Braking and Changing Gear in the Skippy

Ian Bevan collected a lot of advices and recommendations about how to brake and changing gear. These are mainly related to Skip Barber Formula, but some of them are also applicable to many different cars.

Changing Gear Q&A

Is the clutch required to change gear?
No. You can change up and down without the clutch. You will, however, want to use the clutch at the start of a race to get off the grid at a decent speed. This is taken from the New Driver Guide:

Starts: Here’s what I do. At the gray lights, I change to first gear. Make sure you keep your finger or foot on the clutch, or you’ll go forward and get black-flagged! On red lights I push the accelerator all the way down, revving the hell out of it And on green I simply dump the clutch and take off.

What is a ‘missed shift’?
Failing to change to the gear you wanted. It can happen for a number of reasons – I’ll get to that below. (Cars with an h-pattern shifter can be left in neutral after a missed shift, but the Skippy has a sequential shifter so the worst that can happen is you are left in the same gear. iRacing won’t let you use an h-patten shifter with the Skippy.)

What are the different ways of changing gear?
Changing Up

  • Auto-clutch/auto-blip, by selecting the gear with your gear lever or paddle. You cannot miss a shift with auto-clutch
  • Manual clutch (either pedal or button) by depressing the clutch, changing gear and releasing the clutch.
  • Preloading – a.k.a preselecting – using a manual clutch (either pedal or button). You hold down the paddle or shifter, then touch and release the clutch.
  • Clutchless with lift. This means you lift off the accelerator briefly, change gear, and then get back on the gas again. You can miss a shift if the car is not at sufficient revs, you get the timing wrong, or don’t lift off enough.
  • Clutchless, by bouncing off the limiter. If you hold the gear change lever/button, the car will usually change gear when it reaches the rev limiter. This changed in the season 1 2013 build, prior to which shifting off the limiter was both reliable and as fast as other methods of shifting. However it is now slower and not completely reliable.

Changing Down
No matter how you change gear, on certain corners you may need to either throttle-brake or blip to stabilise the car under heavy braking. These techniques are explained later.

  • Auto-clutch/auto-blip. If the engine revs for the new gear would be too high, you will miss a shift and the car will remain in the current gear.
  • Manual clutch. You can miss a shift if you get the timing wrong. If the engine revs for the new gear are too high, you will blow your engine up.
  • Clutchless. Simply engage the new gear with the paddle or lever. You may need to lift off the gas too. If the new gear engine revs would be too high, you will miss a shift and the car will remain in the current gear.

What is Auto-Clutch?
As it sounds, when you try and change gear the sim automagically engages the clutch for you. It’s a driver aid, you turn it on in the Options menu.

What is Auto-Blip?
In addition to automagically engaging the clutch for you, Auto-Blip blips the engine on downshifts too (blipping is described below).
If you have AutoBlip on, then you also have AutoClutch on, even if it’s not obvious from the Options screen. You cannot use AutoBlip without AutoClutch.
Clutch Aid: None – no help with the clutch from the sim.
Clutch Aid: Auto-Clutch – automagically engage the clutch when you shift up or down
Clutch Aid: Auto-Blip – Auto-Clutch + automagically blip the throttle on downshifts

Is auto-clutch/auto-blip slow and if so, how much slower?
With the testing I have performed (see this post), yes it is slower. On a track that only uses gears 3,4 and 5, with a lap time of about 1:25, I was about 0.3 seconds slower using auto-clutch versus bouncing off the limiter. Auto-clutch is considered a driver aid, and there is a belief that iRacing deliberately adds a speed penalty for its use. This belief appears to be backed up both by driver experience and from telemetry data. Tracks with long straightaways following tight radius corners add the biggest penalty. You have the potential to improve your lap times by turning off auto clutch, how much time you could save depends upon the track.

What is blipping? Do I need to do it?
Blipping is used on down-shifts to match the engine revs of the current gear with the gear you are moving to. You do this by tapping the gas pedal as you engage the new gear and requires that you either left foot brake or heel-and-toe, which are both described below. In the real world blipping is used to perform smooth gear changes, reducing the stress on the transmission system and making the car more stable under heavy braking. From a “being kind to the transmission” point of view, blipping is not necessary in the Skippy in iRacing. You can use it to stabilise the car though, especially if you don’t use throttle braking. “Stablise the car” means keeping the car under control, a good balance between front and rear grip, and pointed in the right direction under braking – which is usually a straight line.

What is heel-and-toe?
If you are trying to blip the throttle and use a clutch pedal, you need to be able to press the clutch, brake and gas pedals all at the same time. Since your left foot is needed to depress the clutch, a technique called heel-and-toe allows you to use your right foot to press both the brake and gas pedals together. This Wikipedia article has an explanation and links to photos and videos.

This video shows somebody using their left foot for the clutch (and also sometimes for braking), and heel-and-toe (it’s not the Skippy but that doesn’t really matter):

What’s the fastest way to change up?
Clutchless lift-shifting is about the fastest, together with using a button clutch (using the clutch to upshift is not necessary though). Shifting off the limiter is now slower and unreliable. Autoclutch is also slower, made so deliberately by iRacing as it is considered a driver aid.

What revs should I change up?
Each gear has an optimal power range (or band). At the end of one gear’s range, you want to change up to the next gear. Opinions vary about the power band of the gears modelled in iracing. Testing seems to show that 6100-6200 revs is the right point to change gears, give or take a few RPM. However opinions vary and you should try different shift points yourself.

I can’t see my rev counter because of my FOV. What do I do?
Given enough time, you can start to tell what the right time to change is from the engine noise (pitch). But if you’re new, this is not helpful. Here’s a few suggestions, and there are more in the comments in this thread:

  • Install iSpeed and use your iPhone or iPod to display a rev counter. More information and a screenshot here.
  • Install iSpeed and overlay a rev counter on your screen. Setup instructions here (even though that’s for 3 screens, the instructions work for a single screen too).
  • Attach a real tachometer! Not nearly as hard as it sounds. Take a look here. Or, a light that comes on at whatever revs you set it for. Apparently blue is the colour to go for.
  • An application which runs on an Android device displaying a rev counter amongst other information. The main forum thread is here.
  • Gearsound by Peter Holt, preset an RPM and you hear a beep when this is hit, the same function as the McLaren drivers use in F1 to save looking at instruments.

What is short-shifting? Why would I do it?
Short shifting is changing up a gear before the engine has reached the revs where you would normally make that gear change. Typically you short shift when changing gear at the optimal revs would be difficult, for example when approaching the track-out point for a turn.

Apart from speed, are there any other reasons for using a particular way of changing gear?
Unless accelerating in a straight line, any method of up-shifting that uses the clutch will cause the car to momentarily understeer. This can be inconvenient and sometimes dangerous. Under these circumstances, either short shifting or lift-shifting are useful techniques.
If you want to use the gears to slow down, you will need to use the clutch to engage the lower gear, as clutchless down-shifting only works if the revs of the current and new gear are matched.

What is double clutching?
Double clutching is another form of matching gear speeds. Instead of shifting directly from one gear to another, you depress clutch, shift out of one gear into neutral, return the clutch, depress the clutch, shift into new gear, release clutch. It does not apply to cars that have a sequential transmission, such as the Skippy.

Macros – What is a macro? Is it cheating?
A macro is a way of having more than one input to iRacing from a single button press. In the context of this guide, it means having a button that depresses the clutch and changes gear at the optimum time. In theory it could be made to blip the throttle also. In many cars this results in a laptime advantage. There is no evidence that it provides an advantage over anything other than autoclutch in the Skippy though.
According to a poll on the forums, approximately 75% of those who voted considered macros to be cheating. For more information, see this article at Radicals Online.

What’s a button clutch? Is it cheating?
In iRacing, the clutch can be either a pedal or a button on your steering wheel (technically you could use a button on your keyboard too, but that doesn’t sound full of win…). A button clutch is simply what it sounds like; assigning the clutch to a button on your steering wheel in the iRacing setup screen.
Note that a button clutch is generally not considered a macro, as it is not ‘faking’ multiple driver inputs, it is simply an alternative to pressing the clutch pedal. Since some pedal sets do not have a clutch pedal, it is the only option for using a manual clutch that some drivers have.
Some people consider using a button clutch to be an unfair advantage, especially for those people who have a clutch pedal they could use. This is not a lap time advantage, but an advantage in ease of driving. Most people will find pressing a button to be easier than using heel-and-toe and a clutch pedal, and it’s much more difficult to miss a shift when using a button clutch.

Braking Q&A

What is trail braking and why should I use it?
It’s easing off the brake while turning in to a corner; decelerating while turning. The alternative is completing braking in a straight line as you approach the turn-in point. Trail braking has a number of advantages:

  • Braking moves weight forward, increasing the load on the front tyres and thereby increasing grip and reducing understeer. Trail braking can thus provide greater grip when turning in.
  • It can allow you to start braking a little later (“deeper”) into the corner
  • It eliminates ‘downtime’ during which you are neither braking nor accelerating, with the goal of shaving precious fractions of seconds off your lap time.
  • It attempts to keep the chassis under load in order to keep it stable on the limit of adhesion

Trail braking is not a straightforward subject and what I include here is a simplification. “Going Faster” has several pages describing how, why and when (and not) to use the technique. See the Further Reading section.

What is throttle braking and why should I use it?
It’s using both the throttle and brake at the same time. Applying 5-10% throttle under heavy braking will stabilise the car and can be used instead of blipping. It also stops the rear tyres from locking up. Under braking, weight moves forward, improving the grip at the front but reducing it at the back. Throttle braking moves the balance of the car back towards the rear tyres, thus improving their grip. By modulating how much throttle you use, you can change the balance of the car as if you had a dynamic Brake Balance setting.

In the Skippy, applying throttle and brake simultaneously is a technique commonly employed to keep the car pointed in the direction you want it to turn. Small changes to the gas and brake balance the car and enable small changes to the direction the car is traveling. This is often preferable to correcting with the steering wheel which can induce a spin, especially when the car is at its limit of grip.

What is threshold braking?
Braking at the maximum allowable force, meaning just below what would cause one or more tyres to lock up. Threshold braking is typically only desirable when rapidly decelerating before a slow (tight radius, or narrow) corner.


What is realistic – what can you do in the real world car?

  • Clutch The real world car has a clutch pedal, a sequential shifter and a dogbox transmission. You can perform clutchless upshifts as well as downshifts.
    When asked about clutch use in the real car, Andre Gomes said “[To downshift I was] using the clutch. On my second race it broke (air in the system) and I was 1.5secs a lap slower because I couldn’t downshift in time. For up shifting its just a quick lift. There is a way to left foot brake but my feet are an inch too wide for it. (I can get my foot over to the right but then its too tight to use both pedals) So right foot braking and toe/heeling to downshift.”
  • Bouncing off the Limiter According to this post, this technique works in the real world and is known to be used by Skip Barber instructors. However it is now slower than other methods of upshifting (S1/2013 build) and not recommended in iRacing.
  • Left Foot Braking It is technically possible to brake with your left foot, but difficult because of the position of the steering column.
  • Throttle Braking Throttle braking as described here is not a technique real world drivers would use. Apart from the physical difficulty in controlling both throttle and brake with one foot, it would be driving the car in a way in which it was not designed for, and probably cause overheating, especially of the brakes. Although use of the throttle and brake does occur, it’s for short periods during transition from brake to throttle when cornering.
  • Trail Braking This can be done and is recommended by Skip Barber.
  • Blipping, Heel and Toe Since you cannot use throttle braking to stabilise the car, and because you want to be nice to the transmission and not lock the rears, real world drivers often use heel and toe and blipping and this is what the Skip Barber Racing School teaches.

Myths – the True or False section

You have to left foot brake to be fast
False. Derek Potrykus is a fast driver who does not left foot brake.

It’s easier to be fast if you left foot brake
Probably true for most people.

Bouncing off the limiter loses lots of time
True. As of S1/2013, shifting off the limiter is slower and unreliable.

You can tell a driver is using an upshift macro on a youtube video
False. You can, however, tell if they are bouncing off the limiter or lift-shifting. There is an outside chance you could tell if they were using a clutch pedal instead of a button clutch, but you cannot differentiate between a button clutch and an upshift macro.

Faster gear changes mean lower lap times
Partially true. The speed at which you change down approaching a corner will not improve your lap times, provided you can change into the gear you need to exit the corner within the braking zone. However fast upshifts are important, as any time you are not fully on the gas the car is not accelerating as quickly as it could be, thus making you slower.

The main reason for changing down a gear is to slow the car for a corner
False.The main reason is to select the correct gear to enable you to accelerate out of the corner. Engine braking (downshifting slightly early) can be useful though, and in particular you can induce oversteer by engine braking which can help pull the car into or through a corner.

Recommendations for New Drivers

Caveat Emptor: This section is entirely my opinion. YMMV. I’m going to assume you want to reduce your lap times. So I’m going to keep this simple. Don’t use auto-clutch, and…

  • If you want real-world realism or if you are planning to go and drive a real world Skippy at some point, then use a sequential shifter, the clutch pedal, and heel-and-toe when down shifting. If you have a G27 and therefore no sequential shifter, you could use the rubber-band mod (edit: link fixed). Blip the throttle on downshifts, trail brake, but avoid throttle braking.
  • If you want to take the path of least resistance to being faster, then you’re probably best to learn to left foot brake (sorry Derek…!), use throttle braking and trail braking. Use lift-shift for upshifts. Downshift with or without the clutch as you prefer. Use a button clutch for those times when you need to short upshift or downshift early. There’s probably not much to choose between using paddles or a sequential shifter.

Further Reading

  • Going Faster, Mastering the Art of Race Driving, by the Skip Barber Racing School. Google Books and Amazon
  • Speed Secrets, Professional Race Driving Techniques Amazon link (available on Kindle too) and Google Books. This is the first of a collection of related books, follow the links on Amazon.

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