are set up completely different! I thought at first I was retarded, because I had been doing toe and heel shifting for years...and I couldn't do it at first in the Boxster. But then I realized you have to actually be BRAKING, and not just slowing down, to get it to work smoothly.

There you have it, my $0.02, mostly a summary of what others have said.

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It isn't about agreeing with me - it's about agreeing with the Skip Barber school.

In the Skip Barber book "Going Faster" chapter6, figure 6.6 caption reads:

A proper brake/throttle relationship locates the throttle close by and just slightly below the brake pedals WHEN THE BRAKES ARE ON HARD (emphasis added by me).

in chapter 8, 'Where the time goes', the author discusses common mistakes and things to do to improve lap time. In figure 8-7, the caption reads:

.... also brake pressure is drastically reduced from threshold when the driver blips the throttle for the downshift.

(this is pointed out as bad)

- - -

The way I understand it, you want to train yourself to blip the throttle at threshold braking without disrupting your brake modulating pressure.

To get the foot sensitivity right, you need to be at threshold braking pressure. Once you are at threshold braking pressure, the geometry must be right. Because of the large difference in pedal height between moderate braking and threshold braking, the boxster pedal geometry is not very good at moderate pressure. The pervading opinion on the Boxster racing board is that it is pretty good at full brake pressure and that is also my experience with my 02 S.

IF there were no difference in pedal height - I would agree with you to practise heel-toe all the time. This would be sort of the Tai Chi approach to heel-toe braking. Tai Chi trains body motions at less than full speed so that precision can be learned. This precision is then 'body learned' and available at full speed and force.

Since there is a difference in foot geometry at varying brake pressure, 'body learning' cannot really occur for the foot. For a beginner at heel-toe, it makes sense to practise at lower brake pressures to learn the brain-brake-foot roll-hand coordination. Since you already have a proficiency here, I suggest you are ready to put aside the Tai Chi approach and practise the Pole Vault approach - as far as I know, there is no such thing as a half speed Pole Vault. IMO after a certain level, there should be no such thing as a half-pressure heel-toe.

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I'm sure you know how to heel and toe, and I also know the maneuver, so I don't mean to question your skill.

Just before I got your replyl I was driving in stop and go traffic with my 03 Boxster S, on our Edens Expressway here in Chicago, never more than 45 mph, and going down to a complete stop at times. I was in mostly in third gear except when traffic slowed or stopped. As the car in front of me slowed I got on the brake gently, maintained brake pressure and slowed, then I rolled my foot to the gas pedal, blipped and downshifted into second. A nice smooth downshift, no jerking. But I was no where near threshold braking and was on the brake the whole time.

When I got home and read your reply, I thought to myself, what is this guy talking about , it is easy to heel and toe in traffic at low speeds, I just did it for 45 minutes in heavy traffic, and while it was not particularily enjoyable, it was good practice.

You say there is no such thing as a half pressure heel and toe, indicating that it is not possible. I disagree with that. At the Skip Barber school at Road America 10 years ago, I recall a fair amount of low speed (30 mph) practice in the Formula Fords on braking, maintaining brake pressure, blipping and downshifting. from second to first (these cars had a high first gear), at far less than threshold braking. It was only afer you mastered the low speed stuff that you tried it at threshold braking levels.

You mention that there is a "large difference in pedal height between moderate braking and threshold braking". I agree that there is a difference but it is not LARGE. Certainly not so large that at heel and toe maneuver is not possible at moderate or even low braking pressure, at least that is not true in my car.

I suspect that what we have here is a situation much like I experienced with my 1985 911. My gas pedal was too low, and the heel and toe maneuver was difficult, though not impossible. I mentioned this to other 911 owners but they had no similar problem. I thought perhaps it was me that was the problem. And then I drove someone else's 911 and discovered the pedal heights were much better positioned than on my car. On the Pelican 911 site there are many discussion about this topic. My conclusion is that sometimes the same type of car can have a brake and gas pedal positioned at different heights. You have an 2002 S and I have an 2003 S. There should not be a difference but I wonder.

Let me leave you with a quote: "There isn't a successful race driver in the world who doesn't heel and toe on every downshift. And, again, it can be practiced every day on the street. In fact, its the only way to drive all the time." This is on page 22 of Speed Secrets - Professional Race Driving Techniques, by Ross Bentley. Bentley wrote a series of three books on race driving in the late 1990's and he has a great knack for explaining how to drive fast in an easy to understand manner. They are great reading. All this stuff we are talking about is there plus a whole lot more. Bentley's books are some of the best I have encountered on high speed driving, he may not be a Michael Schumacher but he knows his stuff and more importantly he how to explain it.

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I don't want to belabor the point about heel and toe downshifts but consider the following hypothetical situation. And, remember that it is a given that you believe a heel and toe downshift in a Boxster cannot be done at anything less than a full threshold breaking situation.

Suppose you are on a race track in a DE session. You have exited a blind corner in second gear and have just shifted into third gear. Suddenly, there is a slow car in front of you. It is not an emergency situation but you want to position yourself for a clean pass. You are lightly on the brakes but it is not a threshold braking situation. You are merely trying to keep a safe distance but you are closing fast and you are trying to read the mind of the driver in front of you. As you brake your revs drop to below peak torque. You are in the wrong gear for a clean pass. What do you do?

I would do a heel and toe downshift with my foot lightly modulating the the brake at less than the threshold level. I make a smooth downshift with my foot never leaving the brake pedal. If the guy in front of me does something stupid I can brake immediately. If he sees me and gives me a point to pass, I am in the correct gear and can immediately get full acceleration, and get by in the shortest time and distance possible.

If as you suggest, one cannot do a heel and toe in a Boxster except at threshold braking, you must lift completely off the brake and blip the gas to get a clean, non-jerky downshift. But the car in front is close, do you really want to get completely off the brake? Generally the slow guys are new to all this, I'm not very trusting. You got to be careful here!

Suppose you keep you foot lightly modulating the brake and do a downshift without a blip? In the worst situation you unsettle your vehicle at high speed while close to another car. What happens then? Crash. bang!

In the best situation you get a big jerk which puts a burden on the expensive mechanics.

If you don't downshift, you are stuck in the wrong gear. This makes it harder to pass if you are running out of track. Also, you are probably set up wrong for the next corner.

My point is: if you can only do a heel and toe downshift at threshold braking, you lack flexibility for situation where a downshift is necessary at something less than the threshold. In DE events and racing those situations occur quite often. I want the flexibility to do a clean and smooth downshift in any situation, regardless of speed, and I don't want to unsettle the car in the process. Everything happens very, very quickly on the track. The downshift is done without thinking, it is instinct. You have to be able to do a clean (non-jerky) downshift in any situation and at any speed, and it is comforting to be able to brake at the same time, and comforting to know that what you do will not unsettle the car at high speed.

Adsach, as an aside - I notice that your car has a Brey Krause rollbar extension. I want to do a posting shortly about how this extension is installed, any disadvantages or problems, etc. But, I have not yet searched the old postings to see if this has been discussed in the past. If I can't find anything I will put it on the BBS, I would appreciate your views.

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Special thanks to adsach and dannov for keeping this discussion alive for a newbie. I was able to perform semi-decent heel-toe downshifting in my last boxster drive. Most of my shifts from 4th>3rd were good with well matched rpms. Needless to say, much more practice will be needed to better my technique (especially 3rd>2nd). The contorted foot in my car isn't the most comfortable position compared to other cars I have driven; however, things were looking better by the end of drive.

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Feel free to question my skill (i'm not that good-yet!) .. and feel free to belabor the point.

It is because heel-toe is so important to successful track driving that we both have the passion to discuss this.

I don't disagree with what you are saying so much as I disagree with getting into bad habits. For me the leg shift between heel toe positioning and my 'standard' foot position is subtle so that steering column clearance, cocking leg, etc don't enter into my experience.

I think you are correct in positioning your foot on the brake pedal for heel toe shifting, every time, every day. I'm going to work on doing that. I won't commit to doing all my downshifts heel-toe, but at least I'll get my leg to memorize the correct position and my foot to learn the correct pedal feel.

As for your proposed driving situation:

"Suddenly, there is a slow car in front of you. It is not an emergency situation but you want to position yourself for a clean pass. You are lightly on the brakes but it is not a threshold braking situation. You are merely trying to keep a safe distance but you are closing fast and you are trying to read the mind of the driver in front of you. As you brake your revs drop to below peak torque. You are in the wrong gear for a clean pass. What do you do? "

This is actually the only time I heel toed on my last DE day. I was in a very similar situation where the car approaching the turn ahead of me was braking too early, too lightly and to a much slower speed than my tastes. Anticipating that I would be able to covertake the car at track out. I put on the brakes early and hard, heel-toe shifted to the "too low" gear, feathered the brake so as not to collide while going past my usual turn-in point. I then did a very late Apex with a track out point beside/and behind the exitting car. (essentially I chose a line that made the track one car length narrower at the corner exit.) I was then very well positioned to pass, shift into the correct gear, and do a 'late braking style' inside pass on the next turn (as it was also a right-hander.)

This totally would not work with a fast car - but this wasn't a fast car (with this driver on this lap in this corner). As it was, it didn't work anyway since the driver ahead didn't give me a passing signal, so I had to back way off and sniff his exhaust pipe through the next 3 turns until the back straight.

I'm not saying this is the right way to have responded. It seemed to have worked well. My solution allowed me to do near threshold braking heel-toe, settle the car(too early) before turn-in and have a good 'safety-zone' for an unexpected move by the lead car. In a race situation, it would seem to make more sense to 'late brake' and take an inside line to avoid a following car outbraking both of us.

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OK, here's my $0.02. I went through some teething pains when learning to heel-toe in the Boxster and tried the Wings device. I quickly decided that I hated the thing. I was constantly catching my foot on it. The concept is very poor. At a minimum, it adds about an inch to the height of the pedal (much too much - no additional height is actually needed). It doesn't change the width of the top portion of the pedal, but has a large extension at the bottom, apparently so you can use your heel to blip the gas. However, since the Boxster pedal hinges at the bottom, the extension has little leverage and basically just twists the pedal, risking damage.

If you have very narrow feet, it might be beneficial to get a pedal which extends the left side of the gas pedal slightly. (See the ones from www.autovation.net.) However, if your feet are not very narrow, this would probably also end up getting in the way. My feet are size 8.5M and I have no problem blipping the gas with the right side of my foot.

Basically, I agree with DANNOV. After a lot of practice, it is now completely natural for me to heel-toe on the street at low braking effort as well as at the track at very high braking effort. It's all about getting lots of practice. While it's true that the foot motion is a little different under lighter braking pressure, it's probably best to start practicing that way on the street and then start doing harder stops, as you would on the track. Having the flexibility to do it both ways will pay off on the track.

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We always use the term heel and toe, and that confuses a lot of people. You normally should blip the throttle with the right side of your foot, not the heel. But, that said, I suppose we will get someone to reply who uses his heel. Different strokes etc.

The heel and toe term is an artifact of the old days in auto racing, when the accelerator was placed between the clutch (on the left) and the brake (on the right), i.e. a centrally located accelerator (talk about confusion!). In those days - pre WW2 and early post WW2 - some racing cars had this pedal setup. Apparently it was easier to blip the throttle using the heel when the accelerator was centrally located. Also, I suspect these cars had poor brakes and the driver needed as much foot as possible on the brake pedal, thus leaving the heel to do the work of throttle blipping. In modern cars the pedal positions have changed but the the term never did.

The Wings device that was mentioned earlier has an extension at the bottom that enables you to use your heel for a throttle blip, but I never used my heel when I had this device on my 911.

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Wow, this thread has been informative. I am certainly no expert but I do try to practice heel-toe shifting whenever possible and have found it possible to do it with moderate braking but of course, it is easier if the brake pedal is being pushed deeper. I use the left side of my foot to brake and roll my right to blip the throttle. Sometimes it does feel like the left side is just hanging on to the edge of the brake pedal in order for the right side to reach the go pedal.

This might sound stupid but nobody mentioned shoes. I find that certain shoes are better than others for this technique. My usual dress/work shoes are not so good whereas my Pilotis, or several other more comfortable rubber soled shoes, are much better. It's just easier to feel the brake and modulate it while blipping the throttle with proper shoes.

Then again, maybe I don't know crap about this subject and I've been doing it all wrong. :unsure:

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  • 1 year later...

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