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.”

1979 Mission Accomplished for the RS1000: A New Challenge for Honda Begins

RS1000RW (FWS) (2nd place in 1982 Daytona 200 miles)
RS1000RW (FWS) (2nd place in 1982 Daytona 200 miles)

RS1000 showed its ability in the road race such as the Isle of Man. On the other hand, in the endurance scene, the Hondas had won both at Nurburgring and Montjuic and entered the Suzuka 8 hours to take revenge of the previous year’s defeat. Suzuka and the following Liege were non-title races, so the team did not race their star riders Leon and Chumalin, but employed Ron Haslam and Alex George from Honda Britain. Tony Hatton/Mike Cole from Honda Australia, and Dale Singleton/David Aldana from Honda America were also competing. The riders representing Honda and the RCB1000's success in Europe had influenced dealers to purchase parts and machines from outside of Europe, such as the U.S. and Australia. The two Americans were sprint riders, Honda having started to use sprint riders alongside endurance specialists. Entry lists indicated CB900s, but they were in fact RS1000s.

The Suzuka 8 hours started off as a sprint race, just as it had a year ago. Grame Crosby/Akitaka Tomie on the Moriwaki Kawasaki Z1 battled for the lead with Hideo Kanaya/Yasuaki Fujimoto on the modified-to-500cc-TZ750, and Masaki Tokuno/Hiroto Tokuno on the Works Kawasaki Z1, but were all crashed and retired as the race went on. Kengo Kiyama/Takao Abe from team RSC, on a CB900F powered by an RS1000 engine, took the lead but later retired from a machine issues. Singleton/Aldana crashed while fighting for the lead, so at the end of the day, it was Hatton/Coal who brought the first Suzuka 8 hours victory to Honda. They had completed 197 laps, 3 laps more than Yoshimura had achieved the previous year. In second place was Haslam/George, and following the top two RS1000s, CB750/900-based machines were seen all the way down to 8th place. This was a result of more bikes using RS1000 engines entering the race.

At the Liege 24 hours, the RS1000s kept up their pace. Jacques Luc/Jack Buytaert on the Dholda Honda won the race, and Honda machines dominated the top 5. At Metit, on the other hand, the Suzuki team, progressing in four-stroke racing, had entered a Yoshimura-tuned machine and took their first European Endurance Championship victory. Hondas finished 2nd, 3rd and 5th.

The Bol d'or 24 hours was still a popular race in Europe, and this year it was held outside of the series as an open class race, with engine capacities up to 1200cc allowed. To take advantage of this regulation, RSC bored out the existing engine by 2.2mm and prepared a 1062cc (bore/stroke: 70/69mm) version for the RS1000. The commercially available CB1100R has the same capacity and bore/stroke as the RS1000 that raced at this event.

Jacques Luc / Japauto (1979 Bol d'or 24 hours)
Jacques Luc / Japauto (1979 Bol d'or 24 hours)

Kenny Blake / RS1000 (1979 Bol d'or 24 hours)
Kenny Blake / RS1000 (1979 Bol d'or 24 hours)

Spectators were treated with an exciting long-fought battle between Leon/Chemarin and Tadao Asami/Patric Pons on the Sonoto Yamaha TZ750. Their top speeds were almost identical, but the Yamaha was lighter with a powerful 2-stroke engine, while Honda had an advantage with fuel efficiency. Late into the night, Asami crashed and spent time in the pits allowing Leon to lead, but Leon also crashed early in the morning. Quickly repairing the machine, Leon managed to return to the race still in front, but the Yamaha was catching up fast. Lapping around 4 seconds faster than the Honda each lap, by the time the race had reached its final hour, the gap was down to one minute.

Over the last 20 minutes, in the heat of the battle, an electrical problem caused the Yamaha to pit. The problem took more than five minutes to fix, giving Leon/Chemarin Honda's fourth consecutive Bol d'or 24 hours victory. This also meant the team had achieved both manufacturer's and rider's titles for 4 consecutive . Asami/Pons finished second after solving their problem, while 3rd place went to Marc Fontan/Jacques Luc on an RS1000. 4th was the other Sonoto Yamaha TZ750, and Boet van Dulmen/Pentti Korhonen came in 5th on another RS1000. The last race of the season was the Brands Hatch 1000 mile, but Honda did not enter any factory supported teams, and Christian Huguet/Ricardo. Huben took the win on the France Kawasaki.

It was not only the RS1000's dazzling victories that the project aimed for. Although the RS1000s slowly faded out from the racing scene in Europe, the fact that many Honda machines were seen at the race tracks showed the influence the RS1000 had made. By establishing a system where anyone could buy kit parts, it encouraged many riders to try racing on large capacity motorcycles, which was an important function of the project. The system was welcomed not only in Europe, but also in other countries such as the U.S. and Australia.

In 1980, endurance racing was lifted from a European series to world championship status. Bike regulations were accordingly reviewed in accordance with TT-F1 guidelines. The RS1000s this year (485-01) were based on CB900Fs, with an output of 131.6ps/10000rpm from a 997cc (bore/stroke: 67.9/69mm) engine. Other than this endurance model, an AMA Superbike model was also made (485-02). This had an output of 132ps/10000rpm from a 1023cc (bore/stroke: 68.7/69mm) engine. The chassis was based on the 482 but a new type with an aluminum spring arm was also prepared. The suspension had also been refined, and front forks from a GL1000 and rear suspension units with links at the bottom, known as the Pro-Link, had been introduced.

The newly started World Endurance Championship would be battled over seven rounds, excluding the traditional Bol d'or, as it was held as an open class race the previous year. France Kawasaki with Moriwaki-tuned engines, and Suzuki GB with Yoshimura-tuned engines participated as virtual factory teams, and were threatening Honda, the defending champions. As a result, Marc Fontan/Herve Moineau took three wins and the endurance title, while Leon/Chemarin won one race. The rider's title went to Fontan/Herve Moineau, and Honda took the manufacturer's title for its fifth consecutive year. By this time, Honda had moved management of the teams almost entirely to local affiliates, and were closing their activity in Endurance racing.

After the factory team had left Europe, the RS1000s continued to be manufactured until 1981 and raced through to the 1982 season. By this time the RCB1000s were starting to become outdated and with the appearance of strong rivals, were not able to win the way they used to in the endurance races. From 1984 the new TT-F1 regulation limited engine capacity to 750cc, which put an end to the RS1000 series. In this era, Honda had started development on a new V4 machine based on the WGP NR500 racer. The RS1000 only managed to win two races in the 1981 World Endurance Championships, but the following year, a CB750F with a fully tuned RS1000 engine won the Daytona 100 mile Superbike race for the first time. Along with accomplishing the goal to win the Daytona, this came with an impressive 1-2-3 finish reminiscent of Honda's dominance in Europe. This race was the last win for engines based on the RCB1000 series.

At the same event the CB750F won the 100 miles, a newly developed machine with a V4 engine had competed in the main race, the 200 miles: The RS1000RW (FWS) finished 2nd and 3rd on its first appearance. It was more powerful and was faster than the 2-stroke Yamaha YZR500-based 680cc bikes, but because of its high power, had to change rear tires at regular intervals. By having to pit so often the race was not easy, but still, it was an impressive result to be on the podium. For the RSC team, the development of this RS1000RW (FWS1000) became the hardest mission they had ever tackled. Shortly after this, RSC and NR development teams were merged to form HRC. The V4 engine machines evolved into the RS850R, RS750R and the RVF, which once again won endurance races for Honda.

RVF750 (Run 1985 Suzuka 8 hours)
RVF750 (Run 1985 Suzuka 8 hours)

1979 Race Results

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