Left Foot Braking - Rules Are Made to Be Broken

Hello and welcome to driving school. This is your first day in the car and we shall start by familiarizing you with its controls. [...] The pedals: you will only use your left foot to operate the clutch, while your right foot will be used to operate the throttle and the brake. When you’re driving an automatic, you will rely solely on your right foot, with the other one having no interaction with the pedals.

Any of the aforementioned “rules” sound familiar? Of course, these are some of the typical instructions we received when learning the first steps behind the wheel of an automobile. However, as our driving personality grows up, we can learn that our left foot doesn’t need to be Cinderella-ized - it too can be educated and become just as important as its unidentical twin.

As you drive along through the corners, you might hear your left lower extremity mumbling something about “left foot braking” or LFB. Then, you’ll remember reading about this on the web and maybe hearing about it while taking part is what is commonly known as “man talk”.

So, why would you ignore your motoring childhood rules? What good does it do to use your left foot for slowing down a car? Well, the answer (mostly) lies in the question, as the brakes can do so much more than reducing a vehicle’s speed.

Mario Andretti, a bloke who probably knows a thing or two about manhandling a car, since his motorsport victories include races ranging from F1, NASCAR and IndyCar, once said an interesting thing about brakes: “It is amazing how many drivers, even on the Formula One level, think that the brakes are for slowing the car down.”

So, let’s get to the point: like most special driving techniques, left foot braking was born in motorsport, where it had multiple aims. These also offer benefits for road driving, but in most cases of everyday travel there is no need for such a maneuver.

However, when you find yourself in a difficult situation or, for whatever reason, you need to get from A to B incredibly fast (and, of course, safe), using this technique makes a difference - in some cases a world of a difference. This is the idea: the main benefit of using LFB is that you get more control. When you need it, the technique can also help you drive faster.

Yes, sorry about the bump. We forgot to mention: you’ll have to train your left foot in order for it to become sensible enough to operate the brake pedal without sending you face forward towards the steering wheel. Be sure to find non-public roads and practice it before you do it in traffic, as the sudden braking could also cause an accident, with the vehicle(s) behind you hitting your car.

First of all, we shall refer to Andretti’s words. The racing driver meant to say that the brakes can be used to increase the load on the front axle, which does allow you to correct a vehicle’s understeering tendencies.

The basics: once your car starts to understeer, apply a certain amount of braking force - not too much though - (and reduce the angle of the steering wheel a little bit, but this is another story). The front tires will have better grip and thus you will prevent the car from running so wide.

In addition to that, LFB can help you compensate for driving a front-wheel-drive car without a limited slip differential, as the braking reduces the inner wheel’s tendency to spin under power. This way, you will be able to put more power down and exit the bend faster. There are also certain kinds of Torsen front differentials that tolerate LFB.

The more complex application: You can use LFB for trail braking, which means that you can keep the brake pedal pressed while cornering as you switch from a certain amount of throttle (before the corner) to a smaller one (during the corner) and then back to “power on” mode again. This will help you keep the car’s balance (you will no longer transfer the weight in a violent way) and therefore be able to tackle the bend more efficiently.

It is now time to get to the niche benefits of LFB. We have to explain that this allows you to drive faster, an asset that it’s extremely valuable while (seriously) playing on a racetrack but not only.

If you use your left foot to apply the brakes, then you can do this at any given time without having to wait for the right foot divorce the throttle and marry the brake. Thus, you get a quicker reaction time, which not only makes you faster, but can also help you deal with a dangerous situation.

We have to mention that LFB is also useful for when you want to recover a car faster from oversteer, regardless of its type of drive (front-, rear- or all-). Let’s say that the back end has stepped out. Depending on the type of traction your vehicle has, you apply a certain amount of countersteer and throttle and, as the vehicle starts to recover point, you can apply the brakes to amplify the lateral movement and hurry things along. However, don't exaggerate with the brakes, as you'll upset the car's "balance". Of course, your right foot has to keep the throttle at a proper level, so you can only rely on your left one for doing this.

The last LFB use we are going to present only applies to cars with turbocharged engines, which need to be kept inside the ideal rev range in order to deliver proper performance. Thus, you need to constantly apply throttle in order to keep the revs from dropping too much during cornering.

By the way, for those of you who want to know what happens when you also have to take care of the clutch, the answer can be found here (The Heel and Toe part of the story).

Before we end the show, we strongly advise you to Try This At Home (as in Not on The Street): practice all the aforementioned maneuvers outside public roads until you perfectly master them before using them while driving in traffic or on a track. Why? It’s simple: not only do these moves need some time to enter your brain’s “circle of trust”, but they may also confuse you and bring unexpected reactions in situations that require an instant reaction from the driver.

We’ll quote Collin McRae as an epilogue: ”Just try it and see how it feels!”
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About the author: Andrei Tutu
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In his quest to bring you the most impressive automotive creations, Andrei relies on learning as a superpower. There's quite a bit of room in the garage that is this aficionado's heart, so factory-condition classics and widebody contraptions with turbos poking through the hood can peacefully coexist.
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