Touring Car Racing, or TCR, is a worldwide race class that started only five years ago yet is quickly becoming a very popular destination for both drivers and manufacturers. Here in the States, IMSA holds the Michelin Pilot Challenge, where you can see Alfa Romeo, Audi, Honda and Hyundai racing each other. And boy do they put on a show. At the last event at Mid-Ohio, the fast and relatively small cars competed fiercely, often entering, and completing, corners three-wide.
One of those cars was the No. 84 Honda Civic Type R TCR race car. Driver Brian Henderson and owner/driver Todd Lamb ran in front, but ultimately finished eighth in class after getting unlucky with a call to switch to rain tires and the rain not showing up. But the No. 84 led some of the race at Mid-Ohio. That car now sits under an awning just outside of the start/finish of the M1 Concourse in Pontiac, Michigan, a small, private racetrack outside of Detroit. And under that awning, a small crew helps me get strapped inside to drive it.
The Civic TCR race car starts life in Swindon, England, at a Honda plant as the structure and body of a Civic Type R road car, meaning I am settling into a somewhat familiar place. However, long before the 84 car came here, it went to JAS Motorsport just outside of Milan, Italy and was outfitted with different suspension, brakes, wings, diffusers, and interior. That means before I get in this particular Type R Civic, I first remove the steering wheel and climb over an elaborate roll cage, which JAS installed, before plopping into a snug and deeply bolstered racing seat.
Unlike some other race cars out there, the Civic’s race seat is not directly bolted to the frame; it does move fore and aft to help you find a good spot for pedal reach. Thankfully, the steering wheel also tilts and telescopes, making it easy to get comfortable. The interior is different from the road-going Type R in the sense that, well, it’s not there. A simple plastic dashboard meets the base of the windshield; otherwise, it’s nothing but a bunch of wire looms and purposeful equipment. The instrument panel, for example, is a small screen from MoTeC that moves with the steering column and provides tons of info about all the car’s systems.
Starting it is a touch more involved than the road car. In a box with eight buttons on the lower console, make sure “main” and “ign” (ignition) are switched on and the hydraulically actuated, six-speed XTRAC sequential transmission is in neutral. Then hit a third button on the box: “start.” With that, the same turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that the Type R receives snarls to life, muted a touch by high-flow catalytic converters, but no mufflers that I could see or hear.
Though louder, the race engine comes from the same Anna, Ohio, engine plant as the road car’s, and the internals (pistons, rings, valvetrain, etc.) are more or less left alone. It’s “more or less” because JAS does seal the engine. But plenty of the engine is modified, including a lightweight flywheel, larger turbocharger exhaust turbine, high-flow stainless steel exhaust and racing catalytic converter, high-flow intake and air filter, custom oil sump baffle plate, larger radiator, intercooler, oil cooler, upgraded engine mounts, BOP engine limiting software and a MoTeC ECU that maps the engine to run 100 octane fuel.
Unrestricted by Balance of Performance, aka BoP, I have 340 hp at 6,200 rpm and 310 lb-ft at 5,200 rpm. That’s a lot. But not that much more than the production Type R motor at 306 hp at 6,500 rpm and 295 lb-ft between 2,500 and 4,500 rpm, which also includes a warranty. The race engine’s power and torque figures also make it easy to believe Honda’s claim of stock internals.
Power, though, is but half of the weight-to-power ratio, and as I use the clutch on the floor to get moving and enter M1’s Champion Motor Speedway track for the first time, it’s not used again until I come to a complete stop after the session. With my initial stab of the gas, I immediately feel much more than a 10 percent bump in peak output. That’s because the Type R weighs 3,117 pounds. The TCR car tips the scales at a mandated 2,769 pounds, with a driver inside.
We’ll take out the weight of a full-size adult male for an estimated curb weight of 2,600 pounds, making the Civic TCR about 500 pounds lighter. As the 84 car shoves me against the race seat, grabbing second, third, then fourth gear in just moments, you can tell the race motor just has 7.6 pounds per horsepower to muscle around, compared to the Types R’s 10.2. The road car equivalent to the TCR car is a Porsche 911 Carrera S. Not bad.
True, that power is sent to the front, but the TCR race car’s transaxle also holds a highly adjustable mechanical limited-slip differential. It’s not twist-a-dial adjustment — however, different clutch packs require removing a half-shaft, among other things, and adjusting pre-load (how easily the differential will lock together) is done via a nut on the side of the transaxle casing. Once you set it, that’s it for the race.
At M1, the diff allowed a little more slip than ideal, but slowing down my throttle application a bit sorted that all out. A much bigger concern was making sure the Michelin racing slicks were warm enough. On the warmup lap, as I threw in a bit of steering for turn 3, still way under the limit, the rear end started a lazy slide, trying to get ahead of the front. A bit of countersteer arrested the spin, no problem, but it was a good lesson. The rest of the lap involved a slow build-up to speed, more careful steering inputs and a couple of deep breaths.
Coming around to see the green flag for the first time, the tires are warm and grip turn one with a tenacity of a GT3 car. Good gravy! It’s hard to believe at first just how much speed you can carry without a whiff of unsettling from the chassis. And the balance too, the Civic Type R TCR race car feels downright neutral. You have to credit Todd Lamb, at least in part, for that. After all, the owner/driver did more than allow me to take a few laps, he set the car up to feel damn good. The suspension that J.A.S. Motorsports bolts on is fully adjustable: ride height, camber, toe, and roll center. Not to mention the Ohlins dampers with adjustable compression and rebound. And all of that is addition to adjustable front and rear anti-roll bars.
With Lamb’s setup work, the TCR understeers a bit in the slow corners and oversteers in the faster sweepers, in both cases subtly and smoothly, the chassis is effectively neutrally balanced. The grip from this little pocket rocket is immense. And with the Civic’s relatively small wheelbase intact, even tight corners allow mega entry speed. Wide Michelin slicks wrapped around 18-inch diameter and 10-inch-wide cast aluminum wheels play a big role, of course, once they’re warm at least. M1’s Champion Motor Speedway is a generally small and tight track, just 1.5-miles in overall length, but offers a nice variation of corners and the TCR took everyone about a gear higher than I initially expected.
In fact, the behavior of the TCR belies its front-wheel-drive powertrain, the feel is so good. Until you reach corner exit. There, you do have to apply throttle carefully. Otherwise, the inside front wheel will spin up and the car will understeer towards an early exit off the track. Discipline your right foot, though, and the TCR flies out of a corner like a bottle rocket and much faster than expected you’re braking for the next corner.
ON SALE: now
BASE PRICE: $172,238
PRICE AS TESTED: $206,454
POWERTRAIN: Turbocharged 2.0-liter I4, six-speed sequential transmission, FWD
OUTPUT: 340 hp @ 6,200 rpm, 310 lb-ft @ 5,200
CURB WEIGHT: 2,600 lb (est)
PROS: Another beautiful-to-drive, production-based race car
CONS: How much is your house worth?
As does the rest of the car, braking impresses. Again, grip from the Michelin slicks allow the brakes to slam your body forward against the belts to make them feel downright loose. Massive, especially for a Civic, 15.0-inch discs do the work in front, while comparatively diminutive 10.2-inch handle the rear. In fact, the two-piece front rotors inside circumference fit around the rears outside. No matter, brakes provide rock solid consistency and a 12-position adjustable ABS-system, which is optional, keep even pure panic levels of foot pressure from flat-spotting tires.
Total time in the car, 10 laps, split into two sets of five lap stints, including warmup and cool-down laps. What did I learn? First, yes, you can make a $200,000 Civic feel like a bargain. Base price for the car is $172,238, but add-ons and extras like the aforementioned ABS, spare parts, set-up tools, and data loggers all seem pretty important to me and add up to $206,454. But smiles as wide as the one I had when finished are valuable. And when competing, it can only get wider.
Second, production-based race cars, be they sports cars or mainstream hatchbacks, provide incredible capability and drivability. Once the tires warm-up, the Honda Civic Type R TCR feels just like its road car sibling, just a whole hell of a lot faster. It’s not at all intimidating, incredible fun. So, join me in putting your house on the market and let’s go racing!
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