Honda corporate suits won't confirm it, but we still think it's likely that the U.S. will get a version of the Honda Fit (aka "Jazz" outside of Japan) for 2006. Honda execs in Japan have acknowledged concern about Korean automakers making inroads into the compact econobox segment, especially in America, and believe they have the weapon to fight back.
The Fit is a cool little car, about the size of a Civic three generations ago. In line with America's fixation with supersizing, the current Civic gets bigger with each introduction. And given its slight size (it really isn't THAT small, at least those we've ridden in Japan). The Fit is also a prime candidate for the kind of track/road-race conversions that made the CRX such a winner.
The Fit we have here is direct from Japan and it's a purpose-built racecar. Spoon Sports' American distributor, OPAK Racing, had the car built in Japan as a follow-up to the JDM Integra Type R they imported last year. That car came to these shores to race at the Thunderhill 25-hour enduro and was tuned in-house by OPAK's technical director, Alan Sensier. These guys are no strangers to making cars go fast.
Spoon also campaigned an Accord Euro-R in last year's Thunderhill race, winning its class. The OPAK Racing guys are all about racing and what better car to attack the 2004 race than the Fit? Spoon Japan has raced its Fit to some success, largely due to its excellent fuel economy and brilliant balance.
For Thunderhill, OPAK ordered up a fit from Japan, then promptly stripped it down to the dash and welded in a cage (admittedly, a little harder in a four-door than coupe). The dash keeps most of its content, a plate for fuel pump and fire suppression switches replacing the radio. At the top of the center dash cluster sit DEFI gauges for oil and coolant temp. A Spoon steering wheel replaces the stock offering, as does Spoon's ultralight Kevlar-based race seat. Crossing the seat at five points is a Takata harness. With the interior complete, the Spoon team moved to the suspension. In a car with limited, near-stock power, suspension is a critical component, one that can make lap times drop faster than all but the largest power adders. The Fit features a compact strut design up front with separately mounted struts and springs at the rear to add to interior space.
Up front, the team added custom-damped KYB struts coupled with Swift springs. Brake rotors are stock, but the pads are Endless endurance racing versions with Spoon braided lines and Motul synthetic fluid.
According to Sensier, "The entire suspension got very little modification because I didn't want to change a whole lot. The car is really good from the start and this is an endurance race. We actually ran the race with used rotors and I was worried and constantly on the radio to the drivers to make sure they were easy on the brakes. But they made it. We had no problems and used just the one set of pads for the whole race."
On the other side of the brakes are 15-inch Spoon rims wrapped with 195/50 Yokohama ADVAN tires. Why so small? "We didn't do major modifications to the car, so 195 tires were plenty," Sensier says. "If you add more tire, that adds more load, which stresses the suspension more. I didn't want any of that."
Under the hood is an engine familiar to none of us in USDM land. Honda's new lineup of iDSI motors are fuel economy and emissions champions, not lean or ripped like their K-series cousins. In Japan, there's a 1.3-liter and a sportier 1.5-liter version. Spoon's Fit packs the 1.5-liter, rated at a whopping 110 hp from the factory. It's a city engine with a seriously oversquare 73x89.4mm bore and stroke. Eight thousand rpm would grenade this motor.
To beef things up for racing, Spoon fitted a racing-sized radiator with Spoon thermostat, low-restriction air filter, lightweight battery and oil catch can required by organizer rules. The stock five-speed benefited from a Spoon 1.5-way clutch-type limited slip and Spoon axles. The pressure plate and clutch were also swapped for Spoon units.
Stock intake and exhaust manifolds, plus internals right off the factory line, were juiced just enough for higher octane by means of a MoTeC engine management system. OPAK estimates horsepower at 120, not bad when you consider it's only asked to haul about 1,800 pounds.
It's fuel economy that OPAK hoped would make the difference and Sensier worked out the team's strategy for the race. Organizers classified the car in the competitive E2 Class, home to more powerful Miatas and other excellent handling cars. With that classification and the newness of racing the Fit for the first time, the objective became finishing in the top 10 by means of fuel economy.
"I estimated that most of the other teams would have to pit around 20 times, if not more over the whole 25 hours," Sensier explains. "Because the Fit was so efficient in our testing, I had us pitting only about 10 or 11 times--about half as much. Passing in the pits would be our line of attack."
It worked for them. Planning to go the whole distance on a single set of tires, fuel and driver changes happened about every two and a half hours, with much less frequency than their competitors. In the 23rd hour, OPAK was in the top 10 as hoped. A bit of overaggressive driving necessitated a tire change, but that was the extent of problems--until another case of overexcited driving broke a spindle.
The spindle was a factory part and Sensier had prepared plenty of spares from Japan. Only problem is that Customs wouldn't release any of the parts in time for the race. To make things work, another axle was literally pounded into the drivetrain and bolted on with the impact wrench. The delay took them up until nearly the end of the race. The Fit crossed the line 25th overall and 17th in its class after 434 total laps.
"It was truly disappointing because we were in the top 10 and I had it scored to the end that we would actually finish sixth in our class," Sensier says. "We had troubles with customs on the Euro-R car and it got us again. But the finish was excellent and the car ran problem-free. Had the drivers run just little less aggressive, I don't think the spindle would have broke. But how do you tell a race driver to slow down and take it easy?"
Regular Honda Tuning readers will remember in our pages a recent Mugen Fit powered by a K20 swap. And with Spoon/OPAK's enduro experience proving that this car has the chassis integrity to go hard, we can't wait to see this car over here, preferably in someone else's rearview mirror.