Green racing leagues are nothing new--we've covered some of the stranger ones off and on since 2008. The Indy Racing League has been all-ethanol for several seasons. Audi's TDI Le Mans cars have dominated to the point of having rulebooks re-written. Volkswagen sponsors its own one-make series, the Jetta TDI Cup, where diesel-powered near-production diesel Jettas duke it out at the hands of 18-26 year olds. There's even a street car version of the Jetta TDI Cup car. It's clear at this point that people like watching "green" cars race. So why not a 2011 Honda CR-Z hybrid racing league?
The new CR-Z is billed as the modern reinterpretation of the Honda CRX, itself a legend in grassroots racing circles from the raging scrum of LeMons to the race rigs and RVs of SCCA Solo and Club Racing. But is the CR-Z really the reincarnation of the CRX?
Is the CR-Z up to sporting snuff?
There are a lot of factors militating against that claim. First up is the CR-Z's weight. At around 2,700 pounds, it's a good 700-800 pounds heavier than the average CRX. You can blame safety regulations and hybrid battery packs for most of the corpulence. That weight penalty is sure to dull the CR-Z's reflexes a a bit, punishing its front-driven tires and making the 1.5-liter hybrid mill work for its acceleration.
Speaking of the 1.5-liter hybrid powertrain, it's rated at just 122 horsepower. Most U.S.-market CRXs rated around 85-100 horsepower, though European and Japanese models scored up to 160 horsepower. That CR-Z just a bit ahead of the CRX in terms of power, but with 800 extra pounds on board, performance surely won't be similar, right?
Maybe. The later CRX's small and punchy VTEC engines required high revs to extract the most from their tiny displacements, but the CR-Z's hybrid powertrain means the full 128 pound-feet of torque is available from just above idle: 1,000-1,500 rpm. In theory, that means the CR-Z should have a lot more feeling of "go" off the line and the ability to pull through the lower revs and into the 1.5-liter engine's powerband. The CR-Z's expected 0-60 mph time of 9.7 seconds is about on par with the earlier CRXs, which hovered in the low 10-second range, though Si models could get into the mid-8-seconds.
But what about fun?
Power off the line and through redline is a winning combination for a fun-to-drive car making the most of a fairly efficient drivetrain--not unlike the Jetta TDI Cup cars and their 2.0-liter, 140 horsepower turbodiesel engines. The Jetta does muster a more impressive 236 pound-feet of torque, but in a spec racing league, those differences won't matter.
What will matter is the car's ultimate handling capacity. If it's a nose-heavy pushing pig of a hybrid, no one will want to drive it. And if it's a slow-transitioning, sloppily-sprung grocery getter, it'll make it hard to hustle through the pack. But if Honda has managed to recapture the grown-up go kart feel of the CRX and inject it into the CR-Z's admittedly good-looking little shell, all those concerns about power will drop by the wayside. A chuckable car is a fun car, and people like to watch fun cars race.
Honda Performance Development
This summer, Honda quietly launched a North American grassroots motorsports initiative through its racing arm, Honda Performance Development. The goal is to increase Honda's presence in the grassroots racing world. What better way to put a point on that plan than a factory-sponsored one-make series?
A Honda CR-Z hybrid racing league could accomplish many of the company's stated goals, namely: supporting fans and grassroots racers; successfully pairing hybrids with sporty driving; and expanding Honda's brand recognition with a new generation of racers and motorsports enthusiasts. Not to mention silencing the critics that say Honda has lost its way, and is rapidly becoming yet another four-wheeled kitchen appliance manufacturer.
In fact, a CR-Z hybrid racing league could fan the flames of passion that have been nearly extinguished within the brand. We've watched the NSX wither and die, the S2000 fade into the sunset, the Formula 1 program sold off, and all of the best sporty and fun models either cease production or morph into smiling little monuments to the death of fun (Honda Del Sol, we're looking at you). We want that passion back. We're not alone.
So, Honda, where do we sign up?