How to Launch a Manual Car

The goal of launching is quite simple: Accelerate the vehicle as quickly as possible.

Whether you’re trying to achieve the quickest 0-60, 0-100, quarter mile or half mile time, the principles I’m going to go over are the same.

However!

There are quite a few factors to keep in mind when trying to achieve the perfect launch though and these vary from car to car.

But before I go any further, it’s recommended to have a high level of comfort and proficiency driving a manual car.

Launching Prerequisites

How to launch a manual car skills required

You should be able to do the following with confidence:

  • Shift smoothly without any violent jerking
  • Not stall when in traffic
  • Be able to start while being stopped on an incline
  • Get the car moving with just the clutch (no throttle input)
  • Downshift while rev-matching

Launching a car is an advanced skill so being comfortable doing everything I’ve listed above will make launching your manual car that much easier.

Now, on to the factors that go into launching a car.

  • Drivetrain: Front Wheel Drive, Rear Wheel Drive or All Wheel Drive
  • Launching RPM
  • Tires
  • Clutch Release
  • Clutch Slipping
  • Shift Points and your Vehicle’s Power Band
  • Pavement Surface

I will be sure to bring these up at one point or another during my full explanation.

BTW, if you’d rather watch a video tutorial, scroll down to the bottom!

Steps to Launching a Manual Car

  1. Find a flat, dry and safe surface. We recommend a drag strip!
  2. Disable traction control
  3. Clutch In and Select First Gear
  4. Apply throttle to reach your desired launch RPM
  5. Release and modulate the clutch while modulating the throttle to optimize grip and minimize clutch slippage
  6. Change Gears

Sounds relatively simple, right? In theory, it is.

But let’s break down each step in more detail since it definitely helps to understand what is happening at each step which will help you better optimize each step and achieve the quickest acceleration.

Step 1: The Surface

How to launch a manual car - drag strip for more grip

Ideally, you want to find a flat and dry surface. Flat because you don’t want to be accelerating up hill since your time will be slower.

And a road with a slight decline will give you a quicker time but that’s not really fair now is it?

A dry surface will give you the most grip. Grip is critical when launching your car since you’re starting from a complete standstill.

The more grip you have, the quicker you will accelerate.

A wet surface is also very tricky to launch since you will have to work that much harder to modulate the clutch and throttle to find grip and get the car moving.

Step 2: Disable Traction Control

You might think disabling traction control will actually result in less grip but that’s not the case.

The issue we’re avoiding is the simple fact that modern vehicle’s have extremely intelligent traction control systems that detect slippage and cut power being delivered to the wheels.

We want full control of the amount of power being sent to our tires and we don’t want the computers interfering with this goal.

Step 3: Clutch In and Select First Gear

How to Launch a Manual Car - First Step

This is an easy step but a step nonetheless.

Push your clutch in and select first gear.

Step 4: Rev up to your Launch RPM

So this step requires the most thinking beforehand and is thus the longest section of this post.

The main factor you need to take into consideration that will determine your launch RPM is drivetrain.

In other words, is your vehicle front wheel drive, rear wheel drive or all wheel drive?

Launching a Front Wheel Drive Car (FWD)

With a FWD car, your 2 front tires are the “driven” ones. However, when you accelerate, there is some weight transfer that occurs.

Weight shifts towards the back of the vehicle which means you have less weight over your front tires.

Less weight actually results in less grip so you need to be more careful than with RWD or AWD in terms of modulating your throttle to prevent your tires from just spinning like crazy.

Spinning tires might look cool but it doesn’t result in a fast acceleration.

With that in mind, your launch RPM will be lower than in a RWD or AWD vehicle. Somewhere around 2,500.

You’ll have to experiment to find that sweet spot though.

Launching a Rear Wheel Drive Car (RWD)

With a RWD car, once you launch, the weight shift plays into your favor.

You have more weight in the rear of the vehicle which means more weight getting applied to those rear tires.

That means you can actually launch at a slightly higher RPM like 3,000-4,000.

Launching an All-Wheel Drive Car (AWD)

With an AWD car, power is being sent to all 4 tires so you have the most grip out of the 3.

As a result, the launching RPM can be higher than both FWD and RWD. 4,000, 5,000 and even 6,000 depending on the vehicle.

A general rule of thumb is to start with a lower launch RPM to see how the vehicle will react.

The tricky part with an AWD car is finding a launch RPM that doesn’t bog the car down.

Bogging simply means that the RPMs drop to let’s say 1,000 or even lower which will result in a much slower and jerkier take-off.

Step 5: Releasing the Clutch and Applying Throttle

There’s definitely a sweet spot as far as speed goes for both.

You want to be quick yet smooth.

Dumping the clutch is almost never the right way or quickest way to launch a car.

It’s a great way to damage something though!

As the clutch is being released, you’re applying more throttle.

Your left foot is coming away from the firewall towards you while your right foot is moving into the firewall.

That’s what modulating the clutch and throttle means.

You’re essentially playing with both inputs as you find the optimal amount of grip. This happens very quickly so you’ll need some practice.

Step 6: Shifting Gears

How to Launch a Manual Car - Shifting Gears

Once you’ve launched the car, the tires have hooked up and you’re completely off the clutch with the rev counter racing towards redline, you’ll have to perform your first gear change from 1st to 2nd.

When starting, if you want to keep things simple just let your revs go to redline and shift into 2nd.

If you want to truly optimize your acceleration time, it’s important to understand a few things.

The first is your vehicle’s powerband.

What I mean by this is you need to understand how much power your vehicle’s engine delivers at specific RPMs.

A dyno sheet helps with understanding your powerband.

Essentially, what we’re trying to figure out is when to shift into the next gear.

If your engine delivers maximum power between 2,000 and 5,000 rpm and your redline is at 6,5000 as an example, there’s no big benefit to bringing up your engine to 6,500 to shift gears. The engine is less efficient at this speed so it’s better to shift a bit earlier (also known as short shifting).

However, the other thing to keep in mind is the metric you’re trying to optimize.

Let’s say you’re trying to get the best 0-60 time. If your vehicle can reach 60mph in 2nd gear at let’s say 6,500 rpm, you don’t want to shift into 3rd.

Shifting into 3rd will take more time to reach 60mph compared to staying in 2nd.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Practice definitely makes perfect when it comes to launching.

Launching a manual car is more of an art than a science. Yes, it requires some knowledge beforehand (which you now have) but it also requires a lot of feel.

That’s what makes driving a manual car so rewarding. Launching isn’t as easily repeatable like it is in an automatic car with launch control.

But when everything comes together and you achieve the perfect launch, it feels great.

So get out there, get to work and be safe!

And to measure your times, look into grabbing a Dragy GPS unit.

Dragy Performance GPS Meter

Video: How to Launch a Manual Car

If you prefer not to read, watch this great clip by Engineering Explained.

Troubleshooting your Launch

Too Much Wheel Spin

If you’re getting a lot of wheel spin, you’re probably releasing the clutch too quickly or launching at too high of an RPM. A smoother release of the clutch gives your tires a chance to grip.