By Steve Ulfelder
In part 1 of this post, I discussed heel-toe downshifting and hinted that I found it overrated. I figured this might tick off a few people, and Simon called me a Philistine, so job done!
Hang on to your hat, Simon (and other purists), because now it’s time for me to explain why I would welcome an automatic transmission not only in my street wheels – but in my race car (gasp).
It all comes down, really, to the point of racing: finishing ahead of the other guy by passing and/or going faster (these are very different things, a point I may address in a future post). I’ll focus on going faster.
I’ll also add a caveat. When I say I’d welcome an automatic tranny, I mean that as a theoretical statement, not a real-world choice to be made right now. I don’t think Honda makes an automatic for my car (an S2000). Even if they did, and if it were legal for me to install such a transmission (it’s not, under Sports Car Club of America regulations), I wouldn’t do so tomorrow.
Why? Because for now, manual trannies perform better. They do so by letting the driver decide which gear to be in, thus keeping the car’s engine in the desirable part of its power band.
Now here’s the important thing: Manual transmissions will not always perform better. Just as anti-lock braking systems were once inferior to old-school threshold braking but are now better, so too will slushboxes evolve. Sometime in the next five, 10 or 15 years (I’m betting on the lower number), auto manufacturers will routinely turn out automatic transmissions smart enough, and robust enough, even for racing purposes.
When they do, I and most of the racers I know will use them. We consider every shift (of which I make 14 per lap at Watkins Glen!) an opportunity to make a mistake. And if there’s one thing a race driver loves, it’s a mistake unmade.
So there’s the perspective of one amateur racer. What about you? Agree? Disagree? Is the three-pedal shifting system a fundamental part of driving pleasure, or is it an anachronism we’re set to evolve past?