Without racing, there is no Honda,” said company founder Soichiro Honda decades ago. What he knew was that racing’s extreme environment helped his company explore the outer boundaries of the design envelope, because if a product can withstand the rigors of going full-out for extended periods of time, it stands a far greater chance of lasting under normal usage. Honda also said, “Success is 99 percent failure,” and in racing there is only one winner and a bunch of losers, but each outcome provides a valuable chance to learn. He not only wanted to know why he won, but also why his entries lost. Racing provides a real-world laboratory that has helped to create better recreational engines.
A few years ago, I was lucky enough to visit the Honda Collection Hall at the Twin Rings Motegi racetrack in Japan, where they have 350 restored vehicles from all sectors of the Honda experience. While many were production vehicles, I was blown away by the number of racing machines displayed. Many were small displacement motorcycles that had set world speed records, illustrating that the essence of racing is all about efficiency: getting more power out of an engine while reducing its weight.
In 2006, Honda partnered with Ilmor and became the only engine supplier for the IndyCar Series. That year, the entire Indy 500 race was run without a single engine failure, which is undoubtedly the first time that’s happened.
The Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control (VTEC) system, on Honda’s flagship outboard, the BF225, is derived from the racing division and made its first production appearance on the Acura NSX super car. This advanced system utilizes mild cam lobes to operate the intake valves at low rpm for a great holeshot, mid-range power and economy. But when you reach higher rpm, it engages a high-output lobe, basically switching it into a race cam for those times you want to romp.