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GP Week : Issue 29
Honda’s four-wheeled rac HONDA first entered Formula 1 in 1964 as a full-blown constructor and in only its second season scored its first win at the 1965 Mexican Grand Prix, under the steady hand of Richie Ginther. The team could not mount a serious title challenge however, and following the death of Jo I 34 T was all a complete coincidence – Honda named the Civic Type R production car never realising that its car would enter rallying under the new Group R rules. And not many people realise that the Civic Type R is not a Japanese car – it is British, built in Swindon. After a long and cherished history of competition on the race circuits of the world, Honda is now discovering the world of special stages. Honda is one of the few major companies that has never seriously been involved in the sport but now, through the enthusiasm and efforts of the Italian company JAS Motorsport, who have a lot of experience of circuit racing with Hondas, they are planning into the future. Honda has been involved in rallying over the years, albeit only at a minor level, through the efforts of private drivers in lower level categories. Interest has been geographical; the places where drivers seem to appreciate Honda are the more northern countries in Europe where the rallies are faster. Honda sales tend to be stronger in the north of Europe than as well. Group N Hondas, for example, were always very effective in Finland, Germany and in Eastern European countries. “Honda production engines are traditionally powerful, but in southern European rallying where twists and turns abound, torque is more important than power,”says Alessandro Mariani, JAS Motorsport managing director. Times, however, are changing, and Honda has noticed this. Not only is this the change in the world economy, but legislation affecting production of street cars is now quite different. Tuning rules are forever more demanding, and so a lot of the philosophies behind the Group N and A formulae, which have been in force for 25 years, have been superseded. The FIA has also noticed all this, and their new Group R rules have provided an opening for Honda to look further into rallying, and progress beyond privateer level The sporting model waiting to be used was the Civic Type R, and JAS Motorsport was engaged to develop the car. Its first test was with Luca Rossetti in October 2006, and it was obvious the car had potential, but there was a lot to do, not only learning about the car and rallying generally, but particularly the evolution of the FIA’s new Group R rules. The car’s first appearance in competition came in 2007 at the Mille Miglia with Luca Betti. A lot of minor problems were experienced and a lot of lessons learned, such as the fact that a lot of testing before a circuit race can make you ready, but the same isn’t necessarily true in rallying!