Organizing the NR Block: Preparing for a Comeback

The NR500 was refined through a long series of tests at Suzuka Circuit. The rider in the photo is Takazumi Katayama (January 1980).

<< 1. Speeding Through the 1960s
<< 2. After a Decade, a Comeback to the Grand Prix
<< 3. Organizing the NR Block: Preparing for a Comeback
<< 4. Coming Back with a 4-Stroke Powerplant
<< 5. The Oval Piston: Heart of a New and Different Breed
<< 6. From Fantasy to Reality: Completion of the 0X Engine
<< 7. The Unconventional: Adopting a "Shrimp Shell" Frame
<< 8. The NR500s: A Humiliating Debut
<< 9. Refining the Engine-a Top Priority
<< 10. First Victory: The Suzuka 200-Kilometer Race
<< 11. The NS500, Honda's First 2-Stroke GP Machine
<< 12. Victory Again : After Fifteen Years
<< 13. Using Computer Analysis to Bring Honda Back, Stronger than Ever
<< 14. From the NR to Le Mans and Production Bikes

Several days after Honda's comeback announcement, Koichi Yanase, manager of Suzuka Factory's First Engineering Work Section, received an unofficial order of transfer to HGA.

"Four section managers, including myself, were called by Mr. Takayuki Kobayashi (then general manager of Suzuka Factory) for a short chat," Yanase said. "I was asked where my birthplace was, and I remember answering 'Tokyo.'"

Yanase reported to his new post on December 10, whereupon he was told by Yuhei Chijiiwa, the general manager of HGA, that he was to manage the Motorcycle Racing Department. He was also handed a portion of a document outlining the company's plan for racing activities. That plan described a project with three basic targets:

[1] Create innovative technology through racing activity.
[2] Foster young talents who can become key leaders in Honda's future.
[3] Become world champion within three years.Other than a yearly budget of around ¥3 billion and 100 or so available personnel, the details of the project, including its name, were as yet undecided.

"The project name was selected as NR (New Racing), based on my suggestion," Yanase said. "That was virtually our first challenge, since we couldn't ask for help from the people who had experienced the World GP during the 1960s. So, actually we were expecting the road ahead to be very difficult."

January 1978 saw the start of preparations for Honda's comeback in motorcycle racing. Those preparations got a significant boost when Yanase was introduced by Nobuhiko Kawamoto (then corporate director of Honda R&D) to Takeo Fukui (chief research engineer in the First Research Block at the Wako R&D Center), who was subsequently assigned to the project as manager of the Engine Performance Group.

Fukui immediately undertook a study of the new engine with Shoichiro Irimajiri, Honda R&D's corporate director, who was then to serve as general manager of the NR project. Concurrently, Yanase was busy gathering the human resources needed to form the NR project team. Visiting Honda factories in Suzuka, Hamamatsu, and Saitama, Yanase assembled over seventy people in a little over two months.

The project was officially launched at HGA in February 1978. By the time the NR Block was formed in April, the team had grown into a group of nearly 100 staff members, some of whom were recent college graduates.
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