What’s this – I didn't know Honda was going rallying?
It’s not, well, not just yet. Let me explain. In 2005, the FIA World Council decided to create a new cost-effective rally championship for 2007, called the Intercontinental Rally Challenge. The nine-round calendar for 2007 includes some classic stages like the Sanremo and Safari rallies, as well as some more new-world events held in Russia and China. It’s given global coverage by Eurosport, which beams the races into 110 million homes in 59 countries.
I’m still with you… just
Honda’s official customer racing support partner, Italian-based JAS Motorsport, has just unveiled a full rally-spec Civic Type R that’s primed to compete in the Intercontinental Rally Challenge. It will also meet the FIA’s new regulations for Group R next year. The idea behind the JAS car is to show off the company’s motorsport prowess, offering various stages of mechanical upgrade. So if you have a new Civic Type R and fancy a bit more poke, there’s an off-the-shelf engine chip upgrade. If you’re a track day fan, you can order a brakes and suspension upgrade. Of if you fancy having a punt at the full rally experience, you just phone JAS, slap down £65,000 and they will get the whole car prepped and ready to go. And it will be road legal – which is why JAS let us loose in one on the winding mountain roads near Verbania, on the shores of Lake Maggiore in Italy.
Run me through the changes made to the car before we get onto the part where you think you make Seb Loeb look a bit cackhanded...
This car is the full monty – it ticks every options box JAS offers. So – deep breath – the standard car is stripped out and many of the body panels are seam welded to boost chassis strength. Next a Motor Sport Association-approved chrome-molybdenum steel rollcage is fitted that increase the car’s torsional rigidity by 70 percent. Then the engine gets dropped in. Fitted with a lightweight flywheel, heavily modified breathing and a much more advanced management system, the K20 engine kicks out a hefty 265bhp – that 132.5bhp per litre. It’s hooked up to a six-speed sequential transmission, driving the front wheels through a limited slip diff with adjustable preload.
Nope. Next, add uprated drive shafts, Brembo four pot 328mm front and 278mm rear discs with in-cab adjustable bias, Eibach racing springs, five-way adjustable front anti-roll bar, Extremetech racing dampers and a bespoke electric and electronics loom to connect everything together. Oh, and don't forget the acres of carbonfibre, roof-mounted airvent to cool the cabin, four grippy Pirellis and a revised electro-hydraulic steering setup. In all, the process takes 300 man-hours from start to finish and slashes the kerb weight by 217kg to 1050kg. This is a serious piece of kit.
I guess it’s pretty full on to drive?
Full on doesn’t even come close. Drop down into the I-need-to-diet-tight Sparco seat and tighten the five-point harness. Despite its highly stressed nature, the engine fires cleanly and idles evenly. For first gear you need to drop the clutch and yank the big gearlever on the right of the wheel towards you. There’s a massive clunk that shudders through the whole drivetrain. Plenty of revs – with only 177lb ft of torque developed at a peaky 6700rpm the engine feels weedy at anything below 4000rpm – and then I’m away. Once on the move there’s no need to disengage the clutch for gearchanges – simply pull to change up and push to change down.
So just how quick is it?
Unfeasibly, in a word. Spearing this rocket up an Italian mountain pass far faster than I ever thought possible is an incredibly visceral experience, one that overloads the senses and indelibly brands itself on the memory. Acceleration through the gears is just relentless, helped by that foot-flat gearshift. Taking just 80milliseconds to swap cogs, the shifts are so smooth that its feels as if someone is simply altering the engine note and dialling up the speed. Even more impressive is the ability of the chassis to carry so much speed through the corners. Despite the immediacy of the steering and ultra-stiff suspension, the Honda never feels remotely edgy or twitchy to the extent where if your brave pants are big enough, you can actually slide the car from one tight corner into another. And body control is superb – the Honda corners flatly without the faintest trace of pitch or dive under power or braking, hustling into corners like it has never heard of the word understeer.
This Tyre R Rally is a formidable piece of motorpsort engineering – little wonder the JAS has build up a ten-year long relationship with Honda and has earned the Japanese company’s implicit trust. It’s a brilliant mobile parts shelf for its Type R upgrades, but although it’s road legal don't think of this as a Civic Type RR or any other kid of mega Civic – it’s a motorsport exercise with endorsed road-ready bits that you can select to have fitted to your standard Civic.