Racing For Dreams

April 25, 2016

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By Matt Wolfe

Soichiro Honda was a passionate man in many respects. He had a strong desire to build great products and always put the customer first when assessing problems. More than anything, Mr. Honda wanted to be the best at what he and his company did. It’s natural, then, that motorsports had a strong appeal to Honda and would become a pivotal part of his company’s growth.

 

Soichiro Honda had a short-lived racing career of his own. The first race he participated in was the All Japan Automobile Speed Racing Championship in 1936. He, along with his brother Benjiro, built a turbocharged four-cylinder Ford for the race. The brothers held a commanding lead until the final lap, when a car coming out of pit lane forced Soichiro to swerve. Honda’s car flipped, and Benjiro was jettisoned from the car. He suffered serious injuries and was hospitalized for six months with multiple fractures and bruises. Soichiro also sustained injuries to his face and left arm. He would participate in one more race that year, but would then retire from racing permanently.

Despite voluntarily ending his own racing career, Soichiro Honda still had a burning passion for motorsports. “Since childhood,” he said, “my dream was to become a champion in world automobile racing with a machine I had made myself.” After WWII, Honda Motor Co. began to participate in motorcycle races. The company’s bikes claimed the top five positions in two classes at the 1961 Isle of Man TT races, the most famous motorcycle race in the world, and won numerous other championships. The success of Honda’s racing motorcycles, combined with the company’s entrance into automobile manufacturing in 1963, would lead them to take the plunge into one of the greatest racing series of all time; Formula One.

Honda announced their entrance into Formula One in January, 1964. A now famous message was delivered to the eventual F1 project manager Hideo Sugiura in 1962, stating, “We are planning to compete in F1. We want you to oversee the project.” Sugiura responded to the message “What is F1?” His response underscores just how foreign a concept automobile racing was in Japan at this time. However, Soichiro Honda believed his machines could not improve if they were not raced, and there was no better place to test this theory than in the ranks of the best racers and constructors in the world. Honda’s Motor Co.’s inaugural F1 race was the German Grand Prix in 1964, and it became the first Japanese manufacturer to win a Grand Prix in 1965. Though Honda was beginning to taste success in F1, the company would temporarily withdraw after 1968 to focus on growing its passenger car business.

Honda returned in 1983 as an engine supplier for constructors like Williams, Lotus and eventually McLaren. Honda engines would power the likes of Alain Prost and Ayerton Senna to four world championships between 1988 and 1991. Soichiro Honda would pass away on August 5, 1991, at the age of 84. 45 years had passed since he and business partner Takeo Fujisawa had founded the Honda Motor Co. In that time he had seen the company go from a fledgling motorcycle manufacturer to a world-renowned builder of motorcycles and automobiles as well as one of the most respected names in motorsports.

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