IGuides & Insights & Simulation

The Lost Art of the H-Shifter

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Recreating the feel of a real race car is the core principle of SimRacing, and the advancements in equipment reflect this with each new piece that is released: Better force feedback, racing-grade pedals – but as modern race cars usually do not have manual shifters anymore, lots of sim rigs do not either. As a result, driving with a fully manual transmission has become somewhat of a lost art.

At least, this holds true when looking at most modern sims and esports that tends to get focused on. These use modern cars that have paddle shifters on their wheels, the GT3 class being a prime example of this. Some do not even use a clutch for starts anymore, and while others do, analog clutch paddles do the job on the wheel as well. Two-pedal rig setups are no rarity because of this.

It is likely because of this that there are not too many dedicated shifters on the SimRacing market. There are offerings by Fanatec, Thrustmaster, Logitech and a few smaller manufacturers, but the choice SimRacers get is far from the enormous selection of pedal sets, for example. Still, for enthusiasts of motorsports history (like the author), H-shifters are an essential part of the experience in order to drive older vehicles the way they were meant to be driven.

While using paddles makes shifting gears easier and is absolutely impossible to imagine not doing in a modern F1 rocketship or a GT3, it does not compare to the feel of muscling around an older race car while using three pedals and a manual shifter. It is quite literally a handful, as well as a bit of a workout. Not to mention the coordination part – if you have never done it before, learning to use all three pedals is quite the process, especially on downshifts.

The upshifts are fairly straight-forward, as lifting your right foot off the throttle while pressing the clutch and selecting the next gear is relatively easy. However, using three pedals with just two feet is more challenging: Braking with your right foot (as opposed to the left foot normally used these days in modern race cars), waiting for the revs to drop enough, then pressing the clutch while using your heel to blip the throttle in order to rev-match and selecting a lower gear, sometimes even going down two at a time – it is easy to see why most SimRacers prefer paddles instead of heel-toeing their way around the track.

Of course, eliminating the process described above makes downshifts considerably less complicated. But to get more immersed in a car that actually has this kind of transmission, nothing beats trying to learn this dance on the pedals. Modern sims offer plenty of vintage content, be it Assetto Corsa via mods, rFactor2 or Automobilista 2 – it is unlikely to form the base of an esports competition, but if you can find a one-off event or a league using cars with a fully manual transmission, it is worth a closer look. A word of warning, though: You might become hooked.