The Honda Civic is a modern classic: sleek, fun to drive, and versatile enough to be equally appealing to somebody who is learning to drive as to someone looking for a platform to build the street machine of their dreams.
Those same qualities make the road-going Civic a superb starting point for a race car. Several different race cars in fact, which is why it forms the foundation for a Honda touring car ladder in North America that builds upon the brand’s deep global roots in production-based motorsport. The end result offers something for everyone from weekend warriors and track day drivers to seasoned pros.
“The Civic is the core, and what many people think of as Honda,” said John Whiteman, Honda Performance Development’s manager of commercial motorsports. “It’s the first car I learned to drive, and it’s many people’s first experience with Honda, and it’s within our DNA.”
Appropriately, the Civic serves as the gateway to a lot of drivers’ motorsports participation, too. Honda’s North American touring-car footprint covers three iterations of the Civic, starting with the Si.
“We’re now on the 11th generation of that car,” Whiteman said. “That is the entry-level car. It’s intended to be highly affordable, highly durable and highly versatile. It’s aimed mostly at the entry level of TCA or SRO, but we’ve developed it with the flexibility to be utilized in other series, whether it’s WRL, or NASA or SCCA, or even track day-type applications.”
The latest version of the Si, the FE1, has been an instant success in its limited rollout this year with the Skip Barber Racing Team in SRO’s TCA class (see below), and is now being made available on a customer basis for use next season.
For drivers who already have a bit more experience and are looking to test themselves in something more powerful, there’s the Type R, which has sealed back-to-back championships in SRO America’s TC class in 2021 and 2022.
Kevin Boehm celebrates back-to-back SRO America TC class championships in the Civic Type R at Sebring. Image via Honda Racing
“The Type R is really more about being super-fun, super-fast and living up to the Type R name,” says Whiteman. “The Type R is still relatively new to the North American market – for years, people pined for the Type R car when it was only available in the rest of world. We’ve finally got our version of it and turned it into a race car and have had a lot of success with that. I’s really intended to be an exhilarating experience that’s beyond even what your expectations might be for a production-based race car.
“That is really aimed more at a someone starting to get into the professional level. It is a natural stepping-stone from the Si – you’re increasing horsepower by nearly 50 percent, from 200 to 300, so it’s a big step up, not only the raw speed, but also the skills required.”
At the top of the ladder is the TCR, a purebred race car that currently sees action in IMSA’s Michelin Pilot Challenge.
“Despite its wild looks, when people get in it, they’re still surprised by just how fast that car really is and just what a proper car it is, with the sequential transmission and high horsepower and really good grip,” Whiteman said. “We added that to our academy this year. We’ve been running TCRs for a few years; won the championship in what was Pirelli World Challenge and have been competing in IMSA with wins throughout every year. That’s really the pinnacle of our touring car lineup, and we aim for people to aspire to that.”
The TCR takes the Civic DNA into the world of purpose-built race cars. Image by Jake Galstad/IMSA
In addition to the enjoyment engineered into every Civic from the outset, the backbone of Honda’s ladder is its accessibility, which can range from the user-friendliness of the cars from the mechanical, engineering and driving standpoints, to practicalities such as cost.
“It used to be that people would think that if they bought some car and they built it in their own garage, it would be cheaper,” said Whiteman. “It sounds that way up front, but the Si is at $55k out the door ready to go, and the Type R is anywhere from $80k to $95k, depending on what options you add to it. Of course, the TCR is more expensive. But really, if you’re looking at that Si… there are other cars that you can try to build yourself or have somebody build for you, but there’s really nothing that is as turnkey as that Si, and is reliable and low cost to operate.
“So the affordability, especially of the Si and the Type R, is really something that makes it easier for people to start racing and get into it. They don’t have to build in a large margin of variation for their operating costs because the cars are pretty darn durable and they’ll take a full season without having to do a whole lot of work besides basic consumables.”
It’s the perfect touring car package: a ladder aimed at all budgets and experience levels, designed with the driver in mind at every step.
The Honda Civic Si FE1: The ultimate entry-level racer
Honda’s 10th-Generation Civic has generated a lot of happy racing miles – and quite a bit of silverware – since it debuted a few years ago. That hasn’t dampened the innovative urges within HPD’s design facilities though, and the new 11th-Generation Si FE1 made its competition debut this year in SRO’s TCA class and is now on sale to the public for use next year. At time of writing, HPD partner team Skip Barber Racing School and driver Carter Fartuch were leading the teams and drivers championships, which bodes well for the new car’s competitive prospects. And according to Fartuch, who raced the 10th-Gen Civic last year, new FE1 owners are in for a treat.
“Everything is so much more balanced,” he said. “On paper it’s five horsepower less (than the 10th-Gen), but with the twin scroll turbo versus the single scroll turbo on the 10th-Gen. The power delivery is so much smoother and so much broader. So being able to maintain that speed at lower RPMs, not just high RPMs like in the 10th-Gen, has proven to just feel a lot faster. And the overall balance of the car… it doesn’t feel like you’re just driving a front-wheel-drive car. It doesn’t feel like it’s just driving off the front tires. It’s a way more centrally-balanced car, so it’s been really exciting, being able to try different set-up changes to open up the full potential of it.”
Carter Fartuch was one of the first to battle-test the new 11th-Gen Civic this year ahead of its rollout to the general public for next season. Image via Honda Racing
According to HPD touring car project manager James Nazarian, that ease of use is exactly the idea, and it all stems from the strong foundation provided by the production version of the car.
“About 80 percent of what’s on the new Civic race car are the OEM road car parts,” he said. “A lot of what’s not is the safety equipment, and some springs and dampers. We try to touch as little of it as we can. It helps us keep costs down, but it also makes the maintenance and the set-up and the use of the car easier, because our target customer at this level is really someone who is coming out of amateur racing, or who is trying to take a step up in what they’ve been racing. We want to give them something they can be successful with, not something that they need an engineering degree or a race team with.”
Many of the improvements in the new Si FE1 are carried over directly from its road-going counterpart. A slightly longer wheelbase and rear track width has made the race car easier to drive on the edge, and has also opened the set-up window so that even a car that’s not 100 percent dialed-in can still be competitive. Elsewhere, feedback from drivers racing the 10th-Gen car have led to refinements to the dash layout to improve usability, as well as tweaks that made it easier for drivers to see what’s around them.
It goes to show that even with a battle-proven baseline such as the Civic, the quest for ways to deliver a better experience for the person behind the wheel never ends.
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