European Endurance Racing: The History of Invincible Honda 1976~1979

Honda Endurance Racing and F.C.C. TSR Honda are participating in the 2016/2017 FIM Endurance World Championship (EWC) series with Honda CBR1000RR bikes. The series stages a total of 6 races, ending with the Suzuka 8hours FIM EWC. The European Endurance Championship series is the predecessor to the FIM EWC series. In the 1970’s, Honda won both the riders and the constructors titles for four consecutive years. The team was so strong, it was known as “the invincible.”

1976 The Invincible RCB1000 Races to a Clean Sweep in its Second Year

Christian Leon (left), Jean-Claude Chemarin (right) (1977 Zandvoort 600km)
Christian Leon (left), Jean-Claude Chemarin (right) (1977 Zandvoort 600km)

Jean-Claude Chemarin (1977 Zandvoort 600km)
Jean-Claude Chemarin
(1977 Zandvoort 600km)

Christian Leon (1977 Zandvoort 600km)
Christian Leon
(1977 Zandvoort 600km)

Marc Stinglhamber (1977 Zandvoort 600km)
Marc Stinglhamber
(1977 Zandvoort 600km)

Jacques Luc (1977 Zandvoort 600km)
Jacques Luc
(1977 Zandvoort 600km)

The new RCB1000 was unveiled at a chilly Suzuka Circuit on March 18, 1977. The new 1977 RCB1000 (development code 481) was powered by the same engine as the previous year, yet output was increased to 125ps/9500rpm, and the chassis was lighter and more rigid. High-tensile still pipe was used for the frame, the same as the previous year, but the design was changed so that pipe work joined the steering head to the pivot in a straight line, achieving high rigidity and an 18kg reduction in weight from the original 480A. To deal with the constant threat of overheating, a large oil cooler was newly added to the front just under the headlights, giving this model its characteristics.

Various components were revised based on the team’s experiences from the previous year. The drive chain, which needed to be exchanged routinely, was replaced with a new sealed chain which would last a complete race without needing replacement. Eccentric chain adjusters on the swing arm pivot, front axle quick-release forks for quick tire changing, and engine guards to prevent damage when crashing were more features added to the new model.

These improvements are now standard for modern endurance racing equipment, realizing ease of maintenance and preparation. The RCB1000 was the pioneer. The sealed chain containing grease in the rollers, sealed in with an O-ring, was a special component that Honda ordered Takasago Chain (now RK Excel) to develop specifically for the RCB1000. This was also a revolution in endurance racing.

All of these new ideas originated from Michihiko Aika, who considered safety as the top priority in racing. His philosophy was, “Reducing lap times by 1 second on the track increases the risk of crashing, so it would be safer to save 1 second in the pits.” Following this philosophy, the team made modifications to the machine so it could return to the pit even after a crash. All these newly adopted ideas came from a passion to win the following season. In later years, Aika spoke of his belief: “Oyaji-san (Soichiro Honda) had always said it was my job to make a machine that any rider could ride fast. He also said you should never blame the rider for the results. My belief was inherited from him." The RCB was the first machine built on such a philosophy to win endurance races.

During this year, the team had changed dramatically. The two Honda France machines and the Honda Britain machine remained a factory effort, while Honda decided to additionally support local affiliate teams such as Japauto (France), Dholda (Belgium), Freyters (Holland), Eckert (West Germany), and Honda Swiss. In the second year of its challenge, Honda considered local teams winning local races was important, and this system was to support the idea. Before the season began, Honda gathered all the local affiliate teams to France and held a tutorial session over two weeks. Honda described to the teams the new machine and all the know-how that Honda Endurance Racing Team had to offer. From this year on, even with the factory teams, Japanese staff limited themselves to background work, while the local staff performed the main duties.

With completely renewed machines and teams, Honda started its season at the Zandvoort 600km, on April 24. The conditions were hazardous, with rain soon turning to hail. The Honda teams rode the 480 models from the previous year, and as the race began, Honda France's Christian Leon/Jean-Claude Chemarin slipped into first place on the first lap. Although the weather gradually cleared with sunlight starting to shine on the track, the surface was still slippery. Both Jacques Luc/Pierre Soulas of Honda France, and Tony Rutter/Geoff Barry of Honda Britain crashed out. The top running pair of Leon/Chemarin held their position to the checkered flag with ease though, and Marc Stinglhamber/Jack Buytaert of Dholda made it to second place. Behind the Dholda came Harry van den Hout/Leo Spierings from the local team Freyters, completing Honda’s domination of the podium.

Gary Green (1977 Misano 1000km)
Gary Green
(1977 Misano 1000km)

Maurice Maingret (1977 Misano 1000km)
Maurice Maingret
(1977 Misano 1000km)

The second challenge for the RCB1000s was the first race of the European Endurance Championship in Misano. The 1000km race usually took place in Mugello, but was hastily moved to Santa-Monica that year, with the race starting at 3:55pm, making it a day-and-night session. Honda competed in the race with 480 models for machine set-up reasons, and by halfway through the race, Leon/Chemarin had built up a lead of 1 minute 10 seconds over Jean-Francois Balde/Michel Frutschi on their Kawasaki, until they slipped on oil, forcing to walk the RCB back to the pits. The Kawasaki led the race successfully until it retired due to engine issues at 7:30 pm, yielding the lead to the steady-going Gary Green/Maurice Maingret of Japauto who kept the position to the finish. The Honda Britain team which had removed the cowling having suffered a crash, had successfully re-gathered its speed and was as close as 35 seconds behind the Japauto team, when it finished in 2nd place.

Stan Woods (1977 Misano 1000km)
Stan Woods
(1977 Misano 1000km)

Charlie Williams (1977 Misano 1000km)
Charlie Williams
(1977 Misano 1000km)

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