Honda BTCC racer review: driving the ultimate Civic Type R

Published:07 February 2020

Honda BTCC racer review: driving the ultimate Civic Type R
  • At a glance
  • 5 out of 5
  • 5 out of 5
  • 3 out of 5
  • 5 out of 5
  • 5 out of 5

By James Dennison

Head of automotive video for CAR magazine and our sister website Parkers.co.uk

By James Dennison

Head of automotive video for CAR magazine and our sister website Parkers.co.uk

► We drive Team Dynamics’ Civic Type R BTCC car
► Six-speed sequential box, 350bhp+ 
► How similar is it to its road-going sibling?

There’s something very appropriate about the weather on my first ever BTCC drive. Sunny, but cold and greasy on what is – by British standards – a fairly reasonable November day, these are the very conditions that the British Touring Car Championship thrives on. Unpredictable enough to add drama to the already nail-biting racing, yet with enough sun to enjoy a beer and sausage roll or two in the stands. 

However, I’d rather have had it hot, sticky and bone dry for today’s exploits. The Team Dynamics Civic Type R may be based on a friendly and predictable Honda family hatch, but there’s precious little of that remaining once it’s BTCC ready. A regular track day, this is not.

In order to get my eye in, I take a road-going Civic Type R out onto the slowly drying Silverstone International circuit. Impressively composed and beautifully balanced, it’s a timely reminder why the FK8 has won so many awards. It honestly feels like no other hot hatch on sale today – Renault’s super-focused Megane RS Trophy R included. 

Read our Honda Civic Type R long-term review

Sighting laps over, the ingress procedure for the BTCC CTR is, like many purpose-built racing cars, not pretty. Quite how Matt Neal – long-time Team Dynamics helmsman and professional tall person – manages to eloquently squeeze his 6' 6" frame in I have no idea…

Scratch that, I do. The mechanics titter politely as I need every cushion going wedged in behind my backside to reach the pedals. No matter, though, as the rest of the controls are spot on. Dead ahead, the worn, circular steering wheel is just the right size and delivers a clear view of the LCD readout behind, giving gear, speed and temperature info – not to mention three separate readouts for the gearshift lights. Then there’s the gearstick itself. It might look like an old railway lever frame, but its positioning relative to the rest of the controls is a joy. 

Like your Civic Type R road car, there’s a number of different ‘driving modes’ to choose from. Predictably, not one resembles anything close to ‘Comfort’, yet there is a setting for cooling the car down after a hard session on track. Activate it, and the throttle automatically blips repeatedly like a robotic boy racer sitting at the lights. One of the modes is even indicated by a winky face emoji sticker ­– no prizes for guesses what that does. 

As go time approaches, I consider what Team Manager James Rodgers would do to me if this goes pear-shaped and he’s forced to enter only one car into the following year’s season. With such sobering thoughts whizzing around my head, I slot the car into gear and creep out of the pit box, the razor-sharp clutch doing its best to make me look a fool. Trundling, and occasionally juddering (this thing really doesn’t like going slowly) down the pitlane, I steer right for pit exit, try my best not to do ‘a Grosjean’ and delivery my introductory piece to camera (watch the video, here). 

The first laps are cautious, a mixture of the slippery track and priceless touring car weighing on my mind. Yet even then, with my ham-fisted attempts at getting used to the car, it felt assured as anything. And although few technical components are carried over, part of this is down to the road-going Civic.

Before heading out, the team explained that a good road car should, in theory, make a good base for a competitive racing car. For example, the previous-gen FK2 CTR had its fuel tank underneath the front seats, while the current FK8 model has it near the rear seats. Granted, the tank is moved for the BTCC car regardless, but the flatter floor means better aerodynamics from the get-go. 

There’s also evidence that the Civic Type R’s super-aggressive styling isn’t all for show. Both the rear bumper and diffuser are carried over from the road car, while the bonnet scoop aids cooling and helps increase plenum pressure. Small stuff, but in a series with so many control items (NGTC spec Touring cars have common subframes, roll cages, brakes, steering, dampers, transmission, turbos.. the list goes on), marginal gains are key.

Being honest, I wasn’t going to exploit said gains in my brief drive, but this didn’t take away from the breathtaking competence of the BTCC Civic Type R. For starters, the flatness and neutrality through corners allows huge confidence in the car, even after just a few laps. There is a mere whiff of ‘roll’, and you can feel the dose nip slightly under breaking, but the suspension always feels like it’s in total and utter control of the body – despite the hefty-for-a-racing-car 1.3-tonne kerb weight. 

Then, there’s the transmission. A six-speed sequential Xtrac unit, it rattles through the gears with total impunity. Ask for a ratio (no need for the clutch after you’ve pulled away), and it’s there. Instantly. Yes, the noise from it is deafening, there’s no limiter (change down to early and you’ll wreck the engine) and it’s as juddery as a 15-year old minicab at low speeds (maybe that was just me), but it’s in sharp contrast to the supposedly ‘snappy’ dual-clutch transmissions in your average sportscar. 

The AP Racing brakes, too, are weapons grade. Hit the middle pedal at 140mph going into Stowe and the sudden loss of speed is both startling and impressive, requiring a recalibration of your road car mind as you pull up 60 yards short of corner entry, the BTCC barely registering it’s fighter-jet-landing-on-an-aircraft-carrier levels of deceleration.

It’s not overly planted, however. Bleed off the brakes too early coming down towards the sharp ninety-degree left-hander after Vale, and you’ll unsettle the car just enough to let the rear step out. Scary sounding on paper, but this slight amount of pivot helps the car overcome its inherent front-wheel drive weaknesses, scrubbing off little speed in the process. 

Approaching my final lap, a run through the gears down the pit straight disproves one of my old suspicions that BTCC cars aren’t that fast in a straight line. The official figure of 350bhp+ from a 2.0-litre turbocharged engine is only 34bhp more than the road car, yet, even with the weight difference in mind (around 100kg less) the BTCC racer is streaks ahead. Very unscientific proof of that fact came when, while riding shotgun in an 2016 NSX earlier that day, the BTCC car came past through the corner and held its advantage all the way down the straight – the 573bhp supercar unable to close the gap… 

After one final lap pushing the car as far as I dared, it was time to come in. Collecting my thoughts through pit entry, I selected the auto-blipping engine mode, dipped the clutch, and rolled to a stop. 

Staring ahead at the regular Civic dashboard fascia, it’s a timely reminder of what this incredible machine started life as in Swindon – a mere shell on the production line destined for the brilliant black tarmac of Silverstone, with the fate of those around it far less exciting. And although the production version of the CTR may share little with its BTCC cousin, there can surely be no coincidence that both are at the top of their respective fields. One, a front-running entry in one of the most competitive racing series on the planet, the other, a peerless road-going hot-hatch that makes it all possible. 

Specs

Price when new: £0
On sale in the UK: Never
Engine: 2000cc (approx) turbocharged 4cyl petrol, 350bhp+
Transmission: Xtrac six-speed sequential-shift gearbox, front-wheel drive
Performance: N/A
Weight / material: 1280kg
Dimensions (length/width/height in mm): N/A

Photo Gallery

  • Honda BTCC racer review: driving the ultimate Civic Type R
  • Honda BTCC racer review: driving the ultimate Civic Type R
  • Honda BTCC racer review: driving the ultimate Civic Type R
  • Honda BTCC racer review: driving the ultimate Civic Type R
  • Honda BTCC racer review: driving the ultimate Civic Type R
  • Honda BTCC racer review: driving the ultimate Civic Type R
  • Honda BTCC racer review: driving the ultimate Civic Type R

By James Dennison

Head of automotive video for CAR magazine and our sister website Parkers.co.uk

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