Honda: Carrying the Challenging Spirit Across the Ocean
"Wow, what speed! This is the race where engine performance counts most. If Honda participates in any U.S. racing event, it has to be this one."
Michihiro Asaka, who saw his first Indy 500 race in 1987, was deeply inspired by what he had witnessed. Working for Honda R&D North America (HRA) at the time, Asaka had seen several Indy Car races at Long Beach, California where the cars streak through the city's streets. However, he had never seen a race on an oval course such as the Indy 500, where machines fly at more than 350 km per hour. He was immediately fascinated by the sheer speed of it.
A heated battle was fought on the oval course in Michigan, 1996.
Koichi Amemiya and Tom Elliot, president and executive vice president of American Honda (AH), had envisioned a plan. AH had already implemented various measures to expand its car sales in the U.S., the world's largest market. However, it was not yet involved in any local motor sports events. In Japan Honda was known for its years of involvement in racing, but in America, with its popular Accord and Civic models, Honda was simply thought of as one of many manufacturers of passenger cars. But Amemiya wanted to change that image by demonstrating Honda's strengths in motor sports and the spirit of competition it brought to every race. And at this point Amemiya's desire and Asaka's inspiration found their convergence.
In 1989 Amemiya and Asaka were both watching the Indy 500 race from the stands. Excited, the two found a congenial spirit in each other, each vowing that he would do whatever it took to compete in the race.
The research center in Wako (HGW) soon began a research project devoted to the design and development of a prototype Indy engine. Unfortunately, Honda had been going through difficulties with the F-1 series in which the company was then competing. As a result, the testing of Indy car engines was halted and the Indy project staff members were reassigned to F-1 in order to assist the team.
Asaka was undaunted, however, and saw this turn of events more as an opportunity than a setback. Although engine development had been stopped, there was nothing that kept them from doing the planning. So, Asaka drafted several plans based on Honda's Indy strategy, proceeding with preparations so that development could resume as soon as a go-ahead was given.
Asaka reorganized the development team for the Indy Car racing engine when, in September of 1992, the company announced its temporary withdrawal from F-1. The following January, Amemiya used the occasion of the Detroit Auto Show to announce Honda's plan to enter the PPG Indy Car World Series. Standing there next to Amemiya, Asaka said to himself, "This is the race we do for the American people. As such, I want all employees at American Honda to understand their company's challenging spirit and apply all they will learn from Honda's involvement in the race. This is the principal objective of our entry in the Indy Car series, just as our objective of F-1 competition was the furtherance of engineering skill and knowledge at the research center."