Left Foot Braking
Published: May 1, 2013; updated: May 10, 2014
What Is Left Foot Braking
Left foot braking is, as the name suggests, pressing the brake pedal with your left foot.
Most drivers nowadays are taught to brake with the right foot. In an automatic car, the left foot is never used for controlling the car. In a manual car, the left foot operates the clutch.
Why are drivers taught to brake with the right foot in automatic cars? Part of the reason is probably consistency in the event a driver does drive a manual car, then or in the future. Another reason is tradition - braking with the right foot is what was always taught. Last but not least, I would guess that more people press the clutch by mistake with the left foot instead of the brake rather than press gas with the right foot instead of the brake. I know I pressed clutch instead of brake at least once, and it is not a pleasant feeling when a turn is rapidly approaching!
A competent driver should generally hit the desired pedal all of the time when braking with the right foot. But, braking with the left foot offers a number of benefits that are worth retraining yourself for.
Why Left Foot Brake
On a road course, braking with the left foot has two principal advantages:
- Left foot braking reduces time spent coasting.
- Left foot braking permits finer control of braking, in particular:
- Getting on the brakes later;
- Braking harder generally;
- Braking harder in transitions;
- More readily accessible trailbraking.
The first benefit is easier to explain, the second one is arguably more important in HPDE context when the focus is on driving technique rather than lap time, and in a competition environment (time trials or wheel to wheel racing) both are crucial.
It takes time to move your foot from the gas pedal to the brake pedal. While your foot is moving, the car is coasting.
More experienced drivers move their feet quicker, but the delay remains.
While this coasting period seems short, looking at data can easily demonstrate that time is indeed being lost there. When a driver is at a level where tenths of a second matter, losing tenths to coasting is a problem.
The most important, and most fun, reason for left foot braking is additional control it provides with respect to when the braking begins and when it ends.
Moving your foot from one pedal to another not only takes time, it also creates the possibility of making a mistake. As you certainly do not want to miss the brake pedal at triple digit speeds, you are probably a little careful with how you move your right foot on the brake pedal. The result is an even longer time spent coasting, especially for "high stakes" corners (high speed braking zones or ones with walls nearby).
With left foot braking, the driver can preposition their left foot over the brake pedal. Brake application thus becomes more instantaneous and much more precise. When you are ready to brake, your left foot presses down and that's it, as opposed to your brain carefully figuring out where the brake pedal is.
The result is that you should be able to get on the brakes later as far as track position is concerned but sooner from when you decide to apply the brakes. You are also able to apply more brake pressure earlier due to increased confidence of hitting the right pedal.
Where left foot braking really shines is in transition corners, where braking and turning must be combined or overlapped in some fashion. Examples of such corners are VIR turn 3 and Summit Point Main turns 3 and 10.
With left foot braking drivers are not only faster through these turns, they report being more confident as well and find these corners easier to drive1.
Throttle And Brake Overlapping
Left foot braking permits overlapping acceleration and braking. While with right foot braking there is necessarily a coasting period, however small, with practice left foot braking can eliminate coasting completely. This not only makes the car faster, it also permits finer adjustments to where the weight is in the car. For example, tapping the brakes for a fraction of a second to move the weight forward for better turn-in grip without giving up much speed In extreme cases the driver may apply left foot braking while remaining partially or even fully on throttle.
Left foot braking makes a big difference in trailbraking. As trailbraking is essentially finely controlled brake release, having a foot dedicated to braking for as long as necessary makes trailbraking easier and more accurate.
Practice left foot braking on the street. If you have an automatic car, brake with your left foot all the time. If you have a manual car, start braking with your left foot and when you approach a shift point switch to the right foot.
You initially may be quite abrupt as your left foot is trained to be much closer to an on/off switch for the clutch pedal. With practice, you will be able to modulate the brake pedal with equal precision with either foot. I also have had students who picked up left foot braking in a single session.
On Track - Clutchless Cars
In cars without a clutch pedal, you should be braking with your left foot the entire time. There are two pedals in the car and you have two feet. Each foot should be permanently assigned to one of the pedals.
On Track - Manual Cars
When you are comfortable enough in your foot placement to hit the right pedal, start using left foot braking in corners where you do not change gears. As with street driving, you initially may be abrupt and overbraking the car, but with some practice time you will gain smoothness and you will be wondering why you did not learn left foot braking sooner.
The next milestone is trailbraking with the left foot. Brake normally and downshift, then move your left foot from the clutch pedal to the brake pedal to finish braking as you are turning in.
Finally, work on reducing the time it takes to move your left foot from the clutch pedal to the brake pedal. The goal is to brake with your right foot, downshift and switch to left foot braking while maintaining constant brake pedal pressure.
My own experience and that of students I instructed at these tracks. ↩