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Hybrid Honda Goes Saloon Car Racing

Oaktec, the team which has enjoyed great success with its Honda Hybrids in stage rallies, will make its first foray into the world of saloon car circuit racing at Rockingham on 28 September 28 with its unique Civic Hybrid.

Oaktec has entered the 1339cc Civic in the final round of the BARC Dunlop Sport Maxx Cup, having identified this production series as the one most suited to the Group N spec hybrid saloon. The petrol-electric saloon is believed to be the first hybrid car to race in the UK and will be driven by Jamie Corstorphine from Autocar magazine and Gavan Kershaw, chief chassis engineer from Lotus Cars.

Oaktec, the Lancashire engineering specialist, invited Gavan to pilot the car to coincide with the beginning of its technical partnership with Lotus Engineering, which is assisting with the development of the Honda Hybrid for its race and rally applications. The joint project has gained funding support from the North West Development Agency and will concentrate on extracting performance from the electrical side of the hybrid package by focusing on battery technologies, energy flow and system control in order to gain performance without the penalty of increased emissions and fuel consumption.

The Civic Hybrid was developed by Oaktec as part of a project looking at energy recovery technology in motorsport, backed by EEMS, the Energy Efficient Motorsport programme. The Civic’s last competitive outing was on the Jim Clark Rally in May when Neil Wearden and Franca Davenport scored an excellent second in class. It then took a starring role in the Honda Dreamscape Show at this summer’s London International Motorshow.

The return to competition will help the partnership gather data on the performance of the car in the relatively predictable conditions of a circuit race. Oaktec boss Paul Andrews explains, “We will fit instrumentation to the car to measure the energy flows to and from the batteries. A race circuit provides a much more consistent background than a rally stage to gain objective data. Most of the cars the Civic will be racing against are in the more powerful classes so we are not expecting to be in the top five in this event, but we have tested the car on a circuit and it has plenty of grip and balance. If we get the car to the end of the race and gather some useful information then it will be job done!” The data gathering expertise will be provided by Warwick University, another long-term partner in the project.

The Civic Hybrid is also unique in its use of a Continuously Variable Transmission, a system that has proved highly effective on the rally stages. Andrews continues, “The CVT makes the car easy to drive and works very efficiently in tandem with the hybrid drive. It allows the driver to concentrate on cornering lines and braking and keeps the car at constant full power.”

The Rockingham race lasts 45 minutes with a mid-distance driver change. The Civic will compete without compromising its low emissions status and will also be driven to and from the race. Despite its competition pedigree, the car can easily return around 50mpg in normal road use with competition tyres.