Making the Left Foot Brake

Because of the prevalence of paddle-shifted gearboxes in modern sports cars, the appeal of left-foot braking is greater these days, so why not learn to capitalize on a new-fangled form of technology and put that lazy left foot to work? This is one of the less important racing techniques, and is often learned later in a racer’s career, since right foot braking is more easily done for most. However, left-foot braking is a means of shaving tenths off a lap time. More than that, it aids in attitude adjustments for which right-foot braking simply doesn’t allow.

Making the Left Foot Brake

Braking with the left foot is not a new technique. Rally drivers have been doing it for ages. It’s a technique that can be used with paddles, of course, but some cars with sequential ‘boxes accept the technique – albeit with some tenderness – and h-pattern dogboxes as well. These two old-school styles still require cognizance of the clutch pedal, but if timed properly, the gearshift can be pulled or pushed without a corresponding movement of the clutch pedal, and the left foot can spend its time manipulating the brakes and shifting the weight of the car – though there’s more to it than that.


A Means of Efficiency

Left-foot braking is a way to ensure the inputs – the brakes and throttle, specifically – are constantly manipulated. In an ideal situation, a driver trying to get the most out of their car should always be either braking or accelerating, never coasting. Though it might seem like a negligible loss, the time it takes to transfer the right foot from the throttle to the brake pedal has a significant effect on the lap time. It might be a few tenths, it might be half a second, but in either instance, it’s a considerable loss that anyone serious would want to shed.

Some will try their hardest to minimize the delay between throttle and brake inputs when using their right foot alone. Unfortunately, this rushed transfer of the right foot from pedals limits the subtlety with which the brake can be applied. In other words, applying the brake quickly and delicately, under racing conditions, can be better done with the left foot, which is relaxed and ready when the braking marker presents itself.


Making the Left Foot Brake
Getting the right sort of pressure requires the right footwear – and enough room in the footwell.

This means tenths are shaved, and if the sensitivity is developed, the middle pedal isn’t feared and doesn’t tire the driver’s right ankle.


Attitude Adjustment

Additionally, this technique allows the driver to shift weight in new and interesting ways. Some situations will call for both feet to be used simultaneously on both pedals, to stabilize the car, trim a line or abruptly shift weight to a desired axle.

In the case of trimming a line, what some downforce-laden machines can benefit from is a light rub of the brake while running through a high-speed corner. At these speeds, with the grip and stability offered from the downforce, a talented driver can use their left foot to apply while keeping their right foot flat on the throttle through fast corners. This allows for minor direction change while keeping the engine revs high and, in some cases, the blown diffusers working.

Listen to Schumacher’s left foot bringing the revs down abruptly and minimizing understeer with his left foot.

This can also be done to alter the car’s attitude abruptly on loose surfaces. Two-footing allows a driver to shift weight front to rear, or rear to front, so quickly that it helps keep the car in an agitated state; oversteering and keeping the car pointed in the right direction. Those who master the technique really must be seen – their precision and feel for balancing the car is breathtaking.


Getting Comfortable Two-Footing

It’s not easy to develop the feel necessary to brake at the limit. Those who’ve tried in their road car likely put their passenger’s head into the glove box the first time around. Practice without any cars nearby before or behind, and leave the heel of the left foot on the floor as an anchor point – this will help an insensitive left foot used to a firm depressing of the clutch pedal – meter out the smallest increments of pressure.

It’s important to try and manipulate the pedal as smoothly as possible to prevent any noticeable see-sawing, both in adding and reducing pedal pressure. By having the platform balanced delicately, the car can be manipulated to turn into the corner crisply once the brakes are released and the car is properly and cleanly decelerated.

It’s a skill necessary in karts and in some rally cars, and for that reason, those two aren’t terrible ways to go. Yet most of us get our start in road cars. Try it, and pretend there’s an egg beneath the middle pedal and it is home to the only dinosaur embryo in existence – the future of science depends on you.

About Tommy Parry 108 Articles
Tommy Parry has been racing and writing about racing cars for the past seven years. As an automotive enthusiast from a young age, Tommy worked jobs revolving around cars throughout high school and tried his hand on the race track on his twentieth birthday. After winning his first outdoor kart race, he began working as an apprentice mechanic to amateur racers in the Bay Area to sharpen his mechanical understanding. He has worked as a trackday instructor and automotive writer since 2012 and continues to race karts, formula cars, sedans and rally cars in the San Francisco region.
  • David Merritt

    I gather you’ve never raced go karts. As I’m sure you know, that’s an extremely common way to start racing on 4 wheels, and virtually all professional drivers and even most amateurs have started in karts for many many years.

    Karts are all about left foot braking. And yes, you do sometimes wind up on both pedals at the same time because, as you said, it lets you load the tires in creative ways. The basic concept is “If you’re not on the brakes and you’re not on the gas – – – you’re coasting”. If you adhere to the “Friction Circle” concept, a la Mark Donohue (and I do) the point is to keep the tires fully loaded at all times while varying the direction along which they are developing grip. The direction of the vector moves, hopefully smoothly, around the friction circle at the outside, ideally.

    The only reason this is an issue is because synchronizers make driving more civilized, especially for civilians. As you may know, another term for synchronizers is “balk rings”, because part of their function is to prevent a shift until the speeds of the gears are the same. Dancing on the pedals and double clutching is actually a “necessary evil”, a technique to assist the synchronizers and defeat their blocking action. With dog rings all you have to do is breathe the throttle and shift very very positively as you feel the trans unload, basically stuffing the dogs into the windows on the next gear. But severe penalties for anything less than a very very positive shift.

    Rotary drum shift mechanisms on sequential shift transmissions are particularly well suited, since, once past the detent between gears, they want to go into the next gear. Generally you pull really hard going up and push really hard coming down. Motorcycles are almost universally dog ring rotary drum sequential shift vehicles. Just don’t dawdle.

    Yes you can drive a dog box on the street. Yes there are some issues, but if you’re hardcore nothing you can’t handle. Then you can add straight cut gears for the full experience. Hum, buzz and tingle.


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