Factory Firecracker: The Honda Civic Si Race Car

Factory-built consumer race cars aren’t just a delight. Many, like the Ferrari 250 GTO and Porsche 917, also become historical icons. This category has survived from one generation to the next thanks to several race-oriented marques, including the various Ferrari Challenge cars and the long-running Porsche 911 GT3 Cup line.

That’s awesome if you have Ferrari or Porsche race car money lying around. Even Ford’s latest factory-built racer, the Mustang-based FP350S, costs $115,000, and while the performance is undeniable, that’s still a lot of scratch.

Honda’s in-house performance arm, Honda Performance Development, has a new entry in the category with the Honda Civic Si Race Car–yes, that’s its official name. This Civic is not as fast as the $500,000 Acura NSX GT3, but it’s a targeted shot at the current and future Touring Car scene, and at $52,500, it’s a tenth of the price of its supercar sibling. For a brand-new, factory-built and -developed racing car that’s a key turn away from cranking out competitive laps with Touring Car America, NASA Honda Challenge, SCCA T3 and more, that’s a strong bargain.

The current Civic Si is a worthy starting platform–everyone on staff who’s spent time with our longterm loaner has come away impressed–and HPD has put in the thought and the work to shore up the street-based car’s potential weak points for on-track reliability and performance.

HPD starts with a body in white from the factory line, then adds a robust cage as the core of the safety suite. Under the hood lies the same turbocharged 1.5-liter engine found in the production Civic Si, which makes 205 horsepower and 192 lb.-ft. of torque at a peak boost of 20.3 psi.

A larger radiator ensures plenty of cooling headroom, and an HPD/Borla exhaust frees up flow and reduces mass. Aluminum Hasport engine mounts remove slop from the drivetrain, and the OEM six-speed manual has been enhanced with a single-mass flywheel and a stronger fourth gear. Perhaps best of all, the stock car’s helical-gear limited-slip differential has been replaced with a race-tuned HPD/Cusco clutch-type unit, which is much better suited to aggressive operation on high-grip tires and should tolerate regular curb hopping without complaint.

Bilstein double-adjustable dampers are mounted to adjustable camber plates at all four corners, and the rear lower suspension arms have been upgraded to cope with the stiffer spring package. HPD has tweaked the ABS module for track use, and carbon-fiber inlets and ducts further aid brake cooling up front. Enkei wheels and Hoosier tires are standard equipment.

A partnership between Honda and Red Line Oil means the Civic comes topped off with race-worthy fluids in every reservoir, from the brakes and transmission to the engine and radiator. Buyers even get a box full of spare Red Line fluids to cover the first change of each system–a classy touch.

The final package weighs just 2490 pounds, well under the minimum for the majority of series where the Civic Si Race Car is classed. Running 200 to 400 pounds of ballast is not uncommon. This move should help future-proof the car, as higher performance is available just by pulling mass out of the car. There’s also more power to be had from the turbocharged engine through tuning and bolt-ons, so obsolescence shouldn’t be a looming threat; Honda lists 220-plus horsepower as an easy target on the spec sheet.

We took a few laps around VIR in the Civic Si Race Car and found it reminiscent of some of our favorite moments spent racing Hondas. The agile and eager front-wheel-drive attitude rotates off throttle and exhibits minimal torque steer.

The engine is a big change from Hondas past, however, as the turbocharger lends so much low-down grunt that running to redline is frankly unnecessary. Short-shift a few hundred revs early and there’s ample thrust in the next gear waiting to be exploited. The 1.5 turbo is relatively quiet for a track engine, but actually hearing the tires, brakes and other cars around you isn’t the worst way to spend a track session.

The clutch-type differential, tuned suspension and grippy Hoosiers reward an aggressive right foot, urging you to get on the power early and often. Inside, the ergonomics are true Honda, with a precise-action shifter (for a cable-driven unit) and plenty of visibility and room. We noticed that the back-up camera and Honda’s clever blind-spot monitor are both still in place, and while the factory dashboard screen/radio was removed for weight savings, it wouldn’t be hard for a clever DIYer to rig up dash-mounted screens displaying permanent video streams from those two sources for unparalleled rearward awareness.

The only other consumer race car in this tier is the Global MX-5 Cup car from Mazda and Long Road Racing, which was recently upgraded to the ND2 spec with 181 horses and other improvements. Its price increased accordingly, though, to $68,000.

At $16,000 less, the Civic does weigh about 100 pounds more, but the turbo 1.5-liter boasts 24 more horsepower and gobs more torque–and that’s with just the stock tune. While the ND2 MX-5 Cup and Civic Si Race Car are targeted primarily at different series, they’re competing directly in the TC America series this year–same tires, same race days. At TC America’s VIR date earlier this year, the top MX-5 edged out the top Civic Si by only about half a second: 2:10.792 versus 2:11.388.

Further info about Honda Performance Development and the Civic Si Race Car can be found here.

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