Team HRC takes on the challenge of the first 24-hour race in the new era of motorsport

Team HRC takes on the challenge of the first 24-hour race in the new era of motorsport

On May 28, in the wake of his recent announcement to return to F1 for 2026, Koji Watanabe, President of Honda Racing Corporation (HRC), was in the U.S., Indiana, at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, attending the INDY 500 race held just at that time, and communicated incessantly with his staff in Japan.

Indeed, at the same time on the other side of the earth, the second round of the 2023 Super Taikyu series, namely the “FUJI SUPER TEC 24-Hour Race” was being held at Fuji Speedway in Shizuoka Pref., Japan in which a CIVIC TYPE R CNF-R was just running the 24-hour long race under the supervision of Team HRC.

HRC had been undergone a major structural change in April, 2022, and took over the responsibility of Honda’s motorsport activity both in two- and four-wheel categories since then, and it was the first time for the company to participate in an actual four-wheel race under the name of Team HRC. That is the reason why Watanabe was apprehensive about the national endurance race event as much as F1 or INDY would make him so.

Original motives and the goal that HRC aims at

CIVIC TYPE R CNF-R is a competition vehicle based on CIVIC TYPE R (FL5) developed by HRC that has been tackling the “Realization of Carbon-Neutral” in the motorsport field which made its debut to the very Fuji 24-hour race in order to exercise the actual combat in the Super Taikyu series by using the carbon-neutral fuel (CN fuel) synthetically made from plant-derived ingredients.

The new HRC announced four primary action plans: One, “Enhance the Honda brand through motorsport activities.” Two, “Make substantial contribution to the automobile/motorcycle industry.” Three, “Cope with the carbon-neutral protocol serving for the sustainable motorsport.” Four, “Make efforts for expanding motorsport activities from the grassroots level.” The entry of CIVIC TYPE R CNF-R into the Super Taikyu series is the activity that generally goes in line with the latter two plans.

“Honda had tended to be self-absorbed just into the racing in the past, and we thought it’s not enough as a racing company,” said Watanabe.

“We would really like to pursue the pleasure of motor racing together with our customers while maintaining the highest possible level as a competitor, and at the same time, make our motorsport activities even more sustainable, and go hand-in-hand with the environment-friendly methodology. The Super Taikyu series is the place where we can share the same feeling with customers, such as, “Driving cars is really fun!” or, “Race is exciting to watch!” and we wanted to do it in sustainable way. That’s why we decided to enter the series.”

Watanabe himself had once experienced gymkhana races between 25-30 years old and came to know the joy of the “DIY motorsport” which he wants to provide and configure for mutual use with customers.

“Taking part in F1 and saying ‘We’re great, aren’t we?’ is not at all the completion of a vow. I knew from my own experience that the pleasure of driving in the race was peerless. It was a pure sensation I grasped when I was young, and I still remember the vivid excitement as if it happened only yesterday. I thought to myself we, as HRC, should not play down that joyful part, we’ll have to devote ourselves to it for sure.”

Carbon neutral and CIVIC TYPE R

The CIVIC TYPE R CNF-R being debuted to an actual race at Fuji Speedway is a carbon-neutral-fuel (CNF) compatible competition vehicle based on CIVIC TYPE R that had marked the quickest time in the production FF car history at Nurburgring known as one of the most challenging racing tracks in the world. The engine fitted to the car is the conventional gasoline-burning unit just as same as the CIVIC TYPE R production model.

Yoshitomo Oka, Project Leader of Participatory Motorsport at HRC, who has overseen the Team HRC entry to the event for this time said:

“The engine itself was unchanged. The CNF-compatibility was achieved only by ancillary equipments and other devices, and how all those parameters should be matched each one and other was the most difficult part. If we think about the motorsport of the carbon-neutral era, it’s better not to use special engine. We should cope with it just by switching the fuel.”

Oka, as same as Watanabe, is a genuine motorsport fan who entered Honda spurred by the admiration for F1, and has ever been tackling all out with the carbon-neutral technologies in the scope of participatory motorsports that would definitely support the future of motor racing.

In the Super Taikyu series, entrants are divided into nine classes, i.e., ST-X, ST-TCR, ST-1 to 5, and ST-Q, basically in accordance with each performance level, and compete in each class. CIVIC TYPE R CNF-R made its entry to the ST-Q class that was exclusively provided for the under-development vehicles, and in the Fuji 24-Hour Race, a total of six experimental vehicles from various automobile manufacturers entered into the same class, all of which, including CIVIC TYPE R CNF-R, equipped with the power unit run on CN-fuel (incl. hydrogen).

Things that became visible after completing the 24-hour race

On May 27, at 3:00 p.m., CIVIC TYPE R CNF-R entrusted to Hideki Mutoh/Takuya Izawa/Hiroki Otsu/Shun Koide started the 24-hour race from the 3rd grid of the class that was obtained through the official qualifying session.

“Making debut in a 24-hour race almost all from scratch is nothing other than a wild challenge. But, that’s what Honda stands for in a sense, so we decided to go ahead. Till we started the race, we couldn’t help but feel nervous thinking about a lot of what-ifs and so on. We had very good reasons to be so, because we didn’t have enough data to be sure of anything. We came to the 24-hour race without doing a proper long-distance test beforehand.”

To the surprise of Oka in such dismay, CIVIC TYPE R CNF-R accumulated lap after lap without a hitch, then came the sunset and went into the night run. The next day, in the morning, when the race distance reached the 2000km-mark, with some 4-hours to go, a trouble disabling the shift change cropped up, and he had no other choice but order emergency pit-stop.

“We couldn’t identify the cause of the trouble at that point, and for such an occasion, we had a spare transmission unit at hand. We may as well swap the whole component, however, the chances were that we’re running out of time and not able to receive the checkered flag. So, we made the decision to keep on going without changing the transmission, well prepared to get the situation even worse, so that we sent the car back in the race when one and a half hours left to the finish time. The gear was fixed in 4th and thus the pace looked appalling, however, Mutoh did his best nursing the troubled car all the way to the finish,” recalled Oka.

“It’s our debut race, and to complete the whole race, at least, was the goal for us. I’m delightful that we could clear the goal in the first place. Besides, we’ve accumulated a great deal of data through the 24-hour long run, and in the result, we came to know how we could deal with the CN-fuel in some degree. The severe situation in which we drive through a circuit at maximum power for 24-hours brought us a critical transmission failure. The design specification assures the durability as long as it runs on public roads, however, we recognize that both the durability and the reliability of the car are needed to be enhanced a bit more especially when we count in the possibility of harsher use situations such as motorsport that our customers may well be fascinated.”

HRC has some plans to expand the motorsports of the carbon-neutral era from grassroots level, for example, developing customer products reflecting the know-how acquired through the Super Taikyu series. Watanabe now in the know of the actual performance of CIVIC TYPE R CNF-R seemed to get encouraging impressions towards the future challenge.

“We’ll pursue the theme how we provide our customers with high-quality products at reasonable price. And at the same time, we’re planing to develop another type of vehicle different from the on-going CN-fuel cars which would serve as the forerunner to further open up the potential of the HRC brand,” said Watanabe.

Team HRC just having taken off from the new start will participate in the 3rd round of the series, the SUGO Super Taikyu 3-Hour race, held at Sportsland SUGO (Miyagi Pref.) on July 8-9.

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