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

Interesting reading on this short racing era in which different kinds of driving and techniques had to match different technological needs, before electronics and computers definitely took most of the driving job on their own.
 
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