Easier Manual Gears: Block Downshifts

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As modern race cars use automatic clutches and paddles on the steering wheel to change gears, the clutch pedal is slowly being phased out from many sim racing rigs. Even less have an H-shifter, and as a result, racing with a manual transmission is becoming a lost art. Most who try initially struggle on downshifts - but there is a technique that makes them a bit easier if you are trying to learn "driving stick": Block shifting.

Going up through the gears is relatively easy, even with a manual transmission on board of your virtual race car: Simply press the clutch and let off the throttle, simultaneously move the gear lever, then release the clutch and get back on the throttle pedal. Just like that, the next gear is engaged. Of course, this needs a bit of practice regarding coordination and timing, but it is rather straight foward.

Two Feet for Three Pedals​

It is not quite as easy the other way around, as downshifts take place in braking zones. Remember the two pedals you used for upshifts? Now you need to add the brake pedal to that - and with most of us only possessing two feet, improvising to operate all three pedals is a necessity. The technique to apply here is usually referred to as heel and toe, meaning you engage the clutch with your left foot while braking with your right (i.e. your toes), slightly pushing on the throttle when changing gears with your heel to match revs to the engine speed.

Once this technique does not cause you to slam straight into the closest wall because of coordination of movement needed, driving older race cars becomes a much more engaging activity. The good thing about this: Most racing vehicles from the days of manual transmission have rather long braking distances, and gearboxes usually only had four or five gears, giving racers enough time to downshift smoothly before corners.

Frantic Braking Zones​

Enter the late 1980s and early 1990s: As brakes became more efficient and gearboxes expanded to six and sometimes even seven gears, downshifts became much more frantic, especially in lightweight Formula cars. There is barely enough time to go down through the gears by the time you need to turn into the corner - unless you use block shifts.

While nowadays paddle-shift operated sequential gearboxes need to shift gears one after another, manual transmissions have no such constraint. This means that it is possible to go up or down multiple gears at once, which can come in very handy in situations like the one mentioned above.

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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

I have not done manual shifting in sim racing. I grew up with manual cars and was fine with them when they were the dominant technology. Once automatic, then "shift by wire" came in, I was fine with the transition away from manual. Manual on a race track, fun. Manual on a ramp of a parking garage, not so much.

The one thing I did take away from driving manuals was that enabled me to steal any type of car if necessary. :whistling:
 
Premium
Piero Taruffi, in his 1959 classic The Technique of Motor Racing, advises block shifting only "in very rare cases" ... normally, he recommends "going through all the gears" (p.39). Essentially, Taruffi indirectly admits that block shifting would have its advantages, but only in the hands of an expert race driver. No doubt, his advice was sensible at the time, as mechanical retirements were much more common in the past, and the general level of driving skill across the grid was much more variable than today. Within a sim, there is no excuse for not becoming proficient in all styles of driving given the right equipment.
 
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Premium
I wish games tracked the type of shifting when recording records and conducting races. I enjoy the challenge of manual clutch for cars that used them IRL. It's just frustrating to know that record boards were probably set with mostly auto clutch and paddle shifters.
 
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The biggest issue is that most H-pattern gearboxes in racing are dogboxes, W
Without synchros. You only need to lift the throttle for upshifts or downshifts. Downshifts in such a gearbox when not using the clutch are quite easy though unpleasant. And I speak from experience, as I have a dogbox in my Time Attack car. Yet in most sims it's as if all race cars have regular manual gearboxes which force you to fully press the clutch when changing gear. And if you don't do this, a gear won't be engaged. Dirt Rally 2.0 is especially terrible in this regard.
 
I wish games tracked the type of shifting when recording records and conducting races. I enjoy the challenge of manual clutch for cars that used them IRL. It's just frustrating to know that record boards were probably set with mostly auto clutch and paddle shifters.
I've been using H-pattern with heel and toe since the release of GT Legends in 2005, first with my G25 shifter and now with a homemade shifter based on Thrustmaster TH8A parts.

I only drive in RaceRoom right now and I've been using block downshifts with most of the classic cars since I began in this sim 5 years ago. I can tell you that all of my laptimes, in the leaderboards or hotlap competitions, are made with H-pattern shifting, heel and toe and block downshifts.

In the BMW M3 DTM 1992 @ Nogaro video, you can notice I downshift from 6th to 4th and to 2nd at the end of the straight. In the Nissan R90CK @ Red Bull Ring video, you can see downshifts from 5th to 3rd to 1st gear for the Remus hairpin. I sometimes use 5th to 2nd downshifts (turn 1 at the Nürburgring for example) and I even tried 5th to 1st gear at the Norisring with the Nissan GTR R32 but it's really tricky. ;)

So it's a very useful method which needs some practice to be mastered.


 
Premium
I've been using H-pattern with heel and toe since the release of GT Legends in 2005, first with my G25 shifter and now with a homemade shifter based on Thrustmaster TH8A parts.

I only drive in RaceRoom right now and I've been using block downshifts with most of the classic cars since I began in this sim 5 years ago. I can tell you that all of my laptimes, in the leaderboards or hotlap competitions, are made with H-pattern shifting, heel and toe and block downshifts.

In the BMW M3 DTM 1992 @ Nogaro video, you can notice I downshift from 6th to 4th and to 2nd at the end of the straight. In the Nissan R90CK @ Red Bull Ring video, you can see downshifts from 5th to 3rd to 1st gear for the Remus hairpin. I sometimes use 5th to 2nd downshifts (turn 1 at the Nürburgring for example) and I even tried 5th to 1st gear at the Norisring with the Nissan GTR R32 but it's really tricky. ;)

So it's a very useful method which needs some practice to be mastered.


Yes, however for most people with limited time to sim race, they will be faster with auto clutch and paddle shifters.
 
OK so nice with articles reminding of good, old habits that might just be taken as granted for old crazy balls like me, on how to throw the anchor.

Unfortunately, we probably have just about a decade to go before a new generation will wonder what size 'a gear shift' is, so another reason to love classic racing and vintage simracing.

Taking use of H-shifter and clutch delivers so many more pleasures and extra dimensions, an RD article called it art.

On more occasions for more effective downshift/trailbraking or just quick feeding in in proper rights or other situations, and sometimes personally simply just as a joy, often used IRL just cruising round (though most present day gear boxes you have to be careful with or simply prevent from doing it, so get an old one here).

Edit: Now I think about it I do "block shifting" (never heard the term before) on almost a daily basis in the family car. It's funny cause I think I took up this old habit again when I finally got a clutch-brake-gas pedal system for my simracing, just few months after GTR2 release, and couldn't resist doing this in my own private car by then. And now doing it unconsciously.

In the same breath 'double clutching' could be included, speaking oldfashioned use of clutch-brake-gas pedals, and this as a racing technique - learned myself as a necessary technique in vehicles requiring this. And no, I'm not implying truck gear shifting, but some old vintage cars of which my granddad teased me to try in his backyard, years before my drivers licens.

And then later as part of a racing technique for circumstances as e.g. fuel saving, engine saving for endurance and so on. Remember been using it quite often racing endurance events in GTR2 and rF1 in classic and vintage sports cars. And do it quite often for the time being racing an AC season with the lovely Bizzarrini 5300 GT (yes, though only 4 gears, block downshifts can be taken into use with both more effectivenes and not at least the greatest joy :inlove:)

For me, classic virtues of heel & toe, block downshift braking and double clutch tecniques are a big part of my enjoyment within this hobby, virtually as well in real life, the latter becoming left out as an option as time goes by, to my full regret and grief.
 
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I've never known of this technique, thank you for sharing! Can't wait to try this out, although it will definitely take me some time to get used to it.
 
Yes, it seems so. But he still has to do heel & toe.
Which I find extremely difficult to do in socks !
That's one of the main reasons I've started to put shoes on to simrace :D

For those who aren't familiar with this technique, just learn from a master :


You can also see Senna's tapping technique while cornering to keep the engine revs as high as possible to get maximum power when accelerating at the corner's exit ; useful with cars with slow acceleration at low revs, with long gears, with turbo lag... A technique from karting.

As seen on the video, Senna doesn't use the heel but the side of his right foot which allows better control of the brake pedal. The wide angle of the camera makes the gas and brake pedals far from each other, but the pedals are close in reality (Senna wasn't a giant). You understand now why having a pedals set with adjustable pedals position and size is a useful feature. With my G29 pedals, I have to turn my feet and apply gas with my heel as the gas and brake pedals are (too) far from each other.

Shoes are necessary to become efficient with this technique as you only use some parts of your foot and have less weight to put into your pedals inputs. Well, it depends on the stiffness of your pedals (and the size of your right foot!).

When I got my first H shifter, I had to learn how to drive these old cars (before I used to simrace with old cars with automatic clutch and paddles) and I must say that it was much funnier than I thought it would be. After the technique becomes more natural, there's really some dancing on the pedals going on, switching between left foot braking, heel and toe, clutch inputs...

In fast cars, Formula 1, Prototypes C, it becomes necessary to skip gears while braking. I started to do it naturally, because it was impossible for me to go through all gears, but I thought I was using some exploit in the sims. I then wanted to see how they could do it in real life and found they were just skipping gears too lol. I felt much better.

I can't imagine using only modern cars right now, most of my time in simracing is spent on older cars.
 
Shoes are necessary to become efficient with this technique as you only use some parts of your foot and have less weight to put into your pedals inputs. Well, it depends on the stiffness of your pedals (and the size of your right foot!).
I use OMP KS3 shoes for these reasons. My Heusinkveld Pro brake pedal is very stiff and couldn't be used with socks.
ic826_ks3_black_white_1.jpg
 
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I do heel and toe in sims. Took me a while to (kinda) master it. I do jump gears ocasionally depending on the situation. So, yes, it's a technique that helps. But it is very engaging and rewarding once you get it.

Tried it in my real cars, too. But always fail. The spacing of the pedals is just wrong in normal cars. Addional with g-forces coming into play, in real life it becomes a different animal.
 
The biggest issue is that most H-pattern gearboxes in racing are dogboxes, W
Without synchros. You only need to lift the throttle for upshifts or downshifts. Downshifts in such a gearbox when not using the clutch are quite easy though unpleasant. And I speak from experience, as I have a dogbox in my Time Attack car. Yet in most sims it's as if all race cars have regular manual gearboxes which force you to fully press the clutch when changing gear. And if you don't do this, a gear won't be engaged. Dirt Rally 2.0 is especially terrible in this regard.
First I want to say something about "heel-toe": I had to learn to heel-toe with my first car, a 78 Honda Civic wagon with a four-speed. The synchro was out on it so I had to learn to be able to shift smoothly. I never used my heel. I used half of my foot to brake and would roll the foot, using the side of the brake pedal as a fulcrum point, and blip the throttle with the other half of my foot. I still use this technique today (Yes, I do indeed buy manual transmission cars, and drive them 150 miles a day in SoCal traffic to and from work) and the only time it did not work was when I was driving manual-shift fire engines as the pedals were not set up for it.

Second: I agree with the above. Most race cars had dog-boxes and all you had to do was use the clutch to shift up and blip the throttle when you shifted down. Block shifting required heel-toe but that was only because you were skipping the intermediate gears. In sims you can figure out which cars are dog-boxes by trying to downshift them by blipping the throttle on the downshift. If it works you have a dog box.

iRacing's Nissan GTP-ZX has a dog box and it does not even require you to lift the throttle when upshifting, you speed shift. Downshifting only requires blipping the throttle. You just have to be careful you do not blow the tranny downshifting into the wrong gear. Conversely, the Audi GTO requires full use of the clutch when upshifting and downshifting. When the car was raced IRL, Audi brought in Walter Rohrl to teach Hans Stuck and Hurley Haywood how to shift the car while keeping the revs up in order to avoid turbo lag.
 
First I want to say something about "heel-toe": I had to learn to heel-toe with my first car, a 78 Honda Civic wagon with a four-speed. The synchro was out on it so I had to learn to be able to shift smoothly. I never used my heel. I used half of my foot to brake and would roll the foot, using the side of the brake pedal as a fulcrum point, and blip the throttle with the other half of my foot.
But even if we don't use the heel, this technique is called "heel and toe". :D
 
This is one of the joys of sim racing for me. I use it as practice for when I race my Caterham. We certainly wouldn't want to block change, multiple heel and toe down the gears.

Even better when you have a car with a sequential on slicks that needs to be blipped down. Going from 6th to 2nd in a sequential with heel and toe in real life is so much fun and very rewarding. especially at the start of braking when you need 2 per second to keep up with deceleration.
 

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