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.
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
- Dougi 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.
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.