Bridging the Old and New: Manual Sequential Transmission

Adrian Fernandez and Dario Franchitti Reynard 2ki CART cars at Laguna Seca in Automobilista 2.png
Shifting gears in modern race cars - and as a result, in most sim rigs - is a simple process: Pull the paddle on the right side of the wheel to change up, pull the one on the left to shift down - no clutch needed. H-shifters, as we have already highlighted on RaceDepartment, require considerably more effort - but there is also the in-between cousin of the two: manual sequential.

The first sequential transmission can be traced back to Porsche and Ferrari in the 1980s: While the German manufacturer experimented with its dual clutch system PDK in its 962 Group C cars and won races using shifter buttons on the steering wheel as early as in 1986, Ferrari introduced the paddles on the wheel that are now standard in the 1989 Formula One season. Both were signficant steps to make drivers' lives easier, as they did not have to take a hand off the wheel to change gears and could even keep the throttle pedal pinned.

Slightly later, manual sequential transmissions started being used in various forms of racing. Peugeot's 905 Group C car used the system in 1990, and it first appeared in some IndyCars during the 1993 season. After that, countless touring and GT cars were equipped with a manual sequential transmission until they switched to paddles later on. WRC cars also featured this type of transmission and actually adopted it again for the 2022 season, while the Australian Supercars Series has used it exclusively since 2007. NASCAR recently adopted it as well.

Porsche 911 GT1 98 with glowing brake rotor in Automobilista 2.png


Same, but Different​

On the surface, a manual sequential transmission works the same as a paddle-shifted sequential one, just with a different activation method: Pull the gear lever towards the driver to change up, push it away from them to change down, all without the clutch being necessary. While a lot simpler than heel-and-toeing around circuits like drivers had to do previously, there is a bit more to this method of shifting gears, though.

As manual sequential transmissions are usually mechanical in nature, the use of the clutch may be obsolete when shifting, but they do not adjust the engine revs on downshifts, meaning the need to blip the throttle is still there. They can be operated without this, but the rear stability of the car under braking would be compromised. This is why in old CART onboard recordings, for example, the revs rise audibly when drivers shifted down before corners. Watch and listen to Alex Tagliani's lap at the Cleveland airfield circuit in 2002 below for an example.


Modern paddle shift transmissions are controlled electronically and feature so called auto-blip, which automatically adjusts the engine revs to the ideal point for the lower gear that is engaged. As a result, the drivers' pedal work only consists of braking and regulating the throttle.

The secret to avoiding spins in cars with a manual sequential transmission, then, is a short blip of the throttle on each downshift - it may feel unnatural at first, but really satisfying to pull it off correctly later. As an added bonus, this technique is nowhere near as complicated as heel and toeing, so you can learn it in a short amount of time.

Super V8 at Adelaide in Automobilista 2.png


The Outliers​

As mentioned above, the Australian Supercars Series continues to use a manual sequential transmission, and need to be blipped on downshifts as a result. However, most of the drivers on the grid actually use heel and toe in the cars. According to Penske IndyCar driver Scott McLaughlin, who used to race in Australia until 2020, "the majority of the Supercars paddock does heel-toe because it saves fuel and is as fast [as left-foot braking]", as the New Zealander told speedcafe.com in 2021.

Luckily for those who have not mastered heel and toe yet, the Supercars representations in sim racing can usually be driven perfectly fine with left-foot braking and throttle blipping.

Your Thoughts​

What are your experiences with manual sequential transmissions in sim racing? Do you like them or do you prefer paddles? Let us know in the comments below!
About author
Yannik Haustein
Lifelong motorsport enthusiast and sim racing aficionado, walking racing history encyclopedia.

Sim racing editor, streamer and one half of the SimRacing Buddies podcast (warning, German!).

Heel & Toe Gang 4 life :D

Comments

Premium
I do love heel and toeing with the H-shifter but manual sequential can be very satisfying as you smash that lever forward or backwards!

And sometimes it's just nice to have the electronics handle it all with the paddle shifters. Though honestly Zandvoort 1967 with the Masseratti 250F is one of my favourite combo's and that is just all H-pattern heel and toeing around!
 
Premium
I Love the sequential shifting with a stick and heel toe-ing the gears down, but my HF8 doesn't allow to do it on the fly.
So mostly on flippers or, if the car is up to it, fully manual.
 
I recently purchased a Bodnar cable to hook my old Logitech H shifter up to my Fanatec system. I've never liked the H shifting as the Logitech's mechanicals felt very loose. Too much motion to shift and too much of a chance to slide into a wrong gear. But the sequential always worked well when I had the full Logitech gear, but now, with my Fanatec, I can't get the locked forward/reverse to register in rF2. Then I thought I would use it with RBR as a hand brake, but it either started at 50% causing huge drag under power, or if I tried holding it in place and releasing for brake, That didn't work either....oh well.
 
Premium
As he has a Fanatec wheelbase, how does it stack up to Fanatec's own offering that can be switched between H-pattern & Seq.?

just curious
No idea, I don't have any Fanatec gear. I know a lot of people that love the SHH shifter and it seems to be a great deal for the price for most people. Perhaps someone with Fanatec gear will chime in soon enough!
 
im pretty sure you still have to Heel-Toe when downshifting with it though, as your revs still need to climb with it.
Formula 1 doesn't do it because their manual sequential is electro-mechanic or electro-pneumatic, that's why their gears are so quick, they cant heel-toe to avoid engine shock.
 
Managed to get sequential shifting to work on my trusted old G27 by taking a G25 shifter and combining it's top half (including the metal slider plate in slightly modified form, and G25 circuit board) with the G27 shifters' lower half. Logitech got too greedy to offer it at the time. Good fun driving the Formula Abarth or 911 GT1 like that.
 
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Part of the immersion for me is to match the simulated car's transmission. Paddles and controlled shifting with left-foot braking are fun on modern cars, a sequential for a car that's configured correctly (requiring throttle lift to shift) is great, and I thoroughly enjoy H-pattern and heel-toe on older cars, especially old and vintage formula cars. The left foot only operates the clutch, as the right foot manages braking and throttle, mostly at the same time. I like the diversity, and the different skills I've mastered to use each one.

Most wheels come with paddles of course, and over the past few years, I've used the Logitech shifter, a janky plastic Fanatec shifter (it snapped in two), the Thrustmaster TH8a, and now the robust Fanatec SQ1.5. Of what I've used so far, the Fanatec SQ1 has a satisfying "clunk" that almost feels real. It's also nice to move a slider, and instantly switch to Sequential mode. Unfortunately, to recommend the Fanatec SQ1, I have to inform you that at some point, it might need to be repaired to shift correctly--as I had to repair mine just a few months after getting it new (I no longer buy Fanatec products--bad history).
 
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What cars do need the clutch pressed on downshifts? I have seen some old GT1 races with cars that feature sequential sticks for the shifting and the drivers have to press the clutch on dowshifts and also use the heel-toe technique.

Example:
 
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What cars do need the clutch pressed on downshifts? I have seen some old GT1 races with cars that feature sequential sticks for the shifting and the drivers have to press the clutch on dowshifts and also use the heel-toe technique.

Example:
I remember following small national rally series in mid 90ies, everyone using heel&toe nomatter traditional H-pattern or Seq. stick. It was all about precisioning braking.
Myself, well think it's into my spine using heel&toe for seq. stick. Now I was lucky last night to get a couple of R3E sprint races in DTM92s, just using my standard seq.stick mapping, and just mid rounds hit me that heel&toe I did unconsiously. When I began to think about it, it weirdly of a sudden became quirky for me. Think it is the same if someone told you how to walk and that you should think about every body movement for every step.
Without thinking about it, I feel the most control into sticky corners using heel&toe even with seq.stick.
 
SHH shifters are an excellent alternative Dave, you can rotate the handle 90 degrees to go from H-pattern to sequential, and flick a switch on the side. It registers different buttons then in your operating system so you can keep them assigned in different ways too!
Yeah i also own an SHH shifter, the first one he produced and it's still working flawlessly. H-Pattern and Seq in one Shifter with the twist of the handle and a flick of a switch is unbeatable. I don't have to take my VR headset to switch from H-pattern to sequential.

As he has a Fanatec wheelbase, how does it stack up to Fanatec's own offering that can be switched between H-pattern & Seq.?

just curious
Price and different materials. The SHH is cheap compared to the rest and its a standard joystick usb device. It doesn't even require a driver.
 
Premium
the first one he produced and it's still working flawlessly.
that's cool! I had a small issue and got picture with how to rectify it myself or the offer to send it back so that they could! Honestly it was a minor thing but I was very impressed with the service! Nice to hear the first production model is still operational, how long have you had it?
 
Nice article. I personally enjoy replicating motorsport in detail, and of course, replicating shifting method is one of the interesting parts of this hobby.

One thing I missed in this article is mention of lift to shift. I am not a car mechanic nor I have access to real racing cars, but one interesting aspect of manual sequential shift is lift to shift. From my research, not all cars have electronic lift aid, so in order to shift, especially downshift, driver has to lift off throttle to ruduce torque on the gearbox (or clutch, not sure exactly on mechanical side of things). Otherwise, the shift won't happen. This behavior is implemented in iRacing Skip Barber and also seen videos of driver footwork that looks like they lift off throttle in order to change gear sequentially (although I might have confused this with blipping described above). Would be interesting to hear better explanation from people "in the know".
 
Price and different materials. The SHH is cheap compared to the rest and its a standard joystick usb device. It doesn't even require a driver.

Cool, was just curious. Been too long since I watched a SSH review.

I happen to own the SQ 1.5. For the foreseeable future it's all I need/can afford.
 
Yeah i also own an SHH shifter, the first one he produced and it's still working flawlessly. H-Pattern and Seq in one Shifter with the twist of the handle and a flick of a switch is unbeatable. I don't have to take my VR headset to switch from H-pattern to sequential.


Price and different materials. The SHH is cheap compared to the rest and its a standard joystick usb device. It doesn't even require a driver.
My own standard (flexible) simrig consists of 2 x T8HA, the one being permanently used H-stick, the other quite easily with Allen key switched between seq. stick and handbrake with variable (analogue) input. Works excellent in VR together with left hand simple classic button box and my T300RS-GT wheel and my either G27, T-LCM or T3PA GT Pro pedals.
 
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that's cool! I had a small issue and got picture with how to rectify it myself or the offer to send it back so that they could! Honestly it was a minor thing but I was very impressed with the service! Nice to hear the first production model is still operational, how long have you had it?
Since summer of 2015 :) one of the best equipment purchases i've ever did in terms of value for money.
 

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