As Formula Ford celebrates its 40th birthday this weekend at Road America, Honda is stepping up to the plate with a proposal for a new engine. The entry-level, open-wheel class has been using a "Kent" 1.6-liter since its inception and with the aging four-cylinders out of production, it may finally be time to move on.
This weekend at Elkhart Lake, Honda is showing off a prototype based on the 1.5-liter engine from the 2009 Fit installed in a Swift DB-1 FF chassis. The fuel-injected, electronically-controlled mill would require considerably less maintenance than the Kent, while also consuming less fuel. If the Sports Car Club of America approves the new Honda powerplant, a complete kit including the base L15A7 engine, race kit and mounting hardware should sell for around $12,000.
The old Kent-engined Formula Fords will likely still be around for many years as long as Formula Vees are still running, but this effort by Honda could signal the beginning of a new era.
Honda Performance Development, Inc. Proposes Entry Into FF Prototype Debuts at FF 40th Anniversary Celebration
As one of the initial offerings in its new grassroots motorsports initiative, Honda Performance Development, Inc. (HPD), the authorized Honda and Acura auto racing company in North America, is proposing entry into an SCCA Club Racing program with an eye toward lowering operating costs, while strengthening FF's position as the first step in American open-wheel racing.
HPD's concept, submitted to the Sports Car Club of America for membership input and approval, incorporates a 1.5-liter, Honda Fit L15A7 engine into an existing FF chassis. During initial testing, the Honda engine provided performance equal to the long out-of-production "Kent" engine, but featuring a modern fuel-injected design with superior service life, improved availability and lower operating costs.
"FF has a tremendous history, here in North America and around the world. Through the '70s and '80s, it was THE place for open-wheel racers to 'cut their racing teeth'," said Erik Berkman, President of Honda Performance Development. "So many champion drivers, such as our own Jimmy Vasser, Gil de Ferran and Bryan Herta, got their start in FF. Our goal is not to force competitors to make a change, but to make FF more affordable and more competitive."
A prototype, utilizing a Swift DB-1 chassis and HPD-developed bolt-on conversion kit, will make its public debut this weekend with demonstration laps during Road America's FF 40th Anniversary Celebration. The Swift-Honda will be on display in Road America's North Paddock throughout the weekend, and officials from HPD and its parent, American Honda Motor Company, Inc., will be on hand to meet with SCCA members and answer questions. HPD and American Honda are actively soliciting the reactions and thoughts of both current and potential FF competitors.
The Honda FF engine has been developed by Honda Performance Development in cooperation with Sandy Shamlian of Quicksilver RacEngines. The engine is being developed to equal the performance of the Kent powerplant through utilization of an HPD-developed intake restrictor plate and appropriately mapped Engine Control Unit (ECU). If testing reveals the need for additional performance adjustments, changes can be made to the restrictor plate and/or the ECU maps to achieve this goal.
"Many of us, myself included, have been involved in FF racing," said Marc Sours, HPD Production Division Manager and Large Project Leader for HPD's grassroots projects. "We've all seen FF engine costs rise and replacement parts become increasingly difficult to locate.
"The result has been a decline in FF participation. We believe that introducing the modern, less-expensive Honda Fit engine can restore interest in and raise the profile of FF to a point where it once again becomes the place for young drivers to begin their careers, and where existing SCCA club racers will find economical, close competition."
Original equipment in the 2009 Honda Fit, the L15A7 is a fuel-injected, 1.5-liter, overhead cam engine. It is at the beginning of its current production generation, with a minimum of 10 years' parts support required by law at the conclusion of production.
HPD will supply all necessary parts from intake through exhaust, including the chassis conversion kit. The result will be a modern and reliable engine requiring minimal maintenance and tuning.
Specifically, HPD expects FF competitors to reduce their engine operating costs. Engine rebuilds would be reduced from two per year to one every other year; top-end refreshing would be needed just once a year rather than multiple times per season; both crankshaft and valve- spring life would be extended dramatically; and most ignition and all carburetor maintenance would be eliminated.
The complete Honda FF kit is expected to sell for under $12,000. The package would include a base L15A7 engine, FF race kit (including intake, exhaust, dry sump, restrictor plate and ECU), and a bolt-in chassis kit, to permit installation of the engine without welding or other major modifications. Individual component parts would also be available for purchase separately.
Beginning with its initial entry into Formula One in 1964, Honda has a lengthy record of involvement in open-wheel racing around the world. In addition to its well-known accomplishments in IndyCar, CART and Formula One competition, Honda Motor also has an extensive history as an engine supplier in lower open-wheel formulae, including Formula 3, Formula Master, Formula Nippon and Formula Dream.
"Today marks the beginning of a new era of Honda Performance Development's participation in, and support for, amateur racers; the first step in what we see as a diverse grassroots racing program," said Berkman. "All of us at HPD look forward to participating in a variety of racing series and categories and helping the sport we all enjoy grow in prominence and popularity."
Honda Performance Development (HPD) is Honda's racing company within North America. Founded in 1993, and located in Santa Clarita, Calif., HPD is the technical operations center for Honda and Acura's high-performance racing cars and engines. In addition to its new grassroots motorsports business, HPD is the single engine supplier to the IndyCar Series and competes in prototype sports-car racing under the Acura banner in the American Le Mans Series.
Quicksilver RacEngines (QSRE) is a private company in Frederick, MD owned and operated by Sandy Shamlian since 1973. QSRE engines have been a staple in open-wheel and sports-car racing, logging countless professional and amateur race wins and championships in the USA, England, Venezuela, Australia & Canada in classes such as Zetec F2000, Formula Continental, Sports 2000, Formula Atlantic, and FF1600.