Grass roots: Honda CRX Challenge

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Image enhancer

The last four-and-a-half years have seen the Honda name rocket into prominence in motor racing with its utter domination of Formula One following success in Formula Two and Formula 3000.

As a corporate image enhancer this has done a great deal for the Japanese company, but internal surveys by the British importers continued to show that the average age of a British Honda owner was 57. It was thus in an effort to attract the attention of younger buyers that Honda UK decided to initiate its own Challenge in 1988 based on the desirable and fast CRX 1.6-16.

As there are several other manufacturer-supporter series on the calendar, Honda was uncertain as how its own would be received. A great deal of research therefore went into ensuring that the rules would be clear and keep competitors’ costs low, and a prize fund in excess of £65,000 was provided. The response was so good, however, that it was decided to restrict the number of registered competitors to 35, since most circuits are unable to accommodate fields of more than 30 cars anyway. By controlling the number of entrants, Honda could thus be assured that most drivers would get to race at some time, and could still allow for full grids even after natural wastage had taken its toll during the season.

The cars themselves were sold by Honda UK directly to the competitors, on the strict condition that they were used for racing only and could not be used on the road. They were offered at the special price of £9650, including all the parts needed to prepare them for racing, and delivered to competitors through local dealers. At the end of the season, the V5 registration form and National Type Approval number will be released by Honda, on payment of taxes, to allow the cars to be converted back to road use.

The power-pack is the familiar twin-cam four-cylinder, 16-valve 1600cc engine developing 130 bhp which, along with the gearbox, is sealed by the importer to prevent any extra tweaking. To police this, Honda has the right at the end of every round to impound two cars and take them to the rolling road at Brands Hatch, where they can be thoroughly checked for any signs of tinkering.

To minimise costs the rest of the racing car is basically standard, apart from mandatory safety equipment. The double-wishbone independent suspension is fitted with Spax competition dampers and stiffer coil-springs. As in other series, the tyres are controlled, Yokohama being the supplier of the permitted racing rubber in this case.

After six of the twelve rounds in this closely-contested series, there have surprisingly been only two winners – Patrick Watts and Rob Hall with three victories apiece. That statistic, however, should not give the impression that they have dominated the racing as Messrs Prost and Senna have done in their Honda-engined cars; Hall and Watts have been keenly chased all the way, notably by Barrie “Whizzo” Williams, Graham Churchill, Dave London and David Leslie.

Car No 1, entered by British Credit Trust, is always reserved for celebrity drivers – among them Derek Warwick, Roberto Moreno and Patrick Head, the technical director at Williams Grand Prix Engineering. The appearance of these guests, who are ineligible for championship points, not only adds interest to the grid, but also acts as an extra stimulus for the competitors.

With so many other one-make championships, what is the particular appeal of the Honda CRX Challenge? According to Greg Masters, one of the last of the demon late-breakers, there were a number of reasons why he preferred this series. The MG Metro, Fiesta and Renault 5 championships had been around for rather a while and had lost their initial glamour, and the highly-publicised Vauxhall-Lotus Challenge was for single-seaters; but the Honda CRX Challenge was new, was therefore getting the full support from the company which was keen to see it succeed, and, being a new championship, was easier to attract sponsorship for.

Without having the necessary finance available himself, Masters found the various Honda dealers he approached were all fully informed about the series; following the lead from Honda, many were becoming involved one way or the other. In the end, he found support from Ron Forster Cars of Rugby, which has been able to arouse a great deal of interest by displaying the car in the showroom, and through local newspaper reports on its activities.

With close and competitive racing, and the sponsors seemingly satisfied, Honda UK can be justifiably pleased with its initiative. So successful has the project been that Irish, French, Dutch and Swedish Honda importers have all expressed an interest in forming their own Challenge series along the same lines. WPK