From Honda Performance Development: Race Versions of the Civic Si, Fit and CR-Z

By Staff Writer
Oct 30, 2020 | Honda, Civic, Fit, HPD, CR-Z | Posted in Features | From the April 2012 issue | Never miss an article

[Editor's Note: This article originally ran in the April 2012 issue of Grassroots Motorsports]

Story by Matt Stone

We’re guessing that Honda finally had enough of those Mazda commercials that boast of road racing superiority. Even though Honda has competed at just about every level of motorsports, up to and including Formula 1 domination, there were some holes in their program. To close those gaps, the company has given its U.S. racing arm, Honda Performance Development, a shot of adrenaline.

Honda Performance Development may be new to club racers, but it’s been around for a while. The group was established in 1993 as a wholly owned subsidiary of American Honda Motor Co., Inc., and originally entrusted to build and develop race engines for Honda and Acura. That was primarily for American and Canadian racing series, although it has had some intercontinental reach.

HPD’s biggest project over the last decade was supplying engines to what we now call IndyCar racing—including the old CART and IRL series. 

Up until very recently we’ve been primarily a service provider, but given the recent economic climate, we are being asked and encouraged to expand and manage our business into a profit center,” explains HPD General Manager Marc Sours. Sours sees opportunity in providing engines, chassis and parts across a broad variety of motorsport, from pinnacle levels such as IndyCar and ALMS to Pirelli World Challenge and Grand-Am. 

Then there’s the massive grassroots landscape, including NASA and the SCCA. HPD’s increased involvement in the club racer ranks, he adds, will be in R&D as well as parts, engines, and chassis sales and service. 

A Cleaner, Greener Wizard

HPD isn’t run out of a second-rate facility but rather a 123,000-square-foot headquarters in Santa Clarita, California. Its approximately 125 employees work in a modern industrial facility that’s a fantasy cross between a purpose-built race shop, a hospital operating room, and an aeronautical skunkworks facility. 

This place is amazing. The spaces are well planned and immaculate. There’s a lot of machining and parts assembly going on, but everything is clean. Take their machine shops, for example, where cylinder heads are finished and assembled. Oil and metal shavings on the floor? Never. The office spaces offer open, airy cubicle environments.

Then there are the dyno cells. Each one is a large, well-lit room perhaps 20 feet wide and about 50 feet long. The engine is mounted on the standard stand, and large intake tubes provide air for the engine’s intake. 

It’s a green dyno cell, too: The exhaust gasses are scrubbed before leaving the building so they comply with EPA industrial pollution requirements, while the engine being tested twists two large electric motor generators. These generators create electricity that ultimately reduces HPD’s use of local grid power. HPD isn’t fully self-contained when it comes to power, but the juice earned from the power cells helps lower the facility’s energy cost. 

These are fully automated dyno cells, and during our visit we watched a twin-turbocharged, 450-horsepower V6 take two computer-orchestrated laps around Sebring. The programming included full-throttle shift blips and simulations of the track’s long straights; the plumbing between the turbos and intake manifolds glowed red during the extended periods at wide-open throttle. 

Over the Rainbow From Behind the Wheel

Honda Performance Development has proved itself at the top levels of motorsport, and their 2012 commitments already include the Izod IndyCar Series as well as ALMS, FIA endurance and the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Now they’re looking to aim that same dedication at our Civics and Integras.

Honda Performance Development does more than supply Indy and Le Mans teams. They want to become a go-to source for NASA and SCCA racers, too. During a Willow Springs test day we sampled some of their creations. 

B-Spec Honda Fit

After warming up with the stock version, we sampled the B-Spec Honda Fit. B-Spec is a new road racing class designed for the B-segment compacts, including the Fit, Mazda2, Ford Fiesta, MINI Cooper and more. 

The allowable modifications are mild, the idea being that a racer should be able to put together a fully competitive machine for less than $25,000—depending upon labor costs and the exact price of the base car. The rules will be open to various sanctioning bodies, too, meaning that a B-Spec car isn’t limited to just one venue. Schedules are still being put together, but SCCA, Grand-Am and World Challenge have all announced either schedules or intentions.

The Fit’s DOT-approved race tires come up to temperature relatively quickly, and it’s good fun to listen to the mostly unmuffled four-banger snort and rasp through its large-diameter single exhaust. 

Willow is a long, fast track that rewards both horsepower and momentum, but that didn’t dim the Fit’s fun quotient a bit. There are enough technical corners that a precise line and solid grip are musts to be competitive. 

The roll cage adds a huge amount of structural rigidity to the chassis, while the sticky low-pro tires and stiff suspension sharpen the Fit’s steering response far beyond any similar street-spec model. Power steering is maintained, and there’s no hint of torque steer. Precision helps, of course, but you can miss the apex by a bit and easily make small adjustments to put the car right back on line. 

The racy Honda isn’t crazy fast down Willow’s long front straight, but the car is fast enough to be fun. The gears need to be fully used to keep the little guy on boil, but that’s just part of the thrill. 

Turbo CR-Z Track Hybrid

Like the B-Spec Fit, HPD’s turbocharged CR-Z racer has a full cage plus upgraded brakes and suspension. This car, which first broke cover at the SEMA Show in November 2010, retains its Integrated Motor Assist hybrid system and augments the gasoline engine with a turbocharger. 

Total horsepower is about 187, which can be computer-managed a bit higher or lower. In spite of the turbo, this car snorts and rasps even louder than the open-exhaust Fit. 

As one can imagine, engine management is this setup’s biggest challenge. It has to operate and integrate the electric motor, gas engine and turbo all at once. 

The powerband is a bit strange, though, with the IMA and boost constantly surging in and out. It’s smooth enough, but you never know quite where to drive it: lower in the powerband to maximize the electric motor’s torque, or higher up to let the turbo do some meaningful work. Power flattens near the top, but then it’s on the rev limiter. The other fly in its ointment is a bit of torque steer that ebbs and flows from the electric steering when you’re hard on and off the power in lower gears. But like the Fit, it’s a wonderful handler, and more powerful than the B-Spec sedan. 

This car has spent some time at Thunderhill, but is otherwise not currently homologated for any particular racing series. It’s primarily a show and research toy. Even so, it’s an interesting glimpse at potential future racing technology.

World Challenge Civic Si

The Honda Civic Si is a staple of the Pirelli World Challenge series, and the recently introduced ninth-generation Civic made its debut in Touring Car trim last October at Road Atlanta. Two such cars have been constructed so far, one for Compass360 Racing and the other for the Honda of America Racing Team.

These cars are brimming with HPD parts and engineering, including a racing-tuned K24Z7 2.4-liter engine boasting 230 horsepower. The basic goodness of the Si chassis is a fine starting point for a race car, and the large-for-a-Civic 2.4-liter engine has tractable torque at low revs to compliment the usual Honda zing up high. With twice the power of the B-Spec car and only 100 pounds more heft, this thoroughbred really hustles.

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