This issue features three generations of Civic hatchbacks that are set up for the track. The magazine is not giving up on street cars, drag cars and show cars. Those are still the mainstay of the Honda ranks. But, this month we are taking a break from that to show you the direction that many tuners are going and what has led to it, at least from my perspective.
Call them track cars, circuit cars, or road racing cars, more and more Hondas are being set up to perform on road courses. Just to be clear, a road course is a racetrack with left and right turns that loops back around to the start to form a complete track. For example, most of the tracks in the video game Gran Turismo are road courses.
For many years the styling of modified Hondas has been influenced by road racing cars. The Touring Cars from the British and Japanese Touring Car Championships were especially inspirational. They were slammed on big wheels with big brakes, front air dams, rear wings and loud exhausts. They made compact cars badass on an international scale. Plenty of aftermarket companies provided products to give street cars the look, but few owners would go so far as to gut and cage their daily driver. Even fewer actually made it to the racetrack.
Driving on the racetrack has always been expensive. In the past, most of the track day events for street cars were held by exclusive organizations for makes like Porsche and BMW. If you wanted to drive a Honda, your only real option was the SCCA, but that meant converting it into a full-on race car and towing it to the track. This all added up to dollar signs that most Honda owners couldn't afford. The majority of them, including myself, ended up at the dragstrip instead.
By the late '90s, import drag events were packed with Hondas. The most notorious organization at the time was nicknamed "Battle of the Hondas." Outsiders meant it as an insult, but to race in anything else was to lose. It took a lot of sponsorship money to get the top drivers out of their Civics and Integras. It wasn't that the cars were that great for drag racing. It was the engines.
Everyone knows the roots of the Honda Motor Co. It makes super-efficient engines. With so many people racing them, competition among aftermarket companies drove horsepower up and prices down. No matter what your budget was, dollar for dollar you were still going to motor down the track faster in a Honda. But, the FWD chassis with its variable camber double wishbone suspension was the last thing you would want for drag racing. Before long, cars had wheelie bars and were being caged, gutted and trailered to the dragstrip. They had just as much money in them as the road racers did. By then though, the momentum of the Honda scene was headed straight down the dragstrip. It would take a long time to get it to turn.
Fast forward to today. The Porsche and BMW guys at the track have been struck by something they never saw coming: JDM. OK, that's using the term really inappropriately but few remember what the abbreviation really means anyway. I'm referring to things like Best Motoring, Option videos and most importantly, drifting. Drifting has been blamed/credited for breaking up the popularity of drag racing. This has also somewhat taken its toll on the popularity of Hondas. Civics don't really drift that well until they reach triple-digit speeds. At that point the old Corollas attempting to drift in tandem tend to shudder and break apart. Needless to say there are some pretty serious compatibility issues with Hondas and drifting. Die-hard Honda owners don't jump ship that easily though and there happens to be something that our cars are especially good at.
Hondas are great race cars. The handling ability and reliability that was originally engineered in them give them a natural edge over almost every other car at the track. When you add the advantage of the strong aftermarket support that has come from drag racing, you get an impressively affordable machine. Dollar for dollar you will corner around the track faster in a Honda.
Lately ex-drag and show cars have been coming out of garages, reconfigured for track duty. Simultaneously, new racing organizations have started up to welcome them and show their owners the ropes. This issue features three recently completed track cars. They are just a few examples of the direction Honda builds seem to be shifting toward. Even the beautiful ITR has hints of track worthiness with its Takata harnesses like every other car in here. We'll be jumping into a couple of the latest Honda dragsters soon. But for now, here is the circuit hatch special issue. I hope you enjoy it.