POLL: The heel-and-toe in Supercars

Todd Hazelwood downshifts at The Bend in 2020 Picture: Fox Sports

In this week’s Pirtek Poll, we ask you about another big issue to come out of the recent Gen3 tender document, namely the future of the heel-and-toe in Supercars.

Assisted shift is referred to in that tender as one of the “Specific features of the intended engine”, with the document going on to state that, “At this stage, an E-shift system is likely.”

If that does indeed come to pass, it would spell the end of the heel-and-toe given that the throttle blip would be automated upon downshift.

That raises the question: should the heel-and-toe continue to be part of Supercars in the Gen3 era or not?

Paul Morris, who won the Bathurst 1000 in 2014 and is nowadays well-known as a driver coach, has declared that moving to assisted shift would be “dumb”, given it would make a particular skill of driving a Supercar obsolete.

However, having full autonomy over the gearbox is not only an extra challenge in itself.

As Morris demonstrates in this video, it also gives the very best drivers a chance to manipulate clutch release in such a way that they can enhance turning, and helps to promote passing.

It is an ironic twist on the debate given the significant reduction in downforce which is a key aim of the Gen3 project could be inferred as an admission that passing has become an issue in Supercars.

Of course, one could also argue that removing that passing tool is not as big an issue if the disturbance created by the aerodynamic wake of a Supercar is materially improved by Gen3.

A dramatic drop in cost is another goal of Gen3, as evidenced by a push to bring the spec into Super2 immediately due to the anticipated expense of a second-hand Gen2 car.

Depending on how much control is taken away from the drivers, gear changes could be one area where cost savings are achieved, by protecting componentry.

Notably, the concept of assisted shift arises at a time when the category is looking to move towards more road car-oriented engines, which is one of the key planks of Gen3 financials.

Furthermore, without the need to heel-and-toe, Supercars could also become more attractive to foreign drivers who may not have grown up with such cars.

Max Verstappen, for example, did not even know what the technique was when fellow Red Bull driver Shane van Gisbergen showed the Dutchman his Triple Eight Commodore at the Australian Grand Prix in 2017.

By widening the market for drivers, there is not only scope for exciting new additions to the championship, but teams could further rein in costs due to the forces of supply and demand.

On the other hand, that a Supercar is still somewhat raw, and something of a unique race car, is what makes it special to some.

One driver, who did not wish to be named, told Speedcafe.com, “I think heel-toeing is something that is very unique around the world these days.

“Overseas, a lot of only really old school drivers remember those days, but I think it makes it pretty cool here when you see onboard foot pedal shots and stuff like that; it’s a very unique thing to learn.”

Indeed, Supercars’ own television unit makes a point of regularly aiming an onboard camera at the footwell of a car, and social media comments show just how much that spectacle is appreciated by some fans.

The championship is, of course, an entertainment product, and the days of large-scale manufacturer support appear over.

A move to paddle shift and assisted shift, neither of which necessitates the other even if the two often coincide, could be viewed as promoting the ‘relevance’ of a category which is attempting to broaden its appeal to a younger fan base that has grown up in a time when H-pattern road cars are rare.

It would be pertinent to note that most of the roadgoing variants of the two cars which are set to underpin Gen3, namely the Chevrolet Camaro (in its home market) and Ford Mustang, are sold with a manual as standard, although some of those also feature rev-matching anyway.

Representatives of Supercars have thus far declined to comment on their exact intentions regarding the questions raised by the electronics tender, although it is understood that at least push to pass is merely under trial rather than being a likely addition.

However, with the future of Supercars being shaped now, we want to know what you think.

Do you want to see drivers still having to heel-and-toe when Gen3 is introduced or not? Cast your vote in this week’s Pirtek Poll.

Pirtek Poll

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