Sixty long years ago Soichiro Honda arrived on the Isle of Man with his team to compete in the 125cc race at the TT races. Although they returned home with the Team Prize little did anybody who witnessed their World Championship debut around the Clypse course envisages the scenes in the Le Mans pit lane on Sunday.
As Marc Marquez celebrated his 47th premier class win with typical exuberance and Team Manager Alberto Puig equally typically calmly checked the state of tyres on the race-winning RC213V, Honda celebrated another giant milestone in their racing history – their 300th premier class victory.
Two–stroke 500’s, 800 and 990cc four-strokes have brought the Japanese factory unrivalled success again, the very best in the World although it has not always been easy. After so much success in the smaller classes, they entered the 500cc class in 1966 to take on the might of MV Agusta and a certain Giacomo Agostini with the weighty combination of World Champions Jim Redman and Mike Hailwood. Redman won the opening two rounds at Hockenheim and Assen but his challenge that had started so brightly ended when he was injured. The following year Hailwood and Agostini ended on equal points but the title went to the Italian
Honda then withdrew from Grand Prix motor cycle racing to concentrate their considerable technical innovation and finances into Formula One car racing. They returned briefly to challenge the two–strokes with the amazing but uncompetitive NR500 four-stroke with those oval pistons. They realised they had to build a competitive two-stroke 500 to challenge the might of Suzuki and Yamaha and their return to the fray in 1982 was spearheaded by a young American Freddie Spencer on the three-cylinder 500. What a choice it turned out to be with Spencer bringing Honda their first premier class title in 1983 and then re-writing the history books two years later with a 250/500cc double Championship – a feat that has never been repeated. Mick Doohan brought them five successive titles in the nineties and Valentino Rossi took over his mantle winning the last two-stroke 500cc Championships and then heralded the return of the four-stroke era in 2002 and 2003 with a Championship win before defecting to Yamaha. Casey Stoner and Rossi were the thorns in Honda’s side in the new 800 cc class but Stoner signed from Ducati to bring Honda their first 800 cc title in 2011. Then Marquez arrived and the rest is history with the Spaniard capturing five World titles and 47 Grands Prix wins. There are still more titles and Grands Prix victories to come.
Sixty years ago Soichiro Honda arrived in the Isle of Man with a four-rider team to compete in the 176 km 125cc race to fulfil a dream. Three of the Japanese riders had never competed in a race only on tarmac but they returned home with the Team Prize. Little did anybody in the Isle of Man on that June day realise this was just the start.