Top Gear’s guide to driving well: how to heel and toe | Top Gear
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Top Gear’s guide to driving well: how to heel and toe

Everything you wanted to know about driving but were too afraid to ask, vol 4

  • What is heel and toeing?

    A bit of a misnomer, actually. But, considering that the anatomically accurate saying would be ‘left bit of your right foot and right bit of your right foot’, you can see why the heel-and-toe adage stuck.

    Put simply, it’s a way to avoid the traditionally jerky feeling as you change down gears in a manual car by revving the engine to match engine speed and road speed. Put altogether too simply, it is a thing you do in your car to drive it good-er.

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  • Why bother heel and toeing?

    There’s any number of reasons to heel and toe. Maybe you just bought an expensive set of Sparco racing boots (other brands are available) and you’re just itching to put them to good use. Maybe you’re out on a date and want absolutely everything to go smoothly. Maybe your significant other doesn’t like manual cars (ask us how we know. Just ask us) and you’re trying to make your shifts as smooth as an automatic gearbox.

    Maybe you’re out on track, driving at pace, and the compression-braking effect of a non-blipped downshift would lock up your driven wheels, causing a very spectacular YouTube video to emerge in the days after your accident. Or maybe you’re just mechanically sympathetic and don’t want to put undue stress on your engine, clutch or gearbox. Or you could be a blend of all of these things. We’re a blend ourselves, actually. Mostly a Charlotte, but with definite streaks of Samantha.

  • How to heel and toe

    Firstly, put on a pair of shoes. Ideally, these will have a grippy sole, allow you to feel the pedals and be of a size that more or less matches that of your foot.

    Place your right foot so your big toe covers the brake, which will leave the rest of your foot able to just reach the accelerator pedal. If your car has oddly spaced pedals, you’ll need to find a foot position that ensures you can maintain brake pressure and press the accelerator. If you possess very small feet and can’t cover both pedals in any fashion, check to make sure that you’re not a small child who shouldn’t be driving a car.

    To begin heel and toeing, press the brake pedal with the ball of your right foot, while depressing the clutch with your left foot and changing down a gear as per usual. Pro tip: don’t try to depress the clutch with your right foot, Morrissey songs or episodes of Black Mirror.

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  • Step to it? Sorry, couldn’t help ourselves

    While your left foot is holding the clutch pedal down – and crucially, while keeping pressure on the brake with the ball of your right foot – roll your right ankle so the side of your right foot can quickly press, or ‘blip’, the throttle. The revs will rise quickly, just as they would if you revved the engine in neutral. How much of a blip depends on how quickly your engine revs, but it’ll only be a fraction of a second, even for diesels. If you do find it taking longer than a second to rev up, check to make sure your engine is not currently a) switched off, b) underwater or c) in the process of coming apart at the seams.

  • And we’re off

    Now you should be in the gear you want, with the engine revved a bit and with the clutch still in, so let the clutch out as normal. If you’ve got it right, you’ll have matched the engine revs to where they should be for that road speed and that gear. If you’ve got it slightly wrong, you’ll feel a little surge forward or yank back as the engine finds the revs it should have been running at for that road speed and that gear, so try to get a feel for the revs you need in each situation. If you’ve got it really wrong, you should hear a large clunk, then a brief but percussive series of crunches. So try to watch where you’re going while you’re downshifting. If you need to keep slowing down and shift down to a lower gear, repeat this process; otherwise, you’re already in the right gear to accelerate out of the corner. Keep practicing and, eventually, you’ll get the knack of left-bit-pressing-right-bit-rolling just as well as the pros.

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