HRC Top Man Soichi Yamana Speaks of Honda WorldSBK and More

Gordon Ritchie | February 20, 2019

HRC Top Man Soichi Yamana Speaks of Honda WorldSBK and More.—When it was made clear there would be no Ten Kate and Honda Europe partnership running the Honda WorldSBK efforts of the world’s biggest manufacturer in 2019, there was a general feeling of shock inside the WorldSBK scene.

This was almost matched by the amazement that Honda was going to return to WorldSBK for the first time since 2002. This is with an official HRC effort, blessed by the big bosses from Honda Motor Company, but run at races by an amalgam of the former Japanese Superbike Championship Moriwaki Honda team. And, former World Champions with Ducati, Althea Racing, from Italy.

Speaking at the official launch of the Moriwaki Althea WorldSBK Honda Team and its multi-colored CBR1000RR in final race trim, Soichi Yamana, the Motorcycle Department Manager of Motor Sports Division of Honda Motor Co., Ltd explained a few things about the for-real return of Honda with full official support.

Soichi Yamana Speaks of Honda WorldSBK
Yamana (in white shirt), flanked by Moriwaki Althea WorldSBK Honda Team riders Leon Camier (left) and Ryuichi Kiyonari.

Soichi Yamana Speaks

When was the decision finally made to come back as a factory team?

“We have been thinking about this because the CBR1000RR is quite important for us in the Superbike market,” said Yamana-san. “So we have been thinking about this for quite a long time. I think it started to become realized last year, sometime towards the end of last year.”

When quizzed as to why Honda Europe’s previous partners, Ten Kate, were seemingly told so late in the process that it left them scrambling to try and find another 2019 solution (and none is forthcoming so far) Yamana said, “In that situation, we actually followed the contract condition. So, something this kind of thing can happen in racing.

“We have been through this before, so we did not think that it was too much of a problem. In my speech (at the launch of the team) I said that we thank the co-operation with Ten Kate for a long time, and we thank them for taking the championship and a lot of wins. But to be perfectly honest with you, we haven’t seen any winning, let alone get a championship, for quite a long time now. So we feel that we need to change the situation.”

Why then the co-operation with Moriwaki and Althea rather than just an official HRC team? Why not a full HRC effort?

“Again, this is something to do with the possibility, realization and efficiency,” said Yamana-san. “We thought about many options, including going alone as an HRC works team. But finally we decided that with experienced guys like Althea and Moriwaki, the fight for the championship is much more realistic than the other options.”

The team tested, just once it appears, although some say they wet to Buriram in Thailand twice.

“We tested just one time in Chang, with the current set-up,” said Yamana. “The bikes are pretty much the same as the ones from Japan. I am not sure the detail of what exactly has been changed. But, what I understand, it is pretty much the same. Maybe some adjustment here or there, depending on the race.”

Suzuka still the big one

Soichi Yamana Speaks of Honda WorldSBK Suzuka 8 Hours
Suzuka is an enormously important race for Honda, and with the re-emergence as one of the world’s great races, it will see more top-level input from HRC.

So with this Honda WorldSBK return, does Honda see the championship as the place to make development, or is Suzuka 8 Hours the most important thing and WorldSBK development will come from that?

“Obviously we take the 8 Hours as quite an important race,” said Yamana. “It is actually the identity of Honda. Suzuka is our home circuit, so for sure we take that as a very serious and very important race. But to be able to win that race I think we need a lot of input and a lot of know-how, knowledge of other categories that use the CBR. That is what we thought is important.”

The impression given in recent years, well over a decade in reality, is that is that Honda has not been interesting in WorldSBK. So why is it important again now?

“There are a couple of things we need to explain,” said Yamana-san. “One is the rise of the Asian market. Because we have like 70-80 percent of motorcycle business based in Asia. In this market it used to be like a car or scooter market. These days a lot of Asian countries are getting wealthier, and there are more wealthy people around. They are asking us for high performance, top-level bikes. And other manufacturers are finding the opportunity to penetrate into that market. We felt that we cannot ignore that situation anymore. So we tried to use this activity to make our Superbike more upmarket. We want a more high tech image, and therefore we can persuade them to buy ours and not others. For the 600, we are now pushing very hard to give more high performance, sporty image through the ARC—Asian Road Race Championship.”

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Gordon Ritchie | World Superbike Editor You may not understand Ritchie and his Scottish accent if you had him on the phone, but you can definitely understand what he writes as our World Superbike editor.