|The NR500s: A Humiliating Debut
The NR team had finally made it to England, where the machines were receiving their final tuneups in preparation for the GP race. At the same time, Yanase was making various arrangements in order that the team might concentrate on the race free of hindrances. Thus, in addition to setting up the bikes for optimal performance on the track, there were many other things that had to be done for each race, such as arranging transportation and accommodations for the many staff members involved. The World GP, often referred to as the Continental Circus, had most of its races in Europe. Therefore, while it was possible to develop the motorcycles in Japan, it was impossible to manage the races from Japan. The distance was simply too great.
Yanase rented a warehouse in Slough, an English town near Heathrow International Airport, as their team's base of operations in Europe, while in Britain additional preparations were underway through a company called HIRCO (Honda International Racing Corporation). Honda had established HIRCO in December 1978 as a joint venture with Honda UK for the management of all racing activities, including competition in the World GP series.
Honda's riders for the 1979 season would be Mick Grant and Takazumi Katayama, the latter having competed in the 1977 World GP series as a privateer, where he ultimately won the championship title in the 350-cc class.
For their part, the NR500s kindled great expectations upon their appearance at Silverstone, portending awesome performance with their original engine design and sleek styling. However, those expectations were mercilessly shattered in the qualifying round. These bikes, which were still in development, barely performed well enough to get through to the final. Even then, Grant fell at the first corner following the start and quickly retired. Katayama also retired after several laps due to ignition problems.
Though they had not expected a win in their very first race, the NR team was deeply disappointed with the outcome of their efforts. The NR500s were brought back to Japan, and improvements were made to further reduce weight and increase output. However, those really were not the fundamental solutions that the project team had long sought.
Harsher realities awaited in the French GP, the twelfth race of the 1979 season where both machines failed to qualify for the final, meaning that no results whatsoever could be garnered from their presence. However, the team could not go back to Japan without data, after having spent so much time and money in preparation for the French event.
Therefore, the staff of the NR Block flew to England, and with help from HIRCO tested the NR500s at Donington Park. The test was a fruitful one, in which new areas of possible improvement were identified. However, there was no improvement in speed, and the machines were still running two seconds behind the lap record. In the world of racing, where one-hundredth of a second determines the winner, two seconds was just too great a handicap.
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