Involvement in motor sports is a key element in Honda's corporate culture. The roots of this ‘challenging spirit' can be found in founder Soichiro Honda's love of motorcycles, cars and racing, and above all his passionate dream of building the world's leading automobiles.
In July 1936, Soichiro Honda competed in the first All Japan Automobile Speed Racing Championship with his brother, Benjiro. The Honda team's four-cylinder Ford, which the brothers had personally prepared for the race, was cruising toward what seemed to be a runaway victory. However, just before the checkered flag their Ford, trying to avoid a car entering the course from the pit lane, lost control and overturned. Benjiro was thrown from the car, receiving serious injuries. For six months he remained hospitalized, suffering fractured bona and bruises all over his body. Soichiro sustained injuries to his face and left arm.
In the summer of 1949, Honda Motor, still a fledgling company, participated in the Japan-U.S. Friendship Race, the first motorcycle race held following the close of World War II. Honda won a victory with its C-model.
Honda then took part in the March 1954 International Road Race held in Brazil, in commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the city of Sao Paulo. The company's participation attracted a great deal of attention, since up to that time no Japanese machine had ever competed in a formally organized international event. Although driver Mikio Omura finished thirteenth with his R125, nicknamed "Dream," there was an obvious gap in terms of technological standards as compared to the European manufacturers that dominated the top positions.
That experience, combined with the remarkable performance pulled off by riders from the Honda Speed Club in Japan's Asama Highland Races (the name was changed to Asama Volcano Race from the second year onward) beginning in 1955, led to TT, a major challenge, Honda's participation in the isle of Man Tourist Trophy (TT) race, then the most prestigious motorcycle race in the world.
in 1961, Honda competed in TT races for the third time. There, the company dominated the 125-cc and 250-cc classes, winning the top five positions and producing all-podium wins in both. That year Honda also won the Manufacturers Championship titles in the 125-cc and 250-cc classes of the World Motorcycle Grand Prix Series.
Kunimitsu Takahashi putting in all his energy behind the handles at the 1961 Grand Prix held in the then West Germany
Soichiro Honda believed the company's machines could not improve if they were not raced. He felt that to allow motorcyclists and drivers to push their machines to the limit before the uncompromising eyes of throngs of spectators was the only way to test these machines and one day build the world's best. It was a passion that drove Soichiro toward his dream; the dream of building a full-scale circuit that would host international races.
The Suzuka Circuit, completed in September 1962, was the realization of that dream.
Honda went on hiatus from the World Motorcycle Grand Prix after the 1967 season, ultimately returning in 1979. That year, Honda competed with its four-stroke NR500. Then, after many struggles, the company came out with its two-cycle NS500 in 1982.
Honda's now-legendary reputation for racing performance continued to grow, when in 1985 the company debuted its NSR500, a machine with which riders Freddie Spencer and Michael Doohan rode to world championships.
Honda's entry in the World Formula 1 Grand Prix Series was announced in January 1964. Led by Yoshio Nakamura, Japan's first team manager appointed ﬁor Formula 1 Grand Prix operations, the Honda team competed in its inaugural Formula 1 race - the German Grand Prix - in August 1964, with an RA271 built on a Honda chassis and powered by a Honda engine. The team scored its first victory in the 1965 Mexican Grand Prix with an RA272, driven by Ritchie Ginther. However, Honda temporarily withdrew from Formula 1 racing following the close of the 1968 season. The decision was made after the company, seeking to become a full-ﬂedged manufacturer of passenger vehicles, had decided to concentrate its resources on the research and development of low-pollution engines and other more urgent programs.
John Surtees driving his RA273 in the 1967 Monaco Grand Prix
The year 1983 marked Honda's return to the World Formula 1 Grand Prix circuit. During this second phase in its Formula 1 history, Honda decided it would remain a supplier of engines. Thus, in the 1988 season Honda's V6 turbo engine achieved impressive results on a McLaren chassis, winning fifteen out of sixteen races. In 1987, the first Japanese Formula 1 Grand Prix was held at the Suzuka Circuit, which created an Formula 1 boom that rocked the nation. And by the end of the 1992 season, which marked the completion of Honda's second phase of Formula 1 activity, the company had achieved an awesome record of six consecutive Constructors' Championship titles.
Honda revealed its plan for another return to Formula 1 on March 9, 1998, announcing that it was considering the details of its strategy. Accordingly, in the third phase Honda plans to form its own F-1 racing team for involvement in the overall aspect of racing, from the development and manufacture of machines to the management of its own team.
American Honda's announcement of entry to the PPG Indy Car World Series' 1994 season came in January 1993. Honda fought difficult battles during its first year with Indy, the first American motor racing series in which it had competed. Honda had to wait until the New Hampshire race - the last event in the 1995 season - to score a victory.
Honda won the Manufacturers Championship title, given to the best engine supplier. in 1996. In fact, the company's third year in Indy racing brought triple victories for Honda, with Alex Zanardi getting Rookie of the Year and Jimmy Vasser winning the Drivers Championship title. Honda repeated this ‘triple crown' in the 1998 season.
August 1997 marked the opening of Honda's Twin Ring Motegi venue in Tochigi Prefecture. It was the world's first racing venue complete with an oval super speedway and a road racing track. The facility's construction, the plan which had been announced in 1988, took more than nine years to complete. In March, 1998, CART racing, the most popular motor sports series in the United States, finally came In Japan. The race was held at Twin Ring Motegi.