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The Driver's Seat
Yesterday we offered the argument for Right-foot braking as argued by Jim Russell chief instructor Nico Rondet. Today we offer a glimpse of the other side. As a refresher, today’s Left-foot braking defense is offered by Jim Russell racing instructor Jeff Westphal.

Jeff Westphal is a Formula Ford 2000 champion and Grand Am racer and a true student of the sport. When not off racing, he is an excellent instructor at the School. Very analytical in his approach, he is often hired by teams to drive and engineer their cars to greater success. Not as old and jaded as I, Jeff is just starting out on his racing career but Nico has been heard saying Jeff is one of the only guys who is good at left foot braking so the perfect person to argue the point.

Here is the Left-foot braking rebuttal by Jeff:

Left-foot vs. Right-foot

I will discuss the pro’s and cons of left foot braking, as well as some of the history behind it to help shed some light on the grey area known as left foot braking.

We can start by looking at the fact that well over 50% of racing drivers started their career in some form of gokart. The seating position in a gokart is such that the driver can’t move his/her legs around the gas tank that they are straddling to use anything but the right foot on the gas, and left foot on the brake. So off the bat the “left foot braking” sensitivity isn’t as foreign as most right foot braking advocates will claim, and it CAN be learned.

Let us dissect a braking zone where a driver must downshift prior to trail braking in both right foot and left foot braking form, right first. Assume we are travelling at the top of 6th gear, flat chat, headed into a slow 3rd gear right-hander. We know we must go down 3 gears in the transmission before we turn the car into the corner, but after we’ve begun braking as to not over rev the motor. So here we go, BANG…. We’re on the brakes, now it’s time to down shift. Assuming you placed your trunk of a foot in the right spot on the pedal to allow the upcoming actions, hold the same pressure on the brake with the right foot or release some (as adding pressure after the first hit will induce lockup), left foot in on the clutch, rotate the right foot and use the heel (or pinky toe nowadays with smaller pedal boxes) to press the gas enough to add rev’s while maintaining brake efficiency, select 5th gear, release clutch with the left foot…. and do that process 2 more times while still braking before we start to add steering and release the brake to complete the entrance of the corner.

Looking at the sequence of events that must occur in the above braking zone, you can see how right foot braking and downshifting may become a problem or time consuming when driving a car that decelerates very quickly as it takes a while to coordinate the feet to downshift more than 2 gears, leaving lots of room for error. And that’s before factoring the need to release brake pressure for aerodynamic reasons or dealing with a lockup and needing to release some pressure immediately!

Now, lets try that braking zone with left foot braking. 6th gear, flat chat, headed into the same 3rd gear right-hander with 3 downshifts to be done before we release the brake and add steering. Here we go, BANG… on the brakes, time to down shift. Hold the same brake pressure with the left foot perfectly placed on the pedal every time, right foot quickly taps the gas pedal enough to free up the gear box load, select 5th gear, repeat 2 more times.

Not only is left foot braking less complicated, but it’s faster. You have the same braking threshold because that is limited by grip of the vehicle, but you can make 2 downshifts in the time it will take a right foot braking old timer to make 1, useful for cars that decelerate quickly with short braking distances. F1 anybody?

Left Foot braking also has other benefits;

In that same given brake zone we considered earlier, the left foot braking driver has more control over the brake release throughout the braking zone because of no brake pedal pressure fluctuations on blips or downshifts. I have studied many driver’s data, both right foot and left foot brakers. There is not one right foot-er I’ve seen yet that has a “smooth” brake digression in a braking zone with down shifts. If there is one that claims they do, I call BS, or they don’t have to blip. Humans aren’t robots, there is always some fluctuation in pressure by the right footers equaling longer stopping distance.

Furthermore, in corners that are long, bumpy or have big curbs used, a common symptom is pad knock back. This is when the oscillation of the brake rotor over a long corner or bumps actually pushes the brake pad back into the brake caliper slightly, causing the driver to feel a long brake pedal that does nothing until it is released and tried again or “pumped once”. This is commonly not realized until the upcoming braking zone. If you right foot brake, you must come off the gas to tap the brakes and make them usable again. Unless said right foot braking driver uses their……LEFT foot to tap the brake and bring the pads back to the surface of the rotor before the braking zone. That’s three advantages for us left foot brakers!

Some Pitfalls or common problem areas of Left foot braking;

The technique is not for the insensitive, like braking with the right foot, left foot braking can be butchered as well. In order to make the left foot technique happen smoothly, the throttle blip needs to be sized and timed perfectly, other wise the transmission will still have load on the gears in the either the acceleration or deceleration direction which causes gearbox damage. Think of it like accelerating down a flat road lightly, then lifting off the gas. There is a brief moment of pause in the vehicle’s pitch (more importantly the transmission) before the car takes a nose heavy stance and slowly decelerates. That “pause” is a left foot braking drivers cue to make the downshift. When the blip is done right, the transmission will accept the downshift in the braking zone just as it does for the ancient right foot braking driver. This is the one spot where right foot-ers might have an edge on us in that they can make errors and not pay as big of a price in the vehicle balance and transmission longevity.

Another problem area can be Gas and brake at the same time. Hey!!!!! Accelerating and braking are opposing forces, if your braking with your left foot, don’t try and accelerate constantly with the right at the same time. Go take a dance lesson and coordinate those feet. This one is simple, if you’re doing this and can’t feel it, you probably shouldn’t be driving a racecar!

Improper Load transfer can also associate itself with us left footers or what I call, “happy feet”. I say can because if you do it right, there is no issue. Remember guys and gals, just because you can down shift faster and brake more efficiently, doesn’t mean you can get on the gas earlier in a given corner. I see most left foot-ers with poor craft fall into this category. They often will revert from braking immediately to accelerating, not letting their steering effort be the guideline for accelerating out of a corner. Some form of pause with the feet where the car is coasting isn’t a bad thing, it can actually be a good thing as you MUST be unwinding your hands before you accelerate. Patience is a virtue!

In the End, most drivers try left foot braking a racecar and are discouraged by the lack of sensitivity built up in their left foot and inability to make it happen smoothly. Coming from experience, it can take as little as one practice session to adapt, or as long as a whole season. Humans are creatures of habit, so one must “retrain” or teach the muscles in the lower half to master the skill-full timing of left foot braking. Some do it with a kart, others learn in cars. In any case, when done well, all the pitfalls can be avoided, leaving you with only pro’s when compared to right foot braking. Maybe this is why everyone in the F1 paddock is using their left foot to brake except Rubens….. I think if Hamilton, Vettel, Alonso, Kubica and Button are doing it, there is probably a good reason, don’t you?

Disclaimer!
Most common road cars have synchro’s in the transmission. Without getting overly technical, that’s the thing that makes a transmission “street able”, and by street able I mean you should use the clutch on you road car, which means not your left foot to brake. Remember, we are talking about racecars here! Ones that have straight cut gear boxes.

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An F1 fan since 1972, NC has spent over 25 years in the technology industry and as a CTO, he focuses on technology integration in commercial workspace design, AV systems integration, digital media strategies, technology planning, consulting, speaking, presenting, sales, content strategy, marketing and brand building.
  • habibiF1

    Since I don’t race enough, it takes me a practice session to get back my feet coordination. That usually means that I will suffer in the beginning with my feet coordination as a left foot braker, but by the end of the first hour I am usually back on my pace.

    I have screwed up and payed heavily for them at times, and while I could have saved those sessions if I was a right foot braker, my times are slower and not very consistent when I try right foot braking. As for sensing the balance of the car, I can do that pretty well with my rear end…

  • Neil

    Forgive my ignorance but what happens to the clutch when left foot braking?

    • Benalf

      you don’t use it during downshift, you look for the “sweet moment” in which both transmission and engine are revving at the same rate..at that point there’s no pressure between gears and shifting should run smoothly

    • NeilM

      That, or you get pretty good at dancing the three-pedal two-step, which is how you handle left foot braking in a “regular” car. (By which I mean a car with a normal non-racing, non-sequential transmission.) It’s not easy, but practice makes you good at it.

      Neil

  • The drivers seat

    In most racing gearboxes a clutch isn’t neccasary but it is a little nicer to the gearbox
    on downshifts. On upshifts it’s not a big deal most need just a little lift off the power to get that done

    • fake_GraceRD1

      Some newer gearboxes don’t even need a lift on the upshift.

      • NeilM

        Sure they do. It’s just that the lift is provided automatically, rather than by the driver’s foot.

      • the drivers seat

        that’s why I said most, in 1996 I drove super touring cars that were flat shift.
        I liked it, I liked it alot.

        • habibiF1

          Not to mention the extra tenth you can get from them.

    • Eje G

      To add to this I know that Corvette Racing in their C6.R don’t need clutching. You need clutching to get going on first gear but rest of it they don’t use the clutch.
      http://www.corvetteblogger.com/2010/12/10/video-jimmie-johnson-driving-corvette-racings-c6-r/
      When Jimmie is instructed he is told he only need to use the clutch to get going on first gear.
      Check out the video pretty cool check out the big spin he does in the Corvette I’m sure there where a few people with their hearts in their throat when he did ;)

  • F1iLike

    I hardly think Rubens right foot brake these days though ;)

    • positiveCamper

      As I recall, he tried left foot braking for a short time while at Ferrari and decided to return to right foot braking. I have not heard of any change in his braking since then.

      • That’s exactly what I recall as well. I am unclear on if he has made any changes while at Brawn or Williams F1 though.

        • fake_GraceRD1

          anyone knows which foot the Schum uses? That would be the best braking technique

  • wrd83

    I am wondering how left vs. right foot braking will change with the new engine regulations 2013. Is turbolag at low revs affecting downshifting?

    • NeilM

      Yes, that’s going to be interesting. Depending on how well the engine guys can engineer out the normal turbo lag, drivers may need to maintain or anticipate throttle application to keep the turbo spooled up. That would essentially require left foot braking.

      • the drivers seat

        If you’ve ever read Emmo Fittipaldi’s book, he talks of the beginning of the turbo era, they had to do all kinds of tricks to account for the lag

        • NeilM

          Hah, I remember the F1 turbo era, 1500 HP “grenade” qualifying engines and all!

          I imagine that technical progress, especially in electronic engine management, is going to make the new ones quite different. And they’d better be different, because the new engine allowance isn’t going to allow for too many development errors.

          • wrd83

            There are competitive turbo designs available from a wide range of rally cars. I hope that formula1 will adapt these turbo systems instead of going to completely redesign them.

            PS: seeing onboard rally footage it is also possible to use the clutch with your left foot and the heel of your right foot to brake and the toes to accelerate.

  • Robert

    Interesting analysis. Basically, LFB looks superior if you can do it properly. Most of the arguments pro-RFB were to do with ease of use.

    I think that learning LFB is important as you never know where you’ll find the skill to be of use. Whether you use it or not is another question, but it’s good to have the option.

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