We Want to Create the Best Engine

The NR500's aluminum oval piston.

<< 1. A 4-stroke Engine: The Natural Choice for a Comeback
<< 2. We Want to Create the Best Engine
<< 3. Will the Engine Really Rev?
<< 4. A Miserable Debut
<< 5. Completing the Oval Piston Engine
<< 6. In a Drawer, a Piece of a Dream

Honda announced its plan to go back to the World GP circuit the following April, 1978. Accordingly, a new organization called the NR (New Racing) Block was formed at the Asaka R&D Center for the purpose of developing racing powerplants. When the project began, the engine development team had only three very young staff members. But Honda had established key objectives for the resumption of racing operations. Assembling a young development team was very much in keeping with one such objective, which was to "foster young talent with the spirit of racing."

Yoshimura, who was only in his sixth year at Honda, didn't have any experience with Honda's past racing activities. Ideas such as "resuming racing activity" and "returning to the World GP circuit" had simply not crossed his mind.

"Instead of being excited about developing racing machines, our feeling was more akin to raw determination", he said, "It was the determination to create something that would represent the very best in technology. We were determined to create an engine to surprise the whole world. We believed that if we could create the best engine, it would bring us a victory."

The average output of Honda's rival two-stoke engines was in those days around 120 horsepower. Although horsepower isn't the only determining factor in a victory, the development staff knew they should first achieve a degree of power output exceeding that of the competition.

World GP racing regulations limit the number of cylinders to four. Accordingly, for a four-stroke engine to be as powerful as a two-stroke unit, it has to achieve twice its normal rpm. To achieve that, the team had to enhance the intake efficiency and design a valve system with higher resistance to friction and heat buildup at high revolutions. Given these conditions, the idea was born to double the number of valves to eight. As they examined the potential valve positions in the context of their four-stroke engine layout, the team came up with an idea of changing the piston's shape from a circle to an oval.

"The reason was simply that we were all so young," Yoshimura said. "We had nothing to fear. You could even say we had no preconceived notion that a piston had to have a circular cross-section. We were determined that the oval design was the key to outperforming two-stroke engines."

According to their calculations, the eight-valve oval-piston engine would offer an estimated output of 23,000 rpm and 130 horsepower. With such promising figures, the team set out on its quest for new technologies. They believed they had a winning idea, and now they needed the winning formula.
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