When it comes to performance driving, adding improvements to your vehicle can make a massive difference in the feel your ride provides. Upgraded suspension, brakes, tires, and other components will turn any daily driver into a solid canyon carver. But what about upgrades that benefit the driver, rather than the car?
One immediate upgrade that comes to mind starts at the feet: driving shoes. When considering the driver as a component that can be upgraded, better shoes are like a bolt-on improvement. Besides a possible break-in period, performance footwear can add enjoyment right out of the box.
A good pair of these shoes is built with narrow sides, thin soles, heat-resistant heels, and—if you're on the track—fireproof Nomex to keep your feet safe. The narrow sides increase your dexterity while you feet dance on the pedals, like during heel-toe downshifting, and the thin soles provide greater feedback on brake and throttle response. These two perks alone help connect the driver to the car, allowing them to unlock a few tenths with a new confidence.
Knowing how important these pieces of apparel are, Dave VanderWerp, Car and Driver's director of vehicle testing, and I tried out Chicane Racing's lineup. The entry-level Speedster is a more basic driving shoe, while the GT3, GT2, and GT1 racing shoes ascend in performance, respectively. For true racers, the GT3, GT2, and GT1 shoes are SFI and FIA certified, but they won't be available until later this spring.
Designer Michael Fontanarosa described the shoes as engineered—and it's easy to see why. Steve Swartzendruber, co-owner and engineer at Chicane, detailed the production process for the shoes, including a unique collaboration with Michelin: The soles of Chicane Racing's shoes pay homage to the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tire in both aesthetic and function. Swartzendruber explained that a lot of effort went into the rubber compound on the sole; they experimented with softness, tackiness, and density.
Racing driver Dylan Murry—who did much of the real-life shoe testing—also praised the shoes, noting that the GT1s were outstanding during his podium drive at the 12 Hours of Sebring. Murry talked about how, previous to that second-place finish, he unboxed his GT1 shoes at the track, threw them on, walked along the paddock a bit, and then hopped in his car for FP1. A minimal break-in period for a top-notch racing shoe? How can that be?
It was time to try the Chicane shoes out for ourselves. Dave was able to review the full lineup during Car and Driver's Lightning Lap track day at VIR, in increasing order from the Speedster to the GT3, GT2, and GT1 in a manual-transmission Camaro SS 1LE, their long-term Chevy Corvette (auto only), and a sequential-manual Ginetta race car.
I chose the road-trip route, putting in an eight-hour stint in a pair of blue Speedsters and another three-hour trek in a pair of GT1 shoes. While I wasn't on a racetrack like Dave, the winding Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia provided plenty of twisties, and long stretches of highway on the way there tested the footwear's comfort. My test mule was an automatic Genesis G70 3.3T Sport Prestige and proved that, even without clutch-pounding shifts, racing shoes still add plenty of excitement on the pedals.
Regarding the feel of the shoes, our notes were similar. All of them, including the Speedster, have the firm sole and narrow profile you want when doing precision driving for maximum feel and control on the brake and throttle pedals. The low-top Speedster was also plenty comfortable for a day of wandering the paddock when not driving. The other high-top variants aren't as comfortable outside of the car, so you'll want a pair of street shoes for extended walking.
Dave noted that, while driving, the GT3 is basically a high-top Speedster, and the two felt very similar. The softer leather on the GT2 and GT1 shoes was immediately apparent and felt more flexible than the GT3.
Speaking of leather, the GT1 shoes are constructed with kangaroo leather. I asked Swartzendruber why they chose that, and he noted it's lighter and stronger than bovine leather. Interestingly, California has banned the import of kangaroo-leather products since 2015, which makes buying them in the state impossible.
I was concerned about the laces on the Speedster and GT1 shoes—they're very thin and somewhat tricky to tie. Swartzendruber explained that the GT1 laces are made out of Nomex; the Speedster laces are designed to resemble them, but they are are not made with the fireproof material.
All in all, Dave and I agreed on our findings—great pedal feedback, narrow sides, and comfort at the wheel. The build quality is excellent, and proof of thoughtful engineering is evident. They look good too, with a handful of color options to match your track-day outfit. The entire lineup is made to provide more enjoyment during excitable driving.
The GT1 shoes aren't available until later this spring, but Murry already christened them with success; the champagne stains from the 12 Hours of Sebring podium prove that.