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History of Honda in the Motorcycle World Championship: The beginnings

22 mayo, 2021
historia honda mundial motociclismo mike hailwood 1967

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Honda debuts in the Motorcycle World Championship in 1959

After a lot of test work in Japanese competitions, such as the Asama Race and Mount Fuji, races that bore little resemblance to the tests that took place in Europe, Honda debuted in the 125 World Championship, presenting five motorcycles in the 1959 Tourist Trophy. It was four units of the Honda RC142, a twin-cylinder with double overhead camshaft and four-valve cylinder head, and six-speed gearbox. The fifth was an earlier version of this, the RC141. The engine offered 18 hp of power at 13,000 rpm. Despite the inexperience of her pilots, who were competing outside of Japan for the first time, Naomi Taniguchi took sixth place, just ahead of Giiichi Suzuki and Teisuke Tanaka. Junzo Suzuki was eleventh, and with these results Honda won the constructors’ trophy.

In 1959, the RC142 was the first model with which Honda competed in Europe. It is a 4-stroke 125cc two-cylinder, 8-valve, double overhead camshaft twin capable of reaching 13,000 rpm, a technological challenge for the time.

In the 60s Honda improves its racing department

Back in Japan, work increased in the design department. It developed a new 250 motorcycle, the RC160, with four cylinders and 16 valves, which reached a power of 35 CV. Just two months after making its TT debut, Honda would achieve absolute victory in the Asama Race with the RC160, led by Sadao Shimazaki.

In 1960, Honda finally landed in the World Championship with its new motorcycles. The RC143 (125 cc) was an evolution of the motorcycle used the previous year on the Isle of Man, the cylinders had been slightly tilted forward to improve cooling, reaching 23 hp already. The RC161 was a 250, four-cylinder, 16-valve, which spun at 13,000 rpm and produced 40 hp. The team continued to rely on its roster of Japanese drivers, joined by an important and valuable group of Western drivers, who brought the experience and knowledge of the tracks needed to achieve a great result. Honda had Tom phillis, Jim Redman Y Rob brown as reinforcement, but the first podium in the championship was achieved by Kenjiro Tanaka, third in the 250 race of the German GP.

1960 Honda RC 161

With the RC161, Honda added Tom Phillis, Jim Redman and Rob Brown to its squad, riders with knowledge of the European circuits with whom Honda would begin to string one victory after another in the World Speed ​​Championship. The RC161 stands out for its 4-cylinder, 16-valve engine with gear train distribution, a feature that would adopt the different evolutions of RC models.

Honda’s evolution in the championship was progressive. By 1961 their bikes were competitive enough to win races in 125 and 250. In fact, Tom Phillis would be proclaimed champion in 125, Y Mike Hailwood at 250. But in addition, the list of pilots who added victories was multiplying. Along with Phillis and Hailwood, the future champions, Kunimitsu Takahashi, Jim Redman, Luigi Taveri and Bob McIntyre they won races with Honda, which also took the manufacturers’ title at 125.

Mike Hailwood in 1966

From 61 to 67 Honda garnered 15 world titles

During the sixties the list of successes multiplied. From 1961 to 1967 Honda riders won 15 titles. Between 1962 and 1967, Honda contested 25 manufacturer’s championships, from 50 to 500 cc, and added 18 titles, achieving a historic milestone in 1966 that no brand has managed to match: achieving victory in all categories. From that moment, Honda showed what has been a constant throughout its history: its extraordinary ability to develop a wide range of models.

The variety and richness of Honda’s technology was unmatched by other manufacturers, whatever the category. From the small and sophisticated RC116, the nine-speed 50cc twin, whose specific power reached 280 hp / liter, capable of turning over 21,000 rpm, something almost unimaginable in a time when there were no titanium springs or pneumatic valves, up to the powerful RC181, the 500 with a four-cylinder engine.

Mike Hailwood in 1967

On the left the wonderful 50cc 4-stroke twin capable of turning at 21,000 rpm. On the right, another work of Honda engineering, the 125cc 5-cylinder engine, both with the central gear distribution system.

During this period, Honda technologically evolved its motorcycles in all categories, with an assortment of configurations that no other brand was able to offer. In 1966 Honda had a 50cc twin cylinder; a 125 five-cylinder; six-cylinder engines in the 250 and 350 categories; Y a mighty four cylinder 500 that yielded 85 CV of power in its first version.

In the 60s other Japanese competitors arrived: Suzuki and Yamaha

The competition came from the Japanese manufacturers, such as Suzuki in 50 and 125, and Yamaha in 125 and 250, who had also opted for multi-cylinder configurations, but in this case on two-stroke mechanics, while in the higher categories, MV Agusta, with its three- and four-cylinder engines in 350 and 500, it had stiff competition with Honda.

1967 Honda RC 166

Without a doubt, of all this technology, the most famous engine is the famous six-cylinder, which was equipped with the 250 (RC166) and 350 (RC174) Honda. Precisely on the basis of the 1967 297cc RC174 engine, Soichiro Irimajiri developed the spectacular six-cylinder Honda CBX 1000, in a demonstration of how competition is an excellent working base for developing series models.

At the end of the 60s Honda stopped the development of its motorcycles to focus on cars

After eight intense seasons, in February 1968 Honda made a halt in its presence in the Motorcycle World Championship to tackle new goals in the field of motorsports. In addition, the new regulations approved in the World Championship were to limit the number of cylinders from 1970, which would have prevented the development of various projects conceived by Honda designers to renew their GG.PP models. with a new range of technological solutions in various displacements. The era of technological splendor gave way to a new stage, in which Honda was not going to be present. But it was not a goodbye, but a see you soon.

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