Prepare to throw away any brand bias; this is for all motorsport fans. Moto GP, touring cars, even Formula One, Honda's 'Thank You Day' has it covered. At the end of each race season, Honda throws an event demonstrating every form of racing in which the company participated that year-on two and four wheels.
And what other venue can accommodate so many different types of motorsport than Honda's own Twin Ring Motegi racetrack in Tochigi, Japan? Honda's main purpose here was to give fans a closer look into its legendary racing history, as well as its newest technical innovations in motorsport. Unlike true races, where everyone concentrates on winning, this was much more relaxed and accessible.
In the pit garages were vehicles ranging from Honda's factory dirt bikes all the way to its latest F1 machines. And this day caters to the whole family. For the kids, there's a kart track with instruction staff, while a scooter demo track (with trained personnel) keeps the teens interested. There are also various parks with great views throughout the Motegi facility. The Honda Collection Hall (where Asimo the robot lives) was open to the public as well.
Many of us have gone to a weekend race, sat in the grandstands and thrown envious glances to the media, who often have direct trackside access. At the Honda Thank You Day event, a select few spectators were given a much closer look at the action. How much closer and how much better? How does on-track spectating sound?
Honda handled the eager visitors in two different forms. The first was an on-track bus tour, which took place while the full-bore Super GT cars were doing full-speed laps. A tour guide was able to communicate with the racing drivers and ask them questions at the same time as they were lapping. You'll never see that in the US.
The bus ride sounds pretty cool, but it gets even better. The second version of on-track access was with in-car demonstration runs. A handful of fans got the chance to ride in a Honda Super GT car, with the drivers going pedal to the metal.
Throughout the day, there were various demonstrations, such as the heritage demonstration. This consisted of three cars and three motorcycles. The cars were the 1996 JGTC Raybrig NSX, the 1968 RA301 F1 car and the 1965 RA272 F1 car. At the time, the RA272 surprised everyone with its early debut, only three years after Honda built its first road car. During its maiden season, the RA272 was driven by Richie Ginther and won the 1965 Mexican Grand Prix.
The bikes were the 1989 NSR 500, the 1999 NSR 500 and the 1995 RVF/RC45. Both the 1989 NSR and the 1999 NSR brought Honda the 500cc championship and the RVF/RC45 took home the 1995 eight-hour Suzuka enduro race. All these machines made a significant stamp on racing history. The cars and bikes were in pristine condition and sounded just like the killer machines they are.
Earlier in the day, the Super GT cars staged an eight-lap mock race, complete with a standing start and race queens on the grid. Taking part were the #8 ARTA NSX, #18 Takata Dome NSX, #32 Epson NSX, #100 Raybrig NSX and the #17 Real NSX. Although the drivers were not driving as aggressively as they would in a real Super GT battle, they were still going at full speed, which made for a great show.
Another highlight was when the open-wheel cars came out. This group included the 2007 factory Honda RA107 Formula One car (with Jensen Button behind the wheel), the Super Aguri SA07 F1 car (driven by Takuma Sato) and the Panasonic Racing Honda-powered IRL Indycar (with Kosuke Matsuura driving). Even though there's only a claimed 50bhp difference between the F1 machines and the IRL car, it soon became apparent that the F1 cars are much, much quicker. Within the first lap, the IRL car was left in the dust. At one point, Button buzzed the pit wall with the RA107 at full throttle. I've never seen a car accelerate that fast out of a turn and the high-revving V8's wail still sends shivers down my spine whenever I think about it.
For the grand finale, Honda brought everything out: all the Super GT cars, road racing motorcycles, historic cars and open-wheel cars. Everyone did two fast laps around the outer ring of Motegi's super speedway. It was pure pandemonium and fantastically enjoyable. There were racecars and road race bikes buzzing next to each other. At one point Shinya Nakano (on his Moto GP bike) pulled a wheelie next to Button's F1 machine. Both were probably doing at least 100mph.
With the release of the mighty Nissan GT-R to the US market, you might be thinking it's about time the Japanese released their best stuff overseas. I hate to break it to you, but they're still keeping the best for themselves. Honda has decided to keep this Thank You Day exclusively for the Japanese market. So if you consider yourself a Honda fanatic, a Mugen-head, or just a race fan in general, you have to include this event on your 'must see before I die' list and make the pilgrimage to Motegi. You won't regret it.