Skills and Knowledge
Shifting gears on the racetrack and heel-toe downshifting
What gear should I be in for this section of the track? When should I shift gears? How do I heel-toe downshift?
These are very common questions because shifting is often a big source of anxiety and uncertainty for newcomers. The good news is, you're probably overthinking it.
As a beginner, there are already so many things to learn, such as the layout of the track, braking points, turn-in points, apexes, and flag rules. Shifting adds another level of complexity on top of everything, so we recommend keeping it as simple as possible.
Shifting as a beginner
If you have a car that can shift itself (i.e. automatic), we strongly recommend you to leave it on the auto setting, albeit in sports mode if possible. Most modern automatics are able to shift sufficiently fast so that you won't get into trouble on the track.
If your car is a manual, don't fret. It helps if you know ahead of time what are the 1 or 2 gears you should be on for most of the track. For example, many tracks can be tackled in only 3rd and 4th in a 6-speed car. You can find this out this info by searching online or asking your instructor/event coordinator.
When you're out on the track, don't stress about being in the optimal gear at all times. If you miss a shift and slow down, it’s not a big deal. Also, only shift gears on straights so you don’t upset the balance of the car.
You may have heard of something called heel-toe downshifting. This is a technique to downshift while braking to not upset the car before a turn. We explain it later below, but don’t worry about it as a beginner. If you have auto rev-match, leave it on, and if you don’t, separate downshifting and braking into two steps. Downshift first and then brake, or if your initial revs are very high, brake first, downshift, then go into the corner.
After a bit more experience
After 1 or 2 days, you should have a good understanding of what gear you need to be in on different parts of the track.
If you have an automatic, you should begin manually selecting your gears with your paddle shifters or your shift lever in manual mode. You'll downshift while braking for a turn to be in a lower gear to accelerate out of the turn, and you'll upshift on straights whenever you're about to hit redline (the red part of your tachometer indicating high RPMs).
If you have a manual, you should already be manually selecting your gears, so no change there, but it’s not a bad idea to begin practicing heel-toe downshifting.
Heel-toe downshifting is an advanced shifting technique for manual cars. To heel-toe, you downshift while keeping the brake pedal depressed and execute a rev-match by giving the gas pedal a blip.
Depending on your brake pedal layout, you may blip with your heel or the upper right edge of your foot. If your pedals are spaced far apart, you will have to reach over with your heel (this is where heel-toe comes from). If they are spaced closely, you can keep your heel planted and rotate your foot over to blip with the edge of your foot.
Heel-toe downshifting is a skill that takes time to master. Don't rush if you’re a beginner. If you heel-toe incorrectly, you could upset the balance of your car, which is the last thing you want to do in a braking zone.
You can practice heel-toe downshifting on the skidpad or on the street whenever you need to slow down. When you’re ready to try it at the track, practice doing it at 75% speed first on slower corners when nobody is behind you. Practice doing it often, and you'll master this rarefied skill before long.
Be careful of money shifts
Money shifting happens when you accidentally shift into a lower gear than you intended while already at high revs in your current gear. An example of this is when driving a manual car, the driver accidentally shifts into first instead of third when in fourth gear. This over-revs your engine and potentially damages it, hence, “money” shift.
As a beginner, don’t try to shift aggressively like you see in Fast & Furious. Take it slow and make sure you’ve selected the right gear before letting out the clutch.