2 wheels Stories
To carry on Honda’s racing activities from its Isle of Man TT declaration, HRC was born in 1982.
40 years on, it has been decades of glory and achievements.
The team first competed in the Isle of Man TT race, on March 20, 1954.
It was the year that Roman Holidays was released in Japanese theatres. It was also a year of change for motor sports in Japan. At the time, Honda was still selling the Cub Model F2, an quxiliary engine for bicycles.
The Isle of Man TT declaration: It was a declaration to race in the motorcycle world championship by Honda, a company in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka, that had been established only six years prior, in 1948.
The motorcycle world championship began in 1949. Divided into the 125cc / 250cc / 350cc / 500cc categories (the 50cc category was held between 1962 and 1983, the 80cc category between 1984 to 1989). Honda became the first Japanese manufacturer to race in the championship. The 1954 declaration stated Honda’s intention to race in that year’s Isle of Man TT, the pinnacle of the series which grands prix were held at the Isle of Man and Belfast in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, West Germany, Italy and Spain. It was, in other words, a challenge to the world’s best motorcycle race.
The declaration was made, of course, by Honda’s founder, Soichiro Honda. In it is an intriguing passage:
“My childhood dream was to become champion of the world in car racing with a car I made myself.”
“Every car that completes a race, not only the winner, is considered by the world as outstanding.”
In 1959, Honda competed at the Isle of Man TT, and late that year suggested at a meeting to construct welfare facilities for the Suzuka Factory in Mie, the construction of Japan’s first world-class race track.
At the meeting Honda said, “I want a place where we can race. Cars cannot be improved without that,” believing that producing cars for the 1960s, a new age of high speed transportation, and constructing a safe and high-speed race track, were the manufacturer’s responsibility.
In 1961, only two years since competing in the Isle of Man TT for the first time, Honda claimed its first victory in the 125cc class at the season-opener in Spain. It won its first 250cc class race in the following round in West Germany, and once claiming the championship titles in both classes, Honda said in the company newsletter:
“We have to race. Racing allows us to measure our strength and technologies against the world, and that allows us to determine where our management foundations should be. […] Racers are the advance guards of our products, so racers and products provide a feedback loop.” (“President’s thoughts on racing”, 1964 Company Newsletter)
Honda’s passion grew from grand prix racing to race track building, and the technologies gained there were applied to its production motorcycles. In 1964, Honda declared its entry into Formula 1 grand prix racing, the pinnacle of automobile racing, and technologies gained led to the development of the world’s first low-emission engine.
Passion for motorcycle racing was not limited to grands prix, but production-based racing categories as well.
Honda paused its participation in grand prix racing in 1967, but continued to race in Japan. In 1973, Honda established the Racing Service Center (RSC) at the Suzuka Circuit as an separate company. The RSC began its racing service activities including development of racing cars and bikes for domestic racing, and supplying these to major privateers, and in 1976, began to manufacture racing bikes for the endurance championship it was competing in. The racing bikes developed at this time, the RCB1000 and RC1000 would go on to compete in the European and World endurance championships.
The RCB1000 endurance racer, based on the production CB750 FOUR, entered the 1976 European endurance championship, and won seven of the eight rounds to clinch the championship. The following year, it won all nine rounds, and in 1978, eight or the nine rounds for its third consecutive championship victory. The RCB’s successor, the RS1000 based on the new generation production CG900F, won the championship in 1979 and 1980. Honda had won the championship for five straight years.
At the same time it was competing in the endurance championship, Honda declared its return to grand prix racing, starting development of a completely new, 4-stroke racing bike. At the time 2-stroke engines were mainstream, Honda developed a V4 engine with oval pistons. Honda’s New Racing (NR) block in charge of the NR project, would later develop 2-stroke powered racing bikes, merging with RSC. On September 1, 1982, Honda Racing Corporation (HRC) was born.
HRC expanded on RSC’s business by developing, manufacturing and retailing racing cars / bikes and components, and later went on to handle all of Honda’s racing activities.
In 1983, the first season when HRC became Honda’s racing division, 2-stroke NS500 rider Freddy Spencer became Honda’s first champion since it returned to grand prix racing, Joy Dunlop won the TT-F1 championship on his RS850R, and in late 1982, Cyril Neveu gave Honda its first Paris-Dakar Rally victory. For grand prix racing, sales of the RS500 production racing bike, based on the NS500, began.
In September 1982, Honda’s racing spirit, restarted with HRC (Honda Racing Corporation), moves to a new level, as it returns to premier world grand prix racing.
Honda’s motorsports challenge had begun in the 1959 Isle of Man TT. In 1966, the company made history by winning the titles in all five classes (50 / 125 / 250 / 350 / 500cc), and withdrew from racing activities, as it had achieved its initial goals.
Honda returned to racing in 1979, in the premier 500cc class, citing its need to improve its production models and new technologies. In a category where 2-stroke engines prevailed, Honda opted to power its racing bikes with 4-stroke engines, widely viewed as a disadvantage due to lower output.
Honda’s NR (New Racing) project ended without any positive results, paving the way for Honda to revert to 2-stroke engines. The new NS (New Sprint) project, however, would develop 3-cylinder engines, considered to be less powerful than the prevailing 4-cylinder rivals. In March 1982, the new 2-stroke NS500 grand prix racer debuted to third place in the Argentine Grand Prix. It took pole in Round 4, Spain, in May, and two months later in Round 7, Belgium, Honda claimed its first victory since returning to grand prix racing, and its first 500cc victory in 14 years and nine months.
In September, coinciding with the San Marino Grand Prix in the second half of the season, RSC (Racing Service Center) combined with the NR project team and NR block, newly forming HRC. The new organization had been planned since Spring 1982 as a new entity to replace RSC. In April 1983, its head quarters was set up in Niiza-shi in Saitama, its Suzuka office in the Suzuka Circuit, Mie, and its base of grand prix racing activities in Belgium (HRC-E / HRC-Europe).
One of HRC’s aims was to take the NR project’s factory team technologies, apply them to products for RSC-supported users, and by growing the grassroots of racing, raise the awareness of motorsports in society.
HRC was not limited to road racing, but handled all of Honda’s racing activities, which at the time covered grand prix and world endurance road racing, and at the same level, motocross, trial and the Paris-Dakar held over the new year.
For Honda, applying motocrosser technology to road racers was not uncommon. The initial design of the NS500 grand prix bike started off combining three 2-stroke 125cc engines.
Honda competes in off-road racing, including motocross.
In the 1960s when motocross began to rise in popularity, Honda mainly made 4-stroke engines, and development of off-road models powered by 2-stroke engines, considered better for motocross, would have to wait until the 1970s.
In 1972, Honda entered the All Japan championship with the RC335A, later introducing the improved 335C / 335D. In 1973, Honda won the AMA250 title in the US, and in 1974 - 75, became the AMA125 class champion. In 1973, Honda introduced the CR250M motocrosser to the US market. TV commercials were aired in the US where motocross was popular, featuring an American hero, Steve McQueen.
One of HRC’s racing activities was participating in the newly-launched Paris-Dakar Rally in 1979.
Honda France was in charge of customer support for Honda riders in the Paris-Dakar, the bikes commissioned to Honda being developed by RSC. In the fourth edition of the race in 1982, French rider Cyril Neveu rode an XR500R, engine tuned by RSC, to victory. Since then, as the popularity of the Paris-Dakar was on the rise, HRC developed the rally bikes, debuting the Paris-Dakar factory bike, the NXR750 in 1986. The NXR won the Paris-Dakar from 1986 to 1989, a testament to Honda’s strength in the event.
Honda also participated in various national championship series.
In the US, AHM (American Honda Motors) supports Honda’s motorsports activities. The pinnacle of US national motorsports includes road races such as the AMA superbike and Daytona, and motocross and dirt track racing. At the time, the NR block developed Honda’s pre-HRC racing bikes. The NS750 Sidewinder factory bike was developed by the NR block for US dirt tracks, to be replaced by the RS750D after HRC was established.
In Japan, the Suzuka 8 Hours Road Race was gaining in popularity since it began in 1978. Honda participated with the RCB1000, a bike developed by RSC for HERT (Honda Endurance Racing Team) who were competing in the European Endurance Championship. Customers also went on to compete in the Suzuka 8 Hours on RS1000s and custom CB900F bikes, but in 1983, HRC released the completely new RS850R endurance bike, and in 1984 as engine displacement regulations changed from 1000cc to 750cc, the RS750 factory bike for the Suzuka 8 Hours.
Since then, HRC has been supplying factory bikes for its factory team and major racing teams to race in the Suzuka 8 Hours, arguably Japan’s biggest racing event. Between the inaugural event in 1978 and 1990, said to be the height of the event’s popularity, Honda had won seven of the 13 races (1979 / 1981 / 1982 / 1984 / 1985 / 1986 / 1989).
Popularity-wise, however, grand prix racing is undoubtedly the most popular on the world stage.
Beginning with the Isle of Man TT in 1959, to winning the title in all five classes in ‘66, withdrawing from motorsports, and returning in 1979. Returning in 1982, the podium, pole position, and the first victory. Honda and HRC’s grand prix plans were bearing fruit, and in 1983, the company set its next goal： to become world champion.
HThe last time Honda had won the manufacturers’ title in the premier grand prix class was in 1966. Honda returned to grand prix racing in 1979, but the 4-stroke NR500’s engine technology was too advanced for its time, unable to win, or finish on the podium, or even within the top 10, within the points, in its four seasons of racing. In 1982, Honda switched its main bike to the NS500.
The best results for the NR500 during its four years of racing were qualifying 15th in the 1981 British Grand Prix, and finishing 11th in the 1982 Belgian Grand Prix.
The NR500 raced not only in grands prix, but in European and American international races, and the All Japan Road Racing Championship. In the 1980 Mizuno International Race, it finished third, and in the 1981 All Japan Suzuka 200km Race, it took pole and won for the first time. The NR500, however, could not get the results in grand prix races.
In the 1982 Belgian Grand Prix, Honda managed to win a grand prix with the new NS500, replacing the NR500 which only managed to finish 11th at the same track. The NS500 was built upon the knowhow through trial and error accumulated by the NR Block, and finished its debut season third overall.
Freddy Spencer was the rider, who debuted in grand prix racing in 1981 on the NR500. He was the rider who claimed 15th, Honda’s best qualifying result on the NR500.
The NS500 was powered by Honda’s first 2-stroke grand prix engine. Regulations at the time allowed for up to four cylinders, used by all manufacturers except for Honda, which opted for a seemingly less-powerful 3-cylinders. Honda was nothing but unique since its NR500 days, and despite the power disadvantage, the 3-cylinder bike handled better than its 4-cylinder counterparts, allowing it to level the field and finish third in its debut season.
Spencer and his NS500 went all in from the 1982 season. After debuting in the season-opener in Argentina claiming second in Qualifying and third in the race, Spencer took his first pole in Round 4, Spain, and his first victory in Round 7, Belgium in July. He was third overall for the season. The victory in Belgium was Honda’s 139th win across all grand prix classes since the 1960s, and set the stage for Honda’s attempt to become world champion for the first time in 17 years, since 1966.
In the NS500’s second season, Spencer battled against Kenny Roberts who rode for a competing manufacturer, throughout the season. Spencer won the first three grands prix, while Roberts won rounds 8 through 10, the dead heat going Spencer’s way in the end by a mere two championship points, giving Honda its first riders’ title.
Out of the twelve grands prix of the 1983 season, Spencer won six, was second three times and was third once. Roberts won six, and was second three times. Only two points separated the two in a season for the history books.
In 1984, the NS500 evolved into the 4-cylinder NSR500. The number of cylinders was conventional, but true to Honda tradition, the bike had a unique layout with its fuel tank low within the chassis to reduce the center of gravity, and the exhaust chamber where the fuel tank would normally be. The new 4-cylinder engine needed more development though, and Honda raced with the old 3-cylinder NS500 depending on the race. The season was a learning experience, in which Honda won some races with the NSR500, and others with the NS500.
Spencer finished the 1984 season fourth overall, but thanks to the performance of other NSR500 and NS500 riders, and teams competing with the RS500 production racer, Honda managed to win its second-straight manufacturers’ title.
In the Endurance World Championship, Gerard Coudray / Patrick Igoa became the champions, and Joey Dunlop won the TT-F1 World Championship.
In off-road racing, Andre Malherbe won the Motocross World Championship 500cc class, and Eddy Lejeune won the Trial World Championship. Then, Ricky Graham became the first Honda rider to win in the US, after claiming the American Flat Track Grand National Championship title.
1985 was a year for Honda to celebrate.
Spencer, in his fifth year as a Honda rider, entered the 250cc class in addition to the premier 500cc class, racing in two classes for the same grand prix.
Honda had plans to increase 250cc class entries towards the late 1980s, aiming to sell 250cc racing bikes, and had asked Spencer to test ride. Spencer was so impressed by the bike that he had challenged himself to claim an unprecedented two class titles in the same year. Honda later developed production racers for the GP125 class, and began sales in 1988.
Grands prix at the time consisted of 125cc, 250cc and 500cc races. As soon as Spencer would finish his 250cc race, he would prepare to race in the 500cc class. He set an astounding record of winning seven 500cc class races and seven 250cc races, four of those being same-day wins. He took the title in both classes, a feat unheard of until then.
Spencer also won the Daytona 200 in the US, and from an American perspective, had won the triple crown.
With Spencer’s spectacular performance, Honda had won the manufacturers’ title for the third consecutive time in the 500cc class, and the first time since 1967 in the 250cc class.
1985 also saw the completion of Honda’s current head office in Aoyama, Tokyo. Prince Charles and Princess Diana have visited the new head office.
In 1985, Honda had participated in grand prix racing such as the Endurance World Championship, the Suzuka 8 Hours, the TT-F1 World Championship, the All Japan 250 / 500 / TT-F1 / TT-F3 classes, the AMA Superbike, and Daytona 200. It also participated in the Motocross World Championship 125 / 250 / 500cc classes, the AMA SuperCross and AMA National, the All Japan Motocross 125 / 250cc classes, the Paris-Dakar, the Trial World Championship, and the All Japan Trial Championship. Honda supported its users, providing factory bikes, support, and selling production racers, contributing to the popularizing and growth of motorsport, while developing its technologies.
Motorcycle racing was popular in Japan and the world during the 1980s and ‘90s. Honda played its part in this popularity, with HRC operating races and user support worldwide.
In grand prix racing following Spencer’s historic double-title, Wayne Gardener won the riders’ title in 1987, followed by Eddie Lawson in 1989, Mick Doohan in 1994 - 98, and Àlex Crivillé in 1999. Honda won the manufacturers’ title in 1989, 1992, and 1994 - 99.
In the 250cc class, Anton Mang won the riders’ title in 1987, followed by Alfonso "Sito" Pons in 1988 - 89, Luca Cadalora in 1991 - 92, and Max Biaggi in 1997. Honda won the manufacturers’ title in 1986 - 89, 1991 - 94, and 1996 -97.
Especially in the 1990s, with the emergence of Mick Doohan, who was as successful as Spencer, Honda was able to achieve results worthy of being called the strongest Grand Prix manufacturer.
After Mick Doohan won his first grand prix, two years into his career, in the 1990 Hungarian Grand Prix, he won three rounds in 1991, and the first four rounds in 1992 before crashing and missing the rest of the season.
Following a terrible 1993 in which Honda won only two grands prix, Doohan went onto win nine of 14 races in 1994, finishing within the points in all races. He went on to win eight races in 1996, twelve in 1997, and eight in 1998. Doohan had won the championship five years straight. Although 1993 was not Honda’s finest year, HRC had newly added fuel injection to its 2-stroke bike, taking Japanese Grand Prix rider Shinichi Ito to a top speed of 200mph (320km/h) in the German Grand Prix.
In 1997, Honda riders won all 15 rounds. Honda dominated the podium in nine rounds, and the top five riders were all Honda riders. From the 1997 season-opener in Malaysia to Round 7, the Dutch TT in 1998, Honda riders won 22 consecutive races, setting a new record.
Although Doohan ended his illustrious grand prix career due to the injury in Round 3 in 1999, he had won five riders’ titles between 1990 - 99, and a total of 54 race victories.
By the end of 2001, Honda had won ten 500cc class races in the 1960s, and after its return to grand prix racing in 1982, the 2-stroke NS500 / NSR500s had won 25 races by Spencer’s double-title winning 1985. From 1986 to 1989, Honda had won 20 races, and another 83 by 1999. From then until the beginning of the 4-stroke MotoGP class, Honda had won 18 races. Its total was 156 500cc class victories.
In the opening round of 2001, the Grand Prix of Japan, Honda won its 500th grand prix, counting its victories across all 125 / 250 / 500cc classes. As the dawn of the MotoGP era neared, bike regulations were about to change dramatically.
Since 1949, when grand prix racing began, the premier class has been powered by 500cc racing bikes.
Honda first participated in grand prix racing in 1959, with the 4-stroke 2-cylinder RC141 in the 125cc class, and in 1960, with the RC161 in the 250cc class. Honda then entered the 350cc class in 1962 with the RC170, and the premier 500cc class in 1966 with the RC181.
The 500cc displacement of premier class engines was an upper limit, not a fixed size, as 2-stroke / 4-stroke decisions were left up to the participants. Honda predominantly made 4-stroke engines at the time, fighting against conventional wisdom that with the same engine size, 2-strokes could produce more power.
When Honda withdrew from grand prix racing in 1967, 2-strokes ruled. In the 500cc class in particular, MV Agusta’s 4-stroke bikes dominated from the 1950s. Apart from Gilera taking the manufacturers’ title in 1957 and Honda in 1966, MV Agusta had won the title 16 times between 1956 and 1973.
MV Agusta’s reign was ended in 1974 by Yamaha’s 2-stroke YZR500, in its second season, followed by Suzuki’s RG / RGA / RGB / RGC500 / RGΓ won seven-straight seasons from 1976 to 1982.
On its return to grand prix racing, Honda’s 4-stroke NR500 failed to win, but the 2-stroke NS500 was victorious in 1983. No 4-stroke racing bike has won the title since.
Between the 1990s and 2000s, the number of 2-stroke bikes were on the decline on the track and on the road, mainly due to emissions and noise regulations.
Grand prix racing was no exception, leading to the opinion that racing 2-stroke bikes was pointless as they would not lead to production bikes sales. In April, 2000, FIM, the sanctioning body of grand prix racing, declared the move to 4-stroke racing bikes. The premier 500cc class would be renamed to MotoGP from 2002, allowing 4-stroke 990cc bikes to race alongside the conventional 2-stroke 500cc machines.
In this tumultuous time, HRC developed a 4-stroke, 990cc V-5 engine. As the bike’s weight was being regulated according to the number of pistons, HRC determined that five cylinders was the best balance between high-revving multi-pistons and minimum weight.
The new generation 990cc 4-stroke V-5 powered grand prix bike with Unit Pro-Link rear suspension was named the RC211V. “RC” became the prefix for Honda’s grand prix bikes, “211” as its was the first model in the 21st century, and “V” which denoted the engine type and is also the Roman numeral for five.
In the 1960s, Honda introduced multi-cylinder 4-stroke engines to grand prix racing. In the 2-stroke dominated 1970s, the 4-stroke NR500. In the 2-stroke 4-cylinder 1980s, the 3-cylinder engine. And now, Honda once again defied conventional wisdom by introducing a unique, 5-cylinder engine.
The RC211V debuted with the dawn of the MotoGP era, in the opening round of the 2002 season at a rainy Grand Prix of Japan. Valentino Rossi’s RC211V won. From there, the RC211V dominated, winning 14 of the 16 rounds： Rossi won 11, Alex Barros two, and Tohru Ukawa one.
The RC211V went on the win 14 of the 16 rounds in the following 2003 season, giving back-to-back titles to Honda and Rossi.
In 2004, Rossi had left Honda, and the riders’ title went with him, but Honda nonetheless claimed four straight manufacturers’ titles. In 2005, Honda was unable to win either the riders’ or Manufacturers’ titles.
2006 was the final season for the 990cc bikes, as the FIM had announced the move to 800cc beginning in 2007. HRC wasted no time in downsizing the 990cc RC211V to 800cc, the “New Generation,” which was handed to Nicky Hayden. Honda was no stranger to pre-empting regulation changes, as it had done so at the 1983 Suzuka 8 Hours by reducing displacement from 1000cc to 850cc a year before the new TT-F1 regulations were set to take effect.
In 2006, Hayden gave Honda its 200th premier class victory at Round 8, the Dutch TT, and emerged victorious in the riders’ championship after winning the final round from Rossi. Honda also won the manufacturers’ title. During the 990cc MotoGP era, Honda had won over half of the 82 races. The 990cc MotoGP era came to a close.
As the maximum engine size from MotoGP bikes was reduced to 800cc in 2007, Honda replaced its unique 5-cylinder engine with a more conventional V-4 engine, and renamed the bike the RC212V. Honda failed to win the riders’ or manufacturers’ titles between 2007 and 2010, but in 2011, Casey Stoner debuting for Honda won both. Honda won the manufacturers’ title the following year, and in 2013, Moto2 class rider Marc Marquez joined the Honda team.
The Moto2 class began in 2010 as the 2-stroke GP250 class bikes were replaced with 4-stroke engines. The class was contended by various chassis manufacturers, but all were powered by Honda CBR600RR engines.
After three years racing in the GP125 class, Marquez won the Moto2 class in his second season, and moved to the MotoGP class in 2013, joining Honda’s factory team. He became the youngest premier class champion in his debut season, and claimed the riders’ title in 2014, and 2016 - 19, becoming one of Honda’s highest performing riders.
Marquez has not been able to perform well due to injuries sustained in 2020, but he will undoubtedly regain his unparalleled form.
In the two decades from 2002, HRC’s activities focused on MotoGP, but it has also been involved in road, off-road, trial and rally racing, from national championships to world championships.
In early 2013, Honda returned to the South American Dakar Rally (formerly known as the Paris-Dakar Rally) as a factory team for the first time in 24 years. In 2020, it won its first Dakar since making its comeback.
In 2002, Honda developed the RN-01 for downhill mountain biking competition, supplying teams in the Japanese and World Cup series. Seemingly unrelated to motorcycles, the RN-01’s gear mechanism played a role in developing Honda’s MotoGP transmissions. True to form, Honda applied technologies developed in one category, to improve another.
In 2022, Honda four-wheel racing division HRD Sakura (Honda Research and Development in Sakura, Tochigi) was combined with HRC. Four decades since its establishment, HRC now enters a new era.
HRC Champions Gallery
The riders who battled, and were rewarded, alongside HRC.
- Marc Marquez MotoGP 2013/2014/2016/2017/2018/2019
- Casey Stoner MotoGP 2011
- Nicky Hayden MotoGP 2006
- Valentino Rossi WGP 500cc/MotoGP 2001/2002/2003
- Alex Criville WGP 500cc 1999
- Mick Doohan WGP 500cc 1994/1995/1996/1997/1998
- Eddie Lawson WGP 500cc 1989
- Wayne Gardner WGP 500cc 1987
- Freddie Spencer WGP 500cc/250cc 1983/1985
- Alex Marquez Moto3 2014
- Hiroshi Aoyama WGP 250㏄ 2009
- Dani Pedrosa WGP 250㏄ 2004/2005
- Tim Gajser MXGP 2016/2019/2020
- Toni Bou TrialGP 2007～2021
- Takahisa Fujinami TrialGP 2004
- Dougie Lampkin TrialGP 2000/2001/2002/2003
……and more! coming soon!
4 wheels Stories
Honda has a long history of challenging the top of four-wheeled motorsports categories, including Formula One.
August 2, 1964, Round 6 of German Grand Prix, an ivory-white car donned with a red circle which symbolizes Japanese flag lined up on the Nurburgring starting grid. The driver was a young American, Ronnie Bucknam, unknown to most. Qualifying did not go well, and the car would start from 22nd, at the back of the grid. This was the beginning of Honda’s Formula One history. There was no-one behind, and a whole future ahead.
The history of the Honda’s Formula One started from this moment. No one was behind, and the goal was to overtake the cars in front as many as one. This is how it started.
Although Honda was already a world-renowned motorcycle manufacturer, demonstrating its strength by winning the Isle of Man TT and other motorcycle races, but in the year before it entered Formula One racing, it had begun its journey as an automobile manufacturer, the last Japanese to enter the market, having just released its small S500 sports car and T360 light “kei” truck. Without any background in automobiles, Honda’s decision to enter Formula One racing was an incalculably insane challenge.
The RA271, Japan’s first formula car developed upon the foundations of the RA270 prototype, performed poorly in Qualifying, but ran in up to ninth place during the race. With three laps remaining it crashed, but its impressive speed gave Honda the confidence to continue.
Honda’s first victory came in 1965, the company’s first full season of Formula One competition. Ronnie Bucknam was joined by a second driver, fellow-American Ritchie Ginther. In the final round in Mexico, the improved RA272 was carefully set up for the high altitude track, and Ritchie Ginther was third on grid.
Ginther led the race throughout, and gave Honda its first victory. Teammate Bucknam finished fifth. In less than two years, Honda had reached the pinnacle not through luck, but earned its victory. Honda had also proven that its automobile technologies were world-class.
In 1966, engine displacement regulations changed from 1.5 to 3.0 liters. In 1967, Honda’s team was joined by motorcycle world champion John Surtees who had switched over to Formula One racing. Surtees was Honda’s lone representative this season. In Round 9, Surtees drove the RA300, just completed on-site at the Monza Circuit, from ninth grid to challenge race leader Jack Brabham in the closing stages.
After exiting the final turn neck-and-neck, Surtees pulled ahead to win by a car’s length.
With its second victory, and a third and four second places, Honda ranked fourth in the drivers’ and constructors’ championships. 1967 was the most successful season in what would later be called Honda’s first era of Formula One racing.
In 1968, Honda decided to exit from Formula One racing to tackle the society-wide issue of exhaust gas pollution by developing low-emission engines, and to solidify its place in the world as an automobile manufacturer.
At the press conference after winning the 1965 Mexican Grand Prix, Soichiro Honda said, “Ever since we first decided to build cars we have worked hard and been willing to take the most difficult path. We must study the reasons why we lose, and do the same when we win, so that we can use that knowledge to improve the quality of our cars and make them safer for our customers. That’s our duty. Once we had established our goal, we decided to choose the most difficult path to get there. This is why we entered the Grand Prix series. We will therefore not be content with this victory alone. We will study why we won and aggressively apply those winning technologies to new cars."
Passionate engineers who made their goal to be victorious in F1 racing of 1st era also played huge roles in developing mass-produced automobiles afterward.
Honda’s return to Formula One racing was preceded by the company supplying engines for the European F2 Championship in 1980. Since Honda had last participated, technological advances, regulation changes, and even the world environment had changed dramatically. With many of its young engineers inexperienced with Formula One racing, Honda decided to first take on F2 to gain experience.
In 1981, its second year in F2, Ralt-Honda’s British driver, Geoff Lees won the European F2 Championship. It was followed by a monumental record of twelve consecutive victories for Honda engines spanning the 1983 and 1984 seasons.
Honda began developing Formula One engines, and in July 1983, returned to Formula One racing with an F-1 chassis built by Spirit Racing, to which Honda supplied F2 engines, combined with the new Honda engine.
Honda decided to re-enter Formula One by supplying engines, as it was doing in F2. Its first race ended after only five laps, but in the same season, the Williams FW09, powered by a turbo-charged 1.5L Honda V6 engine, came fifth in the final round.
In July 1984 at the Dallas Grand Prix, Finnish racer Keke Rosberg driving the Honda-powered Williams FW09 won. Honda and Williams continued their partnership the following season, and after updating the engine mid-season, won four grands prix. In 1986, Williams-Honda won nine of the 16 rounds, dominating the season to win the constructors’ title.
Honda went on to win six consecutive constructors’ titles until 1991. In 1988, McLaren-Honda won 15 of the 16 rounds, a near-total domination, to take the championship.
During this period, Honda engines powered many legends to victory: Nelson Piquet (Williams-Honda, 1987), Ayrton Senna (McLaren-Honda, 1988), Alain Prost (McLaren-Honda, 1989 when turbos were banned and replaced by 3.5L normally-aspirated engines), and Ayrton Senna (McLaren-Honda, 1990 and 1991).
One of the reasons Honda was so successful during the period was that it was quick to bring to Formula One a telemetry system it developed that monitored the racing car via sensors installed throughout, replacing experience and hunches to set up the car with data-driven electronic control. From there, the electronic control of Formula One cars then accelerated.
In 1992, a decade into its second era, Honda announced to end participating Formula One. In these ten years, Honda had developed a 1.5L V6 turbo, a 3.5L normally-aspirated V10, and a 3.5L normally-aspirated V12.
Honda once again returned to Formula One in 2000. In the spring of 1998, the company announced Honda’s Formula One racing team, which would not only develop and supply the engines, but develop and manufacture the chassis, and operate the team, as it did in its first era.
One year later, in May 1999, Honda announced to be partner with British America Racing (BAR) in its second year of Formula One racing, and in addition to designing and supplying the engine, co-develop the chassis and leave team management to BAR, setting the stage for Honda’s third Formula One grand prix challenge to begin in 2000.
The technological advances in Formula One were not easy for Honda to match, especially after a seven year hiatus, and from 2000 to 2003, Honda was fifth, sixth, eighth and fifth in the constructors’ championship, far from being victorious.
In 2004, British driver Jenson Button and Japanese Takuma Sato, who was driving for Jordan which Honda supplied engines to in 2001 and 2002, were chosen to represent BAR-Honda. Winter tests were promising, and after five years since it returned, Honda was finally as fast as its rivals.
Although Button did not win grands prix, he scored Honda’s first pole position for its third era in Round 4, San Marino, and was on the podium for three-straight rounds, consistently high up in the rankings throughout the season. He finished the 2004 drivers’ championship third, with four second-places and six third-places.
In Round 9, the Grand Prix of the Americas held in June, Sato became the first Japanese driver in 14 years to finish on the podium, to the delight of Japanese F1 fans. This year, the two BAR-Honda drivers’ performance gave Honda second place in the constructors’ championship.
In 2006, when engine regulations changed from 3.0L V10 engines to 2.4L V8s, Honda acquired all of BAR’s shares, realizing its plan since first considering its third era in Formula One, to race as a full constructor, for the first time in 38 years.
Finally, in August that year, at the Hungaroring in Round 13, the Hungarian Grand Prix, the time had come. In wet conditions, Jenson Button won. The first victory in its third era was as a true factory team, for the first time since the Italian Grand Prix in 1967. For Jenson Button, it was his first Formula One victory on his 115th race.
Honda ended the 2006 season fourth in the constructors’ championship, eighth in 2007, and ninth in 2008. In December 2008, after the season ended and the world reeled from the financial crisis, Honda announced it would withdraw from Formula One racing. Honda had ended its third era with only one victory.
In May 2013, Honda announced that it would return to Formula One in a joint project with McLaren as power unit supplier from 2015. Honda developed a power unit (PU) combining a 1.6L V6 single-turbo engine with Energy Recovery System (ERS).
Although expectations were high, as the partnership so strong during its second era had come back, catching up with other teams in the power unit development race was difficult. McLaren-Honda’s track record in the constructors’ championship was ninth in 2015, sixth in 2016, and ninth in 2017. In September 2017, the team announced the end of the partnership.
In 2018, Honda began to supply power units to Scuderia Toro Rosso, and in June, announced that it would also supply power units to Red Bull Group’s Red Bull Racing team.
In 2019 as Honda continued to supply power units to Red Bull Racing and Toro Rosso, it worked closely with its various deparments, such as aircraft engine R&D to dramatically increase turbo durability, to improve power unit output and reliability.
With a new, more powerful and reliable power unit, Red Bull’s Dutch driver, Max Verstappen, came third in the opening round in Australia, giving Honda its first podium in its fourth era.
In Round 9, Austria, Verstappen fended off Scuderia Ferrari‘s Leclerc to secure Honda’s first win in its fourth era. Verstappen ended the season third in the drivers’ championship, behind only the dominant Mercedes drivers. Red Bull Racing Honda was third in the constructors’ championship.
In 2020, Verstappen was third in the drivers’ championship. Red Bull Racing Honda was second in the constructors’ race, closing in on Mercedes AMG F1, who had won the title every year since 2014.
In 2021 fighting with its back to the wall, Red Bull Racing Honda’s Verstappen, racing with a new power unit, was the only other contender apart from the defending champion, Mercedes AMG F1’s Lewis Hamilton. Going into the final round, Verstappen had nine wins while Hamilton had eight. Honda ended participating in Fomula One in 4th era with the victory of Verstappen who raced in a thrilling last lap battle, and won his first championship. It was Honda’s first since Ayrton Senna won three decades ago.
Honda pulled out of Formula One in 2022, but Honda Racing Corporation (HRC) continues to provide Red Bull Powertrains (replacing Honda as power unit supplier) with technical support, which will continue until 2025.
SUPER GT continues to be the largest, and most popular, motorsports series in Japan. The series, originally named the All Japan Grand Touring Car Championship, kicked off in 1994. Unique from its inception, the two-class (GT1 / GT2 classes, later renamed the GT500 / GT300 classes) race format continues to this day.
Honda first joined the competition in 1996 with the NSX, based on the NSX GT2 which raced a Le Mans. Since then, it was refined according to GT500 regulations, modifying rear wings or front bumpers each year, or even changing the engine to a turbocharged unit in 2004. The car retained the mid-engine layout of its production sibling.
In its first year of competing in the series, Team Kunimitsu’s NSX was the sole entrant, but as the years went on, there were up to five NSXs competing by 2000, a season in the Hondas were consistently well placed. After TAKATA Dome (Juichi Wakisaka / Katsutomo Kaneishi) won its first race of the season at Round 2, Fuji, Mobil1 NSX (Daisuke Ito / Dominik Schwager) dominated Round 3, SUGO with the newly-introduced 2000 model NSX. In Round 4, Fuji, ARTA NSX (Agri Suzuki / Keiichi Tsuchiya) won. ARTA’s two drivers are now the team’s manager and executive advisor, and their first victory as teammates in 2000 is remembered by many fans.
In 2000, NSXs won four of the seven rounds. Castrol MUGEN NSX finished consistently in the points, with four second-places. Ryo Michigami was crowned the drivers’ title, giving Honda its first series championship.
In 2005, the series was renamed to SUPER GT. Honda continued to race its NSX, which was improved, and became more competitive, every year. In 2007, ARTA (Daisuke Ito / Ralph Firman) gave Honda its second drivers’ title in the series.
2009 was the final year Honda’s first generation NSX raced in the series. From 2010, five front-engine layout, 3.4 liter V-8 engine-powered HSV-010 GT cars raced in SUPER GT.
Although Honda suffered a setback through a multi-car pileup at the 2010 season-opener at Suzuka, weider HSV-010 (Takashi Kogure / Loïc Duval) took the all-new car to victory at the following round at Okayama. The HSV-010 was a big success. In Round 5, SUGO, weider HSV-010 and KEIHIN HSV-010 (Toshihiro Kaneishi / Koudai Tsukakoshi) were in such a dead-heat throughout, they crossed the finish line in a dramatic side-by-side finish, KEIHIN HSV-010 winning by 0.025s. Despite fierce competition throughout the season, weider HSV-010 finished second in the final round, securing its overall victory.
Technical regulation changed drastically in 2014, mandating that all teams user a common monocoque chassis. At this time Honda decided to compete with the NSX CONCEPT-GT, based on the second-generation NSX concept model. Once again a mid-engine car, the new NSX incorporated the unique regeneration system of its production counterpart, powering the engine / motor hybrid car that Honda hoped would be victorious.
Unfortunately, the NSX CONCEPT-GT failed to win the championship in the three years it raced. In 2017, the car was replaced by a non-hybrid NSX-GT. There was much attention brought to the series the following year, as former F1 driver Jenson Button became a full-time SUPER GT driver.
The 2018 NSX-GT had many internal components rearranged to reduce its center of gravity, and the proof of its effectiveness was seen on track, as NSX-GTs fought side-by-side from the season-opener. KEIHIN NSX-GT (Koudai Tsukakoshi / Takashi Kogure) won this race, with RAYBRIG NSX-GT (Naoki Yamamoto / Jenson Button) a close second. The NSX-GT performed well all season, winning four of the eight rounds, with another 1-2 at Round 3, Suzuka.
The Yamamoto / Button team had the highest consistency throughout the season, but rival teams were also relentless. RAYBRIG NSX-GT went into the final round at Suzuka equal-first on points, and after Button drove a persistent race to finish third, the team won Honda’s first overall championship in eight years.
Since 2020, the front-engine NSX-GT compliant to SUPER GT / DTM Class 1 has been raced by five teams. Although the new regulations wreaked havoc in the first few rounds, Honda managed to win four races, and in Round 7, Motegi, dominated the top five positions for the first time. As numerous NSX-GTs went into the final round as championship contenders, RAYBRIG NSX-GT (Naoki Yamamoto / Tadasuke Makino) made a comeback to prevail and win the title.
From 2022, HRC has taken charge of four-wheel racing in addition to its motorcycle activities. Team livery and driver racing gear now sport the HRC logo, giving the drivers one more reason to improve, win, and keep on racing.
The premier Japanese formula category, the All-Japan F2000 Championship, began in 1973. Honda began supplying the RA261E engine to the All-Japan F2 Championship series in 1981, since which it won many championships alongside many drivers such as Satoru Nagashima.
In 1987, the F3000 series that replaced F2 in Europe in 1985 came to Japan, at which timing the Japanese championship was renamed as the All-Japan F3000 Championship. Engine output was raised more than 100 horsepower, as was the excitement. In its first year of competition, Kazuyoshi Hoshino drove his car powered by a V-8 RA387E engine designed for F3000, to victory. Since1988, Honda has signed on M-TEC to handle operations, to provide a wider range of teams with technology, leveling the field so that drivers could compete more on their own merits.
At this time, many drivers came from overseas to compete in the All-Japan F3000, and many have moved on to higher categories such as F1. Even after the series was renamed Formula Nippon in 1996, the Mugen MF308 engine powered the premier formula class in Japan until 2005.
Since 2006, Honda and Toyota have supplied engines for the series. In 2009, the 3.4 liter V-8 HR09E engine was exceptional, helping Loïc Duval and his team NAKAJIMA RACING win both the Drivers’ and Team championships. In 2012, the final year of Formula Nippon, DOCOMO TEAM DANDELION RACING with Takuya Izawa and Koudai Tsukakoshi won the team title.
In 2013, the series was renamed SUPER FORMULA. That year, Naoki Yamamoto (TEAM MUGEN) took his first championship title in the final round.
In 2014, engine regulations changed to 2.0 liter inline 4-cylinder turbocharged engines. Honda’s HR-414E initially fell behind the competition, but development continued, and in 2017, Honda began supply of its new HR-417E engine. Current F1 driver Pierre Gasly (TEAM MUGEN) won two rounds and was ranked second overall. Next year, Naoki Yamamoto (TEAM MUGEN) won three rounds, and his second championship title. Yamamoto moved to DOCOMO TEAM DANDELION RACING in 2019, helping the team win the Team title, and in 2020 when the new HR-420E engine was released, won the drivers’ title once again.
Honda teams continued to fight for the top spot into 2021. Tomoki Nojiri (TEAM MUGEN) has been consistent throughout the season, winning the championship before the final round. In 2022, Honda supplies engines to six teams / 10 cars. Tomoki Nojiri (#1 TEAM MUGEN) won his second straight championship, and his team has taken the team title.
Now ChallengeCategory of Competition
Racing activities in the 4-wheel category, which HRC has been challenging since 2022.
In each category, the spirit of HRC is inherited and hot battles are being fought.
SUPER GT is Japan’s top level semi-endurance racing series, succeeding the All Japan Grand Touring Car Championship which began in 1994. The series has attracted attention worldwide, with high profile drivers from around the world, such as Formula One world champion Jenson Button in 2018 and 2019, competing in the category.
Two drivers (three in long distance races) share the same car, to cover a race distance of 300 - 450km (2022). SUPER GT cars are divided into classes according to their modifications. GT500 is where Honda, Toyota and Nissan race with purpose-built cars to be the “world’s fastest touring car manufacturer.” GT300 is where a wide array of production cars by automobile manufacturers from around the world compete. Although the two classes differ in speed, they share the track, and can be used by the other to gain a strategic advantage.
Honda has been competing in the series since the All Japan days. In 2022, Honda supplies five GT500 teams with NSX-GTs, and two GT300 teams with NSX GT3s. In recent years, Naoki Yamamoto / Jenson Button won the GT500 drivers’ title in 2018, and Naoki Yamamoto / Tadasuke Makino won in 2020.
SUPER Formula began in 2013 in place of the Formula Nippon Championship. SUPER Formula is the premier formula car series in Japan, held at circuits across the nation.
The series not only determines “Japan’s fastest driver,” but is also considered a stepping stone to the world’s top racing categories, as world famous drivers such as Formula One driver Pierre Gasly and 2021 IndyCar champion Alex Parou have raced in the series.
Dallara is the sole chassis manufacturer, and Yokohama the sole tire supplier for the series. Honda and Toyota supply engines. Both companies’ engines are purpose-developed 2L inline 4-cylinder direct-injection turbo engines, competing with their technologies for higher output. As all cars are nearly identical, races are invariably close, relying on driver skills and team strategies.
Six Honda teams (10 cars) compete in the series. Naoki Yamamoto has won the drivers’ championship three times (2013, 2018, 2020), and Tomoki Nojiri once (2021).
The IndyCar Series is one of the highest class of regional North American motorsports, held over 17 rounds per season (2022) in North America and Canada. The three types of race tracks are road (on a race circuit similar to Formula One), street (on public roads) and oval tracks. The Indy 500, held for the 106th time in 2022, is among the Formula One Monaco Grand Prix and Le Mans 24 hour race considered one of the world’s three major automobile races. The Indy 500, which is held on an oval track at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway over 200 laps at speeds of over 350km/h, attracts 300 thousand spectators from North America every year.
Honda has been participating in the IndyCar series as an engine manufacturer since 2003. In 2006 to 2011, Honda was the sole engine supplier, contributing to the popularity of the series. In 2022, Honda supplies 17 racing cars with 2.2L V6 twin-turbo engines.
The IndyCar series attracts many outstanding drivers from all over the world, one of whom is Japan’s former Formula One driver, Takuma Sato, who has been racing in the series since 2010. He became the first Japanesee driver to win an IndyCar race in Long Beach in 2013. He also won the Indy 500 in 2017, and in 2020, making his mark in IndyCar history as one of its top drivers.
The FIA World Touring Car Cup is an international race category for production car-based racing cars. WTCR started in 2018, taking over from the WTCC and TCR International Series.
Nine rounds are planned for the 2022 season, spanning Europe and Asia. Five manufacturers including Honda compete in the series, and due to regulations that keep performance on par, closely fought battles and collisions are part of the excitement of the series.
TCR racing cars are based on four or five-door front-wheel drive production cars powered by 2000cc or smaller turbo engines, and are tuned according to TCR technical regulations. Honda has competed in the series since 2012 in the WTCC days, with its popular Civic sports hatchback. Since the WTCR began in 2018, Honda competes in the series with the Civic Type R TCR, codeveloped with Italy’s JAS Motorsport. In 2022, Honda competes with two teams (four cars).
The Formula One (also known as Formula 1 or F1) World Championship is the world’s premier category of car racing.
Honda became the first Japanese manufacturer to enter Formula One in 1964. Since then Honda has participated spanning four eras, winning numerous races and championships.
Since 2014, Formula One cars been powered by hybrid power units which combine internal-combustion engines with energy recovery systems. Honda returned to Formula One in 2015 as a power unit supplier for other teams.
Power unit development under complex regulations has been difficult, and Honda initially struggled, but in 2019, five years since its return, won a grand prix. In its final year, in 2021, Red Bull Racing Honda’s Max Verstappen won the drivers’ championship, ending Honda’s fourth era in the best way possible.
Since 2022, in response to Red Bull Group’s request to Honda, HRC has been providing Red Bull Powertrains with technical support for its power units. HRC will continue to support Red Bull Group’s challenge until 2025, when current freezes on power unit development end, while aiming to hone HRC technologies and develop its staff.