Heel and Toe Shifting Made Simple

Here’s a great primer for all those interested in moving to the next level of shifting by frequent MotoringFile contributor Jerry Bradbury:


1. What is heel-and-toe?

A) Heel-and-toe is a racer’s term describing a technique used to downshift while braking when approaching a corner. It is a misnomer, but ball-of-the-foot-and-swing-your-knee (although more accurate) is not a sufficiently racer-like description.

2. Why do I need to learn heel-and-toe?

A) For smoothness and balance. The smooth line with the car in balance is the fast line, be it Turn 11 at Sears Point, or the exit ramp of the nearest freeway. Since you are most often shifting down when you brake during everyday driving as well as on the track, you can integrate this technique into your daily routine. It will make you a smoother driver as well as impress your friends. You may find yourself turning off the music so you can listen to your tuneful downshifts.

3. So how do I learn it?

Follow these steps:

a. Remove your shoes.
b. Sit in the driver’s seat and adjust your seat and the steering wheel so that your left knee is slightly flexed when the clutch pedal is pressed to the floor and your knee does not hit the bottom of the steering wheel when you let off the clutch.
c. Start with your left foot on the dead pedal to the left of the clutch.
d. Practice moving your left foot quickly to press the clutch pedal to the floor with the ball of your foot, let it go and return your foot to the dead pedal. Practice this move until you can do it without thinking at lightning speed.
e. Now rest your right foot lightly on the accelerator pedal.
f. Move your foot quickly to the brake and press the brake pedal firmly with the BALL of your right foot only. (This is the fleshy/bony part right under your big toe). Keep your foot stiff and parallel to the floor. Do not let it twist or flop over. At this point, most of your foot should be hanging off the right side of the brake pedal, your heel should be resting lightly on the floor and when the brake pedal is depressed, you should feel the accelerator pedal come into light contact with the right side of your foot.
g. Let off on the brake and move your foot back to the accelerator.
h. Practice this maneuver until you can do it without thinking at lightning speed without pressing the accelerator pedal.
i. From now on, ALWAYS apply the brakes this way. ALWAYS. If you look down your leg, you will see that the big toe is in line with your shin. So is the ball, making this straight line the vector of the most force. Use it.
j. Practice some more.
k. Take a break for today.

a. Remove your shoes
b. Practice your clutch and brake moves until you are comfortable with them
c. With the transmission in neutral and the e-brake on, start the car
d. Rest your left foot on the dead pedal and your right lightly on the accelerator
e. Now try your braking move. Although you won’t do this every time you brake, you must be able to press the brake hard enough to engage the ABS without making the engine accelerate, so press HARD. When the car is in motion, this is called “threshold braking”.
f. Return your right foot to the accelerator pedal
g. Practice this braking move until it is natural. If the car accelerates when you depress the brake pedal firmly, you are either not keeping your foot flat or your brake pedal is out of adjustment. If the latter, have it adjusted correctly.
h. Now depress the brake pedal firmly as you have learned. While holding the brakes on firmly, move your RIGHT KNEE quickly toward the center console and back, while keeping your foot stiff and still holding the brakes on firmly
i. This move forces the right side of your foot to depress the accelerator pedal. This is called “blipping the throttle”.
j. You have probably noticed when downshifting that at any speed, the next lower gear will be approximately 1000 rpm higher at the same speed when you let out the clutch. To achieve a smooth downshift, you must match that increased rpm while depressing the clutch so that when you release the clutch the engine is already turning at the higher rpm in the lower gear.
k. This sounds more difficult than it is. A smooth downshift is accomplished by blipping the throttle while the clutch is depressed. Practice blipping the throttle while braking until you can feel how much pressure on the accelerator will produce a 1000-rpm increase.
l. Now return your foot to the accelerator pedal and then practice braking and blipping to a 1000 rpm increase over idle until it becomes automatic.
m. Move foot to pedal, brake, blip, and move foot back to accelerator.
n. That’s enough for today

a. Remove your shoes
b. Start your engine and put the transmission in neutral and e-brake on.
c. Practice the separate moves that you have learned
d. Now SLOWLY put them together like this:
a. Step on the brake
b. Step on the clutch
c. Blip the throttle
d. When the rpms are at their peak, release the clutch and return your left foot to the dead pedal
e. Release the brake pedal and return your right foot to the accelerator
e. Practice until this move seems natural and you are doing it quickly and smoothly
f. Turn off the engine and put your shoes on.
g. Your driving shoes should have non-slip rubber soles that are thin and flexible enough to enable you to feel the pedals. Leather shoes are not good for serious driving, nor are thick-soled running shoes.
h. There are many good driving shoes on the market, and not all of them cost a million dollars. You will be surprised how much they can improve your feel and control of your car. Let your friends tease you. What the $#@* do they know?
i. This is the last practice session before we take this act on the road so practice these moves with your shoes on until they are smooth, fast and automatic.
j. Good. That’s enough for today.

a. Do not skip ahead. You will need to have practiced these moves in a static environment until they feel like old friends.
b. For the next learning phase, you will need a nice long stretch of high-speed freeway between two easy-on, easy-off exits and light traffic.
c. Accelerate up through the gears on the entrance ramp. Try to make your up shifts quickly. When you merge, stay in the right lane.
d. Now you are in 5th gear approaching the next exit with your turn signal on (Because if you were in 6th gear still accelerating, you would be WAY over the speed limit in any of these United States)
e. Be careful that you are not being followed closely as your braking maneuver could collect an unwary driver (and aren’t they all?)
f. You will NOT be threshold braking during this practice session.
g. Apply the brakes lightly, blip the throttle and downshift smoothly
h. Practice your heel-and-toe just like you learned it in the driveway until your braking, blipping and downshifting work smoothly together. Heel and toe all the way to the stop sign at the end of the exit ramp. Don’t be disappointed if it is rough at first. It requires lots of practice to develop the feel of the braking and blipping and downshifting working together. The Getrag gearbox in your MINI is the best I have ever used for this technique, and the pedal placement is perfect for heel-and-toe. You’ll know when it works and it’ll bring a big smile. It sounds good and it feels good. SM-O-O-O-O-O-OTH! Keep practicing. You’ll get it. (Remember how many times you stalled the car when you were learning to drive a stick, back in the day?)
i. Cross over/under the freeway and accelerate again quickly in the opposite direction.
j. Repeat these techniques until you are doing them smoothly and automatically. If you do not exceed the speed limit or impede traffic, the police won’t hassle you.
k. Take a break.

b. Never brake while turning. You can easily lose control of your car! Your MINI has all kinds of electronic elves to keep you out of trouble if you make this basic mistake, but why bother them? The elves response is always to slow you down; you, on the other hand, want to be fast and smooth, so try not to wake them up.
c. The smoothest transition is brake/downshift on the approach to the corner in a straight line, get off the brakes, turn the wheel and SLOWLY squeeze the throttle back on so you are accelerating and the front wheels are PULLING you around the corner. (We will not concern ourselves with apexing at this time. Basic technique first.)
d. For this practice session, you will need a stretch of twisty road and light traffic. Find a road where you can shift between second and third without going too far over the speed limit.
e. Accelerate to third gear, then when you are approaching a corner, brake and heel-and-toe to second in a straight line before turning in and accelerating smoothly through the corner. Shift up to third and do it all again.
f. Be careful! Work up to speed gradually.
g. When you are doing it smoothly, you are ready for the next step.
h. Practice delaying your braking until the last second, then getting HARD on the brakes while heel-and-toe down shifting.
i. Try to brake hard enough to engage the ABS in a straight line. You WILL be doing threshold braking at the track, so it will be good to practice it here. (When the ABS engages, you’ll feel a rapid, light tapping on the bottom of your foot.)
j. Again, watch out for following vehicles, especially guys in hi-buck sports cars or pickups that think they can keep up. Pull over and let them go by. We’ll deal with them later. Keep practicing until you are smooth and fast.


If you practice these basic techniques you will ASTOUND your instructors on the track and can quickly move on to more advanced techniques.

If this primer has been useful to you, please let me know if you’d like to see the next one: “Calling a Corner Names”

Supurb – thanks Jerry! Just a quick note however. MotoringFile does not condone any speeding on public roads. Some of these exercises may be better suited for the track. Carry on…

  • steve c

    this is actually just what i have been looking for…… thanks. I will give feedback like in a week….. once again thanks

  • Big Jimmy

    Wow this looks familiar. Great write up Jerry! Quite useful!

  • Vanwall

    Excellent primer. One or two quibbles, tho – get a good pair of driving shoes first, break ’em in by wearing ’em around the house for a week or so, then start practicing. More than any other shoe, it’s vital to have a close, but comfortable fit. I’ve never advocated controlling a vehicle without shoes. The slight additional width will make a difference in whether you hit the pedal just right, and one should always practice in the equipment you will use – the “feel” is half the battle on this technique.

    Heel & toe can be different for everyone, especially if you have small feet – with my 11-1/2s I can use the relatively broad width of my foot to control the pedals, but smaller feet may have to resort to a slight contortion, so don’t be surprised.

    Novices should notice something very impotant here – the DSC is NOT turned off in the road-going part of these exercises. Trailing-throttle oversteer is not something to work with with if you are practicing another tecnique.

    Lastly, I don’t personally recommend purposefully hitting the brakes hard enough to activate the ABS on a public road except in a genuine emergency – it should be done only on the track. There are too many unknown variables that could lead to a loss of control, including other drivers’ judgement and road conditions that may not be obvious, that make me leary of this.


    Rob in Dago

  • Bcn Olympic

    Ooooooooooh… Thanks for the info. It’s going to be REALLY usefull, I’ve been waiting this kind of information for soooo long!!!!

  • Andy

    I’m glad someone mentioned driving shoes. That is a key point to make this easier…and more fun.

    My recommendations:

    1. Indoor soccer shoes. I used some Sambas for 3 years of BMW CCA driving schools. They are great, but just don’t offer a lot of support if you walk around the paddock all day.

    2. Vans. They don’t fit my feet quite right, but others swear by them.

    3. Piloti. If you are really into driving, these are the best. You get the feel of the Sambas, but more support for walking around. They are just a little pricy.

    Shoes I personally do NOT recommend:

    1. The “booty” driving shoes (look like wrestling shoes). They have no support, and just look kind of stupid.

    2. Running shoes. They may feel comfortable, but there is too much padding to feel the pedals.

    That’s my $0.02

  • Vanwall

    Puma Speed Cats are my choice for street driving, and you can walk around in ’em as well. If I’m gonna walk around lot, I’ll switch shoes. You don’t want shoes that have “sharp” edges to the sole, and a rounded heel is easier on your feet. In the long run, get something comfortable, whatever you like, but a purpose-designed driving shoe helps.

    Rob in Dago

  • Siddhartha

    Wow! Thanks for the feedback! Rob, just a couple of rebuttals, if I may:

    1. “I’ve never advocated controlling a vehicle without shoes.” Me either. If you’ll notice, all the bare feet stuff is done in the driveway. I recommend bare feet to start because there is no better way to FEEL the correct placement on the pedals.

    2. “I don’t personally recommend purposefully hitting the brakes hard enough to activate the ABS on a public road except in a genuine emergency.” I understand what you are saying, but I don’t agree. The time to find out what your car will do in an emergency is before that emergency occurs. Hard braking to the ABS in a straight line on a public road should not be a problem providing that the driver ALWAYS clears the mirror first, as advocated above.

  • Vanwall

    Jerry –

    Yeah, I caught that about the driveway, and I liked that idea – the shoes-on thing is just my take. 😉

    I wish MINI had some kind of short, free driving clinic – that would give newbs a chance to see what the capabilities, as apposed to limits, are on their new MINI, which can be well beyond their previous experience. I guess I’ll look the other way if I run across a MINI ABS test. 😉

    After one gets proficient at heel & toe, look up that Walter Rohrl rally video, with his dancing feet. It’ll humble ya real fast. HeHe!

             Rob in Dago

  • I wish MINI had some kind of short, free driving clinic – that would give newbs a chance to see what the capabilities, as apposed to limits, are on their new MINI, which can be well beyond their previous experience. I guess I’ll look the other way if I run across a MINI ABS test. 😉

    As Gabe and I discovered this weekend, the MINI is a blast on the track (and I’d have caught him if I had just one more lap…). We both participated in the Phil Wicks Driving Academy put on at the Autobahn Country Club in Joliet, IL (actually Elwood, I think). It wasn’t free, but they pack a lot into $200, and the certificate you get at the end of the day should be good for a driver training discount with your insurance company.

    I consider heel-and-toe to be something of an advanced technique; no doubt useful and fun (and it makes you look good), but it isn’t necessary to drive well and fast by any stretch of the imagination. Phil Wicks & Co. concentrate more on handling and control, rather than outright speed or the finer points of shifting. In fact, I found that I could drive both circuits we used this weekend without having to shift at all, and that’s when I had the most fun. Trying to haul the car down from 80+ into a sharp right corner with ABS kicking in and shifting from 4th to 2nd is a lot of work. Using the entire range of the engine from 3,000 RPM up to redline (but watch out for that rev limiter!) makes it a lot more fun and instructive.

    Gabe, maybe I will do a writeup, after all. 🙂

  • That’s only because I was slowing down for someone who shall not be named 😉

  • Mini2Go

    look up that Walter Rohrl rally video, with his dancing feet. It’ll humble ya real fast.

    OMG!!!! That is INCREDIBLE!

    Here’s one link I found…

    Video Link (Windows Media)

  • TSizemore3

    I have to second the notion that you need some good driving shoes to properly heel & toe on a consistant basis. I have seen people wearing athletic shoes with the large clunky soles get them tangled up in the pedals when trying to work quickly.

    I agree that the Piloti’s are a bit pricey, but they are very well made and comfortable. I’m just received my second pair. The first lasted me almost twice as long a regular pair of shoes, and I wear them every day. As a bonus, the Nomex lining keeps your feet warm in the winter.

  • Michael Burchill

    Wow – an article about driving technique!!! – On this site? whoda thunkit?!!

    We need more pieces like this – and other aspects of driving a car fast & well.

      • m
  • ScottinBend

    Just as there are many different people driving MINI’s, there are several safe ways of heel-and-toe shifting. Do not feel that you have to mirror the above directions. There will be some slight variations that will make the technique much easier for you if you experiment a little with comfort and speed.

    By and large a very informative article, just remember to practice in a safe enviroment.

  • ScottinBend

    ……and as a post script

    This my recommendation for a great driving shoe with good support

    Text to link

  • Lee L

    I will have to practice this some. Every time I have ever played around with “heel-toe” I have actually just positioned my foot to the right side of the break pedal and by twisting my ankle a little slightly modulate the gas (or at least blip it enough to get teh revs up close to the shift point).


    Did you guys do teh Phil Wicks thing in stoick trim?

  • Did you guys do teh Phil Wicks thing in stoick trim?

    Yep, there’s nothing special to be done in preparation. As long as your brakes and tires have at least half of their life remaining, and nothing’s hanging off or leaking, you should be in good shape. The biggest pain is completely cleaning out the interior of the car, including the glove box. They want to avoid anything becoming a projectile in the event of an accident, and they also want to keep distractions in the cockpit (such as your glasses case flopping from side to side in the glovebox) to a minimum.

  • Dustin Krause

    How is your new car working out for you Jerry? 😉

  • Siddhartha

    Hey D-Man! Follow the yellow brick link . . .


  • All this stuff about the shoes. I have no problems heel-balling in any pair i have. Sure it’s easier with a thin soled, well fitted race shoe or sneaker, but the MINI’s pedals are so well placed, I feel no hinderance dealing with them in sandals. By all means stick to the wrestling shoes for learning, but soon your foot knows where everything is, and you may even discover an appreciation for the higher or wider sole. (I am a guy, so no exprience with pumps or stilletos to relate. ;))

  • ZAKdog

    there’s a great site for more tips at turnfast.com


  • ZAKdog

    sorry…screwed up the link :^P

  • meanboy


    Did you sell your 04 MCS JCW? I saw an e-bay listing and I think it’s your car in the pictures but I am pretty sure it’s not you selling it. I think someone hacked into the person’s account and is using it fraudently.


  • Siddhartha

    Invalid Item This listing (4564441112) has been removed by eBay or is no longer available. Please make sure that you’ve entered the item number correctly.

    Sad Arthur has moved in with the mayor of El Cerrito, and boy, is she happy!

  • Siddhartha

    sorry…screwed up the link :^P

    The requested URL /techdriving/drivingheeltoe.shtml was not found on this server.

    So why don’t you fix it?

  • meanboy


    That’s good news! I glad to hear that it went to a good home.

  • Great info can’t wait to get home and start practicing!

    Don’t hesitate posting more useful tips like this one 🙂

  • Great explanation of the technique, hope to see more stuff like this on motoring file. 😉

  • Erik

    One of the better tutorials on Heel/Toe. Great Job…

    A note on single vs. double-clutch…not to confuse folks, but I was taught double-clutching.

    When you disengage the clutch, the transmission is free-spinning. In a single clutch heel/toe, you keep the clutch pedal down for the whole downshift. The engine rev-matches, but the synchros do the job of getting the transmission back up to speed.

    In a double clutch downshift, you add an extra step of re-engaging the clutch mid-shift. When you rev-match, you will then get the transmission spinning at the same speed. It’s more difficult, and less necessary for today’s cars, but it’s worth knowing for times like going to skippy barbers or similar racing schools.

    To double-clutch, you do the following sequence:

    1) Apply breaks 2) Clutch in 3) Disengage gear (put it in neutral) (This is an extra step) 3) Clutch out (This is an extra step) 4) Blip throttle 5) Clutch in 6) Downshift 7) Clutch out 8) Pass the guy who didn’t heel/toe into the corner

    Great article…hope to see more…

  • Ronn Nielson

    Could you please consider making the Piloti Driving Shoe in BRIGHT YELLOW

    (size 13 would be GREAT)???????

    GOD BLESS,,,,,,,,,,,Ronn

  • Steven

    “Keep your foot stiff and parallel to the floor. Do not let it twist or flop over. At this point, most of your foot should be hanging off the right side of the brake pedal, your heel should be resting lightly on the floor”

    Do you mean perpendicular to the floor? If it was parallel to the floor, you would have to twist your foot 90 degrees to the left so that your foot was horizontal (like the floor), which means your heel would be hovering over the accelerator pedal, not resting on the floor. Can you please clear this up?

  • Erik

    I think his point was not to twist your foot, but to keep it in the same plane as the brake pedal. You don’t want your foot to be parallel with the floor, technically speaking…well maybe parallel to the upward slope of the foot box area.

    It’s like a normal push on the brake pedal, but when you move your knee over, your foot will naturally roll onto the accelerator.

  • Siddhartha

    Steven, you are correct. Parallel is wrong, perpendicular is right. That got by all of us, good eye. Thanks, Sid

  • Pingback: Heel and toe help wanted. - MINI2()

  • Jonno

    Nice article, thanks! There are some quite good heel and toe diagrams here, might be worth a look…

    http://www.DrivingFast.net – Heel and Toe

  • Sorry – they’re here:

    Heel and Toe Shifting

  • Kyle Mosley

    Ok so i guess i got this right. break-clutch in-blip-shift-clutch out-gas. so this is different than double clutching. Will this provide quicker deceleration than double clutching? also where can i find more primers from this guys? this is pretty good stuff.

  • Arda Jusuff

    Thank’s for sharing this trick

  • I’d Love to read “Calling a Corner Names” where can i find that?