Which is the correct foot to use in modern day racers? Well, the short answer is that there’s no “ideal” appendage to use, since each foot has its own strengths and downsides. If the transmission uses dogrings and is sufficiently strong, the left foot can be used. By the same token, the right foot is needed to preserve the gears in synchronized transmissions. The consensus is that the right foot brakers are dinosaurs in this day and age, but why would they, equipment permitting, brake inefficiently on purpose?
The reason for retaining the right foot might be surprising. Unless you started driving in a go-kart, chances are the right foot was the extremity which was used to learn how to decelerate. Learning how to slow the car down with the right foot became second nature after a while, and the amount of sensitivity a young driver develops when introducing their right foot to the brake pedal is incredible, and hard to surpass in later-life learning when the left foot must be used.
Now, that sort of sensitivity is vital to have when braking on the limit at outrageous speeds. Up until a few years ago, most road racing cars required that the right foot was still used for this, since foot-operated clutches were the norm. Now that the majority of high-end racing cars use transmissions that lack a foot-operated clutch, most people will vouch for left foot braking as the most efficient method.
Moving to the Left
Think about the mechanics of using a left foot while braking – starting with the sense of time. There’s inevitably a delay as the right foot releases the throttle and drops over the pedal beside it. While it might not seem like a serious issue, in a sport that celebrates over tenths of a second, you can rest assured that that delay will show up in the telemetry readouts and the engineers will not be impressed.
Even outside of serious motorsports, where careers are judged on small measurements of time, using the left foot to draw the anchors is a useful approach for its versatility. Not only can long braking distances be shortened with a deft left foot, but the car’s balance can be modulated mid-corner with a rub, instead of a stab, of the brake.
As the car moves through the center of the corner and begins to understeer or run wide, the driver can help trim their line with a mild dab of the brakes, while keeping their foot on the throttle so that momentum won’t be lost. Using the left foot for this purpose, especially in low-grip situations, can be a huge advantage. Additionally, a bit of two-footing can come in helpful when a turbocharged engine and slow corners are involved, since the right foot can keep the revs up while the left foot modulates the speed. This technique, known as “brake boosting,” is tough on brakes, but can pay dividends on street circuits in particular.
Let Down by the Left
If the seat isn’t form-fitted to your body, it is occasionally better to keep braking with your right foot. This is because the left foot can help stabilize the body, and the right foot can depress the pedal with more sensitivity if it’s anchored. If there’s no foot resting on a dead pedal to balance the body, the g-forces will thrust you forward and it’ll be hard to apply the brakes accurately.
Generally speaking, left-foot braking does not work as well in softly-sprung cars that take longer to shift their weight. This is because these cars require more modulation on the brakes, and need a more delicate touch, since it’s easier to lock up the tires because softer cars tend to have less mechanical grip and less downforce. To preserve tires, it’s imperative you learn to get the most out of your right foot and avoid flat-spotting. Since the right foot is often the more sensitive, it’s the one to use.
Ultimately, braking is always fraught with problems. Whether it’s over or under-braking, locking the brakes, or missing the braking point, there’s a reason why Jackie Stewart said “braking is the last thing a racing driver learns to do well.” Therefore, the skilled driver knows how to use both feet depending on the situation they’re in. For hard braking and minimizing coasting, the left foot is ideal, but the right foot is best for feeling the limit of the car, which usually works better in low-grip situations. However, a good driver will always be called on to use both feet, so better brush up quick. Just be careful to practice left-foot braking without much traffic behind you.