The learning process

Escort GhiaXE is for Ejector Seat

I am a firm believer in learning something new every day.  It keeps the mind alert and fresh, and is a constant lesson in humility, reminding me that there is always something I don’t know, eagerly awaiting discovery round the next bend.  Today I managed to exceed my quota, and learned two things, both of them car-related.

Firstly, I sat down in front of my laptop this morning and watched some YouTube clips over breakfast, finally learning what “heel and toe” means.  I’ve heard the phrase bandied around for some time, usually on Top Gear where they’re talking about the position of the pedals.  I’ve always assumed it meant that the pedals were close enough together for you to be able to quickly and easily switch between accelerator and brake by pivotting your foot on your heel.  Makes sense.  But no, apparently it’s more complex than that, and all to do with down-shifting.

It’s an advanced driving technique that you would only really find in use on racing tracks, which explains why it’s not the sort of thing my driving instructor was teaching me when I was 17.  The basic idea is that when you come to a corner you have to brake, and to be in the right gear for the exit you have to change down a gear or two before the corner.  When the revs are high, as they likely will be in racing conditions, there would be a lot of strain on the clutch if you were simply to change gear normally (i.e. like most road-dwelling drivers do), as the engine spinning at a slower rate than the transmission (once you’ve changed down a gear).  The clutch would be doing all the work in matching the two, speeding up the engine and at the same time acting as a brake to the car.  There are a number of reasons why that’s not a good idea: it’s not what the clutch is designed to cope with, it’s not the way the engine is designed to operate, and the braking effect will be uneven (unlike when using the brakes) which can really unsettle the balance of a car going into a corner.  The way to remedy that unwanted situation is to rev-match.

I already do a bit of rev matching when I change down a gear, just in normal driving, so that concept is fairly straightforward for me to understand.  While the clutch is still engaged I tap the accelerator, which momentarily raises the revs a bit, hopefully sufficiently enough that when you release the clutch the engine and the transmission will be going at the same speed, making for a quicker gear shift and putting very little strain on anything.  The complication (and the need for ‘heel and toe’) comes about in the neccessity to be braking at the same time.  In racing conditions, you’ll be braking hard for the corner, and at the very same time you’ll be changing down the gears, and most people just haven’t got enough feet to be on the clutch, the brake and the accelerator all at the same time.  And that’s where the ‘heel and toe’ technique comes in.

According to the videos I’ve seen and the accompanying descriptions, you push in the clutch with your left foot (as expected), brake with the toe of your right foot (again, as expected), and then dab the accelerator with the heel of your right foot.  Now, that requires a little bit of contorsion to get your foot into that position, and it’s a technique that’s apparently something that takes a lot of practice to master.  The end result is that you can be operating all three pedals with just two feet, saving time and engine parts along the way.

So, that’s the ‘heel and toe’ technique, in a nutshell.  I did hop into my car to see if I could have a go, but it turns out that my accelerator pedal is a centimetre or two further back than the brake pedal, making it nearly impossible to have my foot on both at the same time unless the brake pedal is down a long way.  Probably a good thing though, given the context – the technique is only really useful on racing tracks, so trying to master it on public roads would undoubtedly prove unsafe and have me parked in a hedge in no time.

I said there were two things I learned today.  The other was about my car’s driving seat.  It’s always been fairly high, and I’d never found a lever or knob to adjust it, so I guessed that was just the way the car was set up.  Turns out the seat is adjustable after all – electronically too.  I was reading reviews on the internet of my car from when it was new, and people were talking about what the difference is between the Escort Ghia and the Escort GhiaX.  Leather seats were optional, which explains why some people had them and I didn’t, but they all said that electronically controlled front seats were standard.  I just had to go out and see for myself – sure enough, next to the level that adjusts the backwards-forwards position of the seat are two little buttons that make the seat go up and down!  How I had missed them I still don’t know, especially because when I excitedly told Ellie she already knew they were there.

I was also encouraged to know that the engine on my Escort is actually pretty good.  It’s a Zetec engine, which makes it fairly fuel-efficient, but has a couple of sweet spots where the power kicks in.  I had already found one, sitting at around 3500 rpm, but apparently there’s another hiding up at 5500 rpm (or thereabouts).  So that meant that I had to find myself a nice open road to try out some hefty acceleration, just to find those two peaks.  Roaring along a country road in second is quite a thrill, especially when you’re finding power you didn’t know was there.  Because, let’s face it, the GhiaX isn’t designed to be a sports car, it’s meant to be a luxury model that’s quiet and comfortable.

So there we go, two things I learned today, both of them shamefully geeky.

3 thoughts on “The learning process

  1. I tried the heel and toe thing in my car (when the engine was turned off, of course). Virtually impossible to do – as in your car, the accelerator pedal is positioned well behind the brake pedal.

    But the number of times it would actually be useful for me are … well, limited!

    Interesting about the sweet spot with acceleration. I’ve only found one on my car – about 2500-3000 rpm (the turbo kicks in about then, apparently) – don’t think I get up to 5500 rpm very often so might be interesting to see what happens! 🙂

  2. Your engine will be very different to mine, not least because they’ve been designed by different manufacturers, so you’ll get very different characteristics in yours. If you’ve got a turbo then it’s unlikely that the engine will be set up to have another peak further up the rev range, simply because it won’t need it. Mine’s naturally aspirated (i.e. no turbo), so the Zetec engine management system tries to compensate by providing different levels of power depending on what you’re trying to do.

    But yes, not much use for it on the roads!

  3. “Rev matching” is what I have to do when driving a vintage bus with a “crash” gearbox. With no synchromesh, you have to dip the clutch twice, matching the engine revs to the transmission speed in between. That applies when changing up and down. Quite stressful when climbing a hill and changing up, due to the huge amount of inertia in a Gardner diesel engine. Some say that it goes from full revs to idling in just under a fortnight!

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