In 2017, Honda unveiled the most comprehensive overhaul of its vaunted hot hatch in two decades, and while it’s on-track debut in the 24H SERIES may not have gotten off to the best of starts, greater things are expected in 2019.
Even before it turned a wheel in anger on-track, expectations for Honda’s brand new Civic Type-R were pretty high heading into 2018. The outgoing ‘FK2’ Type-R after all claimed convincing A3-class victories at both Silverstone and Barcelona during the 2017 24H TCE SERIES at the hands of Honda of the UK Manufacturing specialists Synchro Motorsport, and while the team’s final outing of the year at Spa-Francorchamps was beset with turbocharger hose issues, 3rd in-class was still enough to secure not only the A3-class crown, but also the Overall TCE Drivers’ and Team’s titles.
With the FK8 though, Honda had started with a clean slate to deliver the most ambitious overhaul of its vaunted hot hatch to-date. Launched at that year’s Geneva Motor Show, the fifth generation model was the first Civic Type-R developed from the ground-up as a performance machine instead of being adapted from an existing model. It featured a brand new and considerably stiffer chassis, the most powerful turbocharged engine ever fitted to a Civic Type-R, and was the first of its breed to be marketed in North America. Less than two months after its launch, the FK8 had already secured a new front-wheel drive lap record around the fearsome Nürburgring (7m 43.8s), and just under 18 months after its launch in Geneva, the Honda had broken a further five FWD lap records at circuits as varied as Spa-Francorchamps, Magny Cours and the Hungaroring. Success on-track was surely imminent.
But for an enormous accident on its 24H TCE SERIES bow with Synchro Motorsport in Barcelona, an A3-class podium at the very least was on the cards in 2018, and while mechanical woes would fell RKC/TGM Motorsport’s development race with an ‘FK7’ TCR-spec model 12 months ago in Dubai, four wins in the inaugural World Touring Car Cup (WTCR) demonstrably proved the new Civic’s race pace. Fortune had other plans though for the then-reigning 24H TCE SERIES champions. Just four hours into its maiden 24-hour race, Andrew Hack in the Synchro Motorsport #76 FK8 Type-R barrel-rolled violently over the top of the EBIMOTORS Porsche 991-II Cup at high speed. Damaged beyond repair, the Civic was out of a race it had been leading comfortably, in-class, on its debut.
“Unfortunately our development has gone backwards,” explains Synchro driver and team principle, Alyn James. “We had a big incident at Barcelona, and that car now has been retired. But there were definitely some lessons learnt. One thing we were really pleased with was that the body itself actually offered most of the protection, rather than the roll cage. We were quite impressed by how much the road car had done its job, and obviously we’re relieved Andrew is okay.”
Undeterred, and even with its brand new FK8 chassis destroyed, Synchro Motorsport would at least end its season with class victory at Spa in its multi championship winning FK2 and with the decision made to build a brand new FK8 ahead of the 2019 season. After all, the rate of development from the fourth to fifth generation models has been nothing short of extraordinary.
“The FK2 was a car that came later in the development of that generation,” Alyn continues, “so it was essentially a performance-version of an already existing car. The FK8 was designed right at the beginning as a Type-R, meaning that performance-focused platform was given to the base models. That was a huge step forward for us.
“It’s a lot quicker, and that means the driving style has definitely changed a bit. The biggest change we’ve found, with the FK8, we can put bigger brakes on the car, wider tyres and a more aggressive suspension setup, so we’ve found our cornering speed and exit speeds are so much higher than in the FK2. Power-wise, we’re exactly the same, so it’s purely the geometry of the car that allows us to corner faster. Give us a bit more time to refine the setup, and we’ll be right up there.”
“Less than two months after its launch, the FK8 had already secured a new front-wheel drive lap record around the fearsome Nürburgring (7m 43.8s), and broken a further five FWD lap records at the Spa-Francorchamps, Magny Cours and the Hungaroring.”
Fine-tuned at Suzuka, Takasu and Nürburgring (naturally), the platform Alyn refers to is fundamentally the same one found at the heart of the 10th generation Civic hatchback, albeit with torsional rigidity increased by a whopping 38 percent for the Type-R. With a body frame 16kg lighter than its predecessor, the road-going FK8 is not only lighter than the model it replaces but boasts a lower centre of gravity and better weight distribution too. The brakes, adaptive dampers and MacPherson front suspension have also been ‘exclusively tuned to deliver the leading edge of front-wheel drive performance’, hence the ousting of the FK2’s rear torsion beam for more manoeuvrable multi-link suspension. Lower all-round than the model it replaces, even the front and rear tracks have been widened on the FK8, all in the name of handling. Honda even claims that, with its ultra-aggressive aerodynamics, revised splitter and massive rear wing, the Civic Type-R is the first hot hatch capable of actually creating downforce rather than ‘simply’ reducing lag.
And then there are the components required to race for 12-24 hours straight, which aren’t as comprehensive as you might think…
“We’ve tried to keep as many production parts as possible. The dampers, the discs and the callipers are all race-spec, but everything else underneath is standard. Even the exhaust. We’ve found that keeping the car as close to the production model as we can means, firstly it’s cheaper for us to run, and the reliability is just as good as the road car. Plus, our guys all work at the factory in Swindon, so the knowledge they have about the road-going Type-R proves vital for our race car.
“Probably the biggest change is the fuel tank. We’re using a 120-litre tank, and this has been cut into the floor, as close as we can to the middle of the car, to keep the centre of gravity as low as possible. This means that, as the fuel is used, the balance stays the same through all the corners.”
Ironically, despite the overhaul, the drivetrain is one of the few things to transition intact from the fourth gen FK2 to the fifth gen FK8. Despite most rivals going the automatic, all-wheel drive route, Honda continues to push the front-wheel drive / manual gearbox combination as the ‘DNA’ of any hot hatch worth its salt, though does admit the lack of a suitable twin-clutch automatic gearbox played a hand in that decision too.
“Honda claims that, with its ultra-aggressive aerodynamics, revised splitter and massive rear wing, the Civic Type-R is the first hot hatch capable of actually creating downforce.”
Naysayers notwithstanding, the Civic’s 2-litre VTEC four-cylinder remains turbocharged, something the first-ever, non-naturally aspirated FK2 received a huge amount of flack for – from purists at least – on its launch in 2012. The existing 295lb ft of torque remains untouched for the road, but Honda has managed to coerce 316hp from its 1,996cc unit, 10hp up on the FK2. Combined, this makes the new FK8 not only the fastest Civic Type-R yet, but also the most powerful. For context, the FK8’s 316hp power output is 118hp more than the last naturally aspirated Civic – the 3rd gen, Japanese-spec FN2 from 2006 – and a sizeable 134hp (or an entire MINI Cooper) more powerful than the first ever, ‘EK9’ Civic Type-R in 1996.
“The only thing different on our four-cylinder is the loom and the air box. Everything else is standard. The engine loom was changed to allow us to run an M1 series, MoTeC ECU and add additional sensors for data logging. The larger air box was actually custom designed and 3D-printed in-house at Swindon, and should give us some gains in torque.”
Kicking out even more power and torque on-track, and with that 1,380kg kerb weight set to slimmed down to 1,200kg, don’t expect grunt to be an issue in 2019.
Yes. Even despite the enormous shunt in Barcelona and the hours of work to get a brand new Type-R ready for battle, Synchro Motorsport fully intends to be back for another crack at the TCE title it won in 2017.
“We don’t buy any of our cars. The roll cage is probably the only thing we have to sub out, and the rest is built by us. This build is going to take a while, because we all work at the factory during the day. Normally it would take at least six to eight months to go from the body shell to a finished car, but we’re hoping we can do this rebuild in about three or four.
“The only thing different on our four-cylinder is the loom and the air box. Everything else is standard.”
“And there will be some changes. The car is very heavy and we need to get about 60-70 kilos out to get us closer to 1,200kg. Looking forward, we’re also expecting the car to develop throughout the season, so we may not be on it from the start but by the end of the year, we expect to be competing at the front of our class.
“We also want to take in as many tracks as we can this year. The way the series has changed shows how well CREVENTIC listens to its customers. Entry fees were getting very high and for the smaller teams in A3 and A2, for example, it was proving more and more difficult to find a budget. The races and the pricing structure is a lot more respectable, and I think it’s quite possible for us to come and do the whole series in 2019.”
And why not. The team has the most extreme Honda Civic Type-R ever built at its disposal. And the expectations that come with that.
*Images courtesy of Petr Frýba Photographer and 24H SERIES
Synchro Motorsport (#676)
Engine: Inline 4cyl, VTEC turbo, 1,996cc
Engine Control: MoTeC M1 ECU with multi-function custom written engine mapping
Power: 316hp @ 6,5000rpm*
Torque: 295lb ft (400Nm) @ 2,500-4,500rpm*
Transmission: Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive with Cusco Endurance differential
Suspension: MacPherson (front), multi-link (rear) with custom Ohlin dampers
Brakes: 6 Pot AP Racing front callipers with ventilated 378mm (front) and 305mm (rear)
Wheels: 18 x 10in (front and rear)
Tyres: 260/660 R18 (front and rear)
*Power and torque of the ‘FK8’ roadcar only.