You may think shifting is a no-brainer function, but in a sport where the difference of winning may be 1/100th of a second, every detail counts. In this discussion we point out how to acheive smooth, quick shifts that are easy on the hardware. We're assuming the use of a typical H-box shifter in a street car for this.
Many people fall into two bad habits on the street when shifting. First, Hollywood has taught everyone that it looks cool to always leave your right hand on the shift knob. Wrong! You may as well tie your hand behind your back as leave it on the shift knob. Your hand belongs on the steering wheel--always. When you need to shift--shift, and get your hand back on the wheel. Don't even rest it on the shifter for a few seconds a head of time to "get ready." Every time your hand leaves the steering wheel you've given up 50% of the tactile feedback you have from your hands, and 50% of your capability to control the car. If you're racing with other cars around you, you never know when you may get tapped. Even when racing alone, mechanical failure may cause handling trouble. You'll want both hands on the wheel when that happens.
The second bad habit some people have is shifting with excessive force. Too tight a grip, and slamming from one gear to another will actually slow your shifting down, and cause excessive mechanical wear. Proper shifting uses an open palm grip on the top of the shift knob, and a gentle but fast guide from one gear to another. We repeat---all shifting is properly done with the hand open and cupped over the top of the knob, not wrapped around it like a fighter plane control stick.
To shift from the top of the H to the bottom, start by forming a cup with your palm and fingers. Place the palm of the hand over the top of the shift knob. Using the underside of your fingers and your palm against the knob, use a smooth straight-line motion to guide the lever to the next gear. Assuming the shift lever has a fairly short travel, the action involves your wrist for the majority of the movement. Do not attempt to slam it or force it faster than it wants to go. If you are locking your wrist and moving your whole arm at the shoulder, you are using too much force.
To shift from the bottom of the H to the top, again start by forming a cup with your palm and fingers. This time when you place the hand over the shift knob, the emphasis of contact is on the heel of the palm. Start with the wrist slightly bent up. Push the lever using the palm heel in a straight line using your wrist to extend the position of the palm heel while following through with a gentle push of the arm. This shift is more arm motion than wrist.
When shifting across the H such as between 2nd and 3rd gears, do not try to make a conscious jog in your hand movements. The linkage needs very little input to make the diagonal path across neutral. Your shift should almost look like a straight diagonal line. Making a distinctive zig zag through neutral is strong-arming the shifter and will slow the shift down.
Using smooth, soft control of the lever does not imply doing it slowly. A gentle force of the lever will allow the shift linkage to move freely through its natural motions. If you strong-arm the motion you will end up forcing the linkage through lines that have more resistance. This will slow the shifting down. Use as much wrist movement as possible in place of moving the whole arm.
Some of you may be tempted to learn the techniques of "speed shifting"--shifting without using the clutch--in the interest of saving time. Many schools and professional racers have shown over and over that there is no speed or lap time advantage to this, and it carries a much higher risk of gear box damage.