Honda - Racing at Thunderhill Improves the Breed
The Indy 500 and 24 Hours of Le Mans began as tests of endurance rather than speed. The "glory days" of motorsport are often remembered for amazing machines rather than their reliability.
Margins of victory were measured in laps rather than seconds. Racing research and development happened by trial and error - and often in public throughout a season. Computer simulations ushered in the ability to test and develop in private. Higher budgets and more brand-conscious companies made failure on the race track a matter of corporate pride rather than signs of progress.
Computer tools make the design process more efficient and cost-effective but still are artificial. Formula One teams pay vast amount of attention to correlate their track experience to their wind tunnels. Design simulations help narrow down the envelope of possibilities, but manufacturers typically still test a number of options in the real world.
Endurance racing is a proving ground. Making cars last for hours and hours of stress remains a challenge. Not all manufacturers either see the value or are willing to put their products to the test around the road courses of the world. Not all motorsport efforts are full factory-backed high-budget projects. Honda employees working in Southern California have a proud tradition of bringing the marque's latest machinery to the 25 Hours of Thunderhill.
Team Honda Research West entered a pair of brand new model year 2022 Civic Si cars in the 2021 edition. How new? Most people hadn't seen a new Si in person. While the team has found success in the past, mechanical gremlins plagued both cars. Around three hours into the race, the team found themselves in the paddock doing an engine transplant from a road Si into one of the race cars. At a minimum, the exercise proves the similarity of powerplant between the road car and race car.
Team Honda Research West was forty people strong. What a great team-building exercise and sign of motorsports enthusiasm for people who are not full-time racers. Even the drivers were experience amateur racers rather than factory Honda pilots.
There are never guarantees in racing. The stakes are lower in an event like Thunderhill than Le Mans but kudos to Honda for putting their products in competition. There likely would have been more post-event Honda publicity if the result would have been different.
The crew was passionate and took pride in their work. While clearly not thrilled with the turn of events, the crew treated each other and bystanders professionally. They were friendly to those who took an interest in their project. They were effective ambassadors for themselves, their project and their brand.
You can be sure that both cars got a thorough post-race analysis to figure out what went wrong and what lessons could be learned. Those that buy Civic Si models from the showroom and those that will race them in the future should benefit from the knowledge.