|A Miserable Debut
Six months after the start of engine development, most of the problems already had been solved through the testing of single-cylinder prototypes. The next stage was to refine the basic design by applying the layout to a real-world racing machine. The development staff set up camp at Nasu Heights to work on the design, finally completing its layout for the four-cylinder, V-four stroke engine "0X" with a 100-degree V-bank angle. Bench testing of the 0X engine began in April 1979.
The 1979 season-the first year of Honda's comeback effort-was now underway. But the 0X engine was giving the team all sorts of difficulties, from a damaged gear train to broken valves. Still, the engine was producing around 110 horsepower, so the staff had begun to think they should install it in a racing machine, where its real-world potential could be assessed.
"We wanted to identify the weaknesses in our new engine by seeing how it performed in an actual race," remembered Yoshimura. "But since that was the purpose, no one was expecting it to do very well."
The 11th Grand Prix race in the U.K was to be the powerplant's first event. The speed of development would therefore have to increase in order that Honda's machines could be ready for the race. Al though the initial target had yet to be achieved, the engine was already producing 100 horsepower at 16,000 rpm. Finally, in July a brace of NR500 machines was completed, each equipped with an 0X engine. The bikes, which were decidedly not in racing condition, set out upon the Silverstone circuit in August, there to display their prowess.
From the start, however, the debut was a particularly tough battle. In fact, the machines barely qualified for a place within the last group. Once the final race was underway, Mick Grant fell at the very first corner and retired. Takazumi Katayama also retired after several laps because of engine trouble. With both riders out of competition, Honda's race had ended in disappointment.
Al though the staff had not anticipated excellent results, they nevertheless wanted to see a powerful performance. Their shock was understandable as they observed the ever-widening gap between their machines and those of their rivals. The humiliation they also felt, was much worse than they could have expected. In the French Grand Prix, the final race of the season, their embarrassment was even greater, as both riders failed to qualify.
Watching the riders leave the race, a devastated Yoshimura couldn't fight back the tears.
"I felt miserable, just miserable," he said. "Tears welled up in my eyes. Except for ours, all the bikes were using two-stroke engines. To be honest, I'd been hoping they would go to the final race and give us a really good run, even if it meant trailing at the very end. After the race they asked me to watch the video, but I couldn't bring myself to see it."
The engine was still unable to produce the amount of horsepower calculated in their specifications, and technically the machines weren't in full preparation for the race. All excuses aside, however, the fact was that they had lost. The losses in the U.K. and France were a painful reminder that the road ahead was still very long.
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