Honda first entered the IndyCar Series in 1994. However, its beginnings date back to 1964. Looking back on the history of Honda's INDY500 challenge, which has established a number of historical events in the world of IndyCar.
1964: The first year
In May of 1964, Mr. Soichiro Honda was seen at the venue of the 48th "Indianapolis 500 Miles". At that time, Honda R & D was supposed to be in the middle of the final adjustment for the debut of F1, but he went to the United States with Mr. Kimio Niimura who was the manager of the racer design room for 2 wheels and 4 wheels. They saw the oval race from a different perspective compare to F1.
Obviously, they didn't visit "Indy" to see it. At that time, the Racer Design Office had already planned a challenge to the INDY500 and had begun to move specifically.
1968: Indianapolis Speedway Test
With the final round of the F1 GP, the Mexico Grand Prix, on November 3, 1968, Honda suspended its first F1 activities. Yoshio Nakamura who was the Honda F1 team head manager at the time did not return to Japan after the race. By bringing RA301 which ran for the last race of Honda’s first FI race in Mexico GP to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway he was practicing a two-day driving test with it. The purpose is "comparison between IndyCar and F1 cars".
Mr. Nakamura wrote down the test status in detail on six A4 report sheets. This test may not be just a simple test for him. It may be a call to Mr. Nakamura’s IndyCar challenge after his challenge of FI was called off.
1987-89: During fetal movement
May 1987, 18 years passed after Mr. Nakamura's test. Mitsuhiro Asaka (later serving as CART project leader and vice president of HPD), who watched the INDY500 for the first time, will restart Honda's INDY plan. Mr. Asaka was so fascinated by the race that he said, "I became an employee for Honda, because I wanted to work on with the F1 engine."
This passion of Asaka overlapped with the idea of Mr. Koichi Amemiya who is the former president of American Honda Motor (AH) at the time, whose desire was "I want Americans to understand Honda's strength in motor sports and the challenging spirit.".
Immediately, Wako Research Institute started trial production of an engine for IndyCar racing. However, after that, F1 which was participating at the time was causing tough situation which led to the suspension of the engine test for IndyCar race. Because of that, all of the IndyCar personnel was moved to the F1 team to assist. However, even in such a situation, Mr. Asaka made various ideas for participating the race, and he was preparing to start development at any time.
1992-1993: The eve of the IndyCar World Series
In September 1992, after declaring suspension of F1, Asaka reunited the IndyCar Race engine development team. In January of the following year, at the Detroit Auto Show, Mr. Amemiya announced his plans to participate in the PPG IndyCar World Series. However, immediately after announcing participation in the race in 1993, Honda hit many walls. The techniques Honda has used in F1 such as variable mechanisms and air valves are prohibited in every detail. In addition, Honda has a very strict regulation which was newly established, and it says, "New engine suppliers will be required to supply 2 teams and 3 or more cars in the first year and 3 teams and 6 cars or more in the second year.".
The organizers did not budge from the new regulations, and at one point the situation became even worse, and the participation for the race was in jeopardy. By signing a contract with Comptech Racing as the second team, they were able to convince them to participate about 4 or 5 races with 3 drivers, and finally they were ready to start.
1994-1995: First victory in the 31st race
After overcoming these obstacles, Honda finally made its debut in March 1994. However, contrary to that attention, the results of the 1994 series in the first year of participation were disastrous. Above all, the INDY500 is "missing qualifying". They were shown the rigors of the IndyCar race.
However, this humiliation triggered the development of a new engine called the HRH type. The team, desperately working on improving the engine, started developing a new engine in parallel while fighting with that engine. And many tests were repeated with Comptech Racing.
And the official qualifying for INDY500. On May 14, 1995, Tasman Motorsport cars with HRH engines lined up on the front row (3rd). In the final on May 28th, Honda showed a good run to the top until the end of the race, but he overtook the pace car just before the goal, and it was penalized. The result was 14th. "I won the game, but I lost the race," said Asaka.
After that, the maturity of the HRH type engine was repeated. Finally, in the 15th round of the 1995 series, Honda won their long-awaited first victory in New Hampshire. In March of 1994 was the 1st victory out of 31 races.
2004: INDY500 first victory
Honda in the 1996 series achieved 11 wins including the US500 in 16 races and achieved the triple crown of the Champ Car World Series Manufacturers Title and PPG Cup Champion Rookie of the Year. Honda won 4 Manufacturers titles in 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2001 until 2001. Then, in 2003, Honda will resume the challenge to INDY500.
The following year, in 2004, Buddy Rice (Rahal Letterman Racing / G Force) equipped with Honda Indy
V-8 won the 88th INDY500. This was not only the first victory for Rice's INDY500 of IndyCar Series, but also the first victory for Honda's INDY500. That year, up to the top seven cars were equipped with Honda engines. This was the first time an engine from one company was in the top seven of the INDY500.
In the 40th year since the beginning of 1964, Honda won the world's largest car race.
2017-2020: Creating the history of INDY500 with Takuma Sato
In 2017, Takuma Sato (Andretti Autosport), who had been fully competing in the IndyCar Series since 2010, became the first Japanese and Asian to win the INDY500. In addition, due to the influence of the pandemic, it was postponed to August, and in 2020, which was the first unattended race in history, he has won the second victory. Honda and Sato have made a new history in the INDY500, which has a history of more than a century.
Honda and Takuma Sato will participate in the 106th INDY500 in 2022. This year, and perhaps in the future, Honda's neverending challenge spirit will continue to create the history of the IndyCar Series and INDY500.