Why the Shoes Really Matter for Professional Race Car Drivers

This month, FN is looking at the many close connections between footwear and cars. Last week, we examined how designers take cues from auto manufacturing techniques. Here, we head to the world of high-intensity racing.

On the world’s elite racetracks, hot cars and their star drivers tend to steal the spotlight for spectators, but the shoes behind the pedal are arguably just as crucial as the horsepower underneath the hood.

“It’s kind of a shame that people who are viewing the races can’t see the feet in action, because everything is pivoted off from the feet. That’s how the driver feels the car — everything goes through the shoes,” said Stephanie Brooklyn, managing director of Toronto-based brand Piloti Inc., which crafts performance racing shoes for some of the sport’s top names, including 24 Hours of Le Mans first-place winner Ron Fellows.

Brooklyn noted that because drivers spend “hours and hours on end” in their cars, they need gear that is both durable and comfortable. “[Fellows] personally had nerve pain in his heel, and he found that our shoe is the only one that can combat that for him,” she said.

In addition to standard bells and whistles, Piloti racing shoes feature a patented Roll Control heel design that arches up the back of the shoe to offer cushioning and protection for a driver’s heel bones and a comfortable feel along the entire sole. “The Roll Control technology is something that we’ve always focused on because we want to give drivers and racers the best feeling possible,” said Brooklyn.

Piloti Spyder S1 driving shoe
Piloti Spyder S1
CREDIT: Joshua Scott

Piloti Spyder S1, $130; autosportoriginals.com

Subaru Rally Team USA member Robbie Durant, who is a co-driver for American motorsports star Travis Pastrana, expressed a similar sentiment and added that safety is a priority when it comes to driving shoes. “Overall weight, safety and comfort are the key factors,” the 35-year-old told FN.

“For the driver, a very thin and grippy sole gives the required feedback from the pedals, and for the co-driver, [the key aspects are] the ability to get in and out of the car quickly and for the feet not to get too hot or too cold,” Durant explained. “Temperatures in the car can range from 0 Fahrenheit to easily over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and there is no heat or AC in the cars in order to save weight. The racing shoes also must meet the required international fire safety standards, as all our race clothing has to.”

U.K.-based Durant has been codriving professionally for 16 years and is currently supplied footwear by Alpinestars. “The brand looks after us very well,” he said. “For our racing boots, we trust Alpinestars to keep us safe.”

Alpinestars driving shoe
Alpinestars Tech Z-1 auto shoe
CREDIT: Courtesy of brand

Alpinestars Tech Z-1 auto shoe, $330; alpinestars.com

In addition to Piloti and Alpinestars, players in the motorsports footwear arena include Momo, Sparco and Puma, which has a partnership with the Red Bull Racing Formula 1 team. And last year, Athletic Propulsion Labs became the official footwear supplier for the Renault Sport Formula 1 team.

“The competition out there is really good. Other brands are making phenomenal race shoes, and we’re all focusing on our product first,” Brooklyn said. “We’ll continue to innovate and try to get the best product out there, but everything for us has always started with the shoe.”

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