The video location shoot of the new VTEC Club took place at Fukushima Prefecture's Ebisu circuit.
One of the cars that we brought out was the Civic Hybrid Racing car.
Honda's hybrid car racing program is actually not even a "program" yet. It all started in 2003 when a couple of engineers from Honda started playing around with the idea of entering a race with a hybrid car. Honda never officially backed up the team so the members had to get together after their day jobs to complete this car from scratch.
Keiichi Tsuchiya and Daisuke Ito both said the car lacks serious power but what can you expect from a hybrid? The Honda engineers say that the car was made for endurance racing. The high efficiency gasoline engine is supported by the electric motor for additonal power similiar to how a super charger assists an engine. This engine is based on the 1500cc Fit engine instead of the stock engine.
One of the biggest obstacles the car faced was "heat". If they want more power for the motor, they need the batteries to work harder. Which causes heat. If the batteries get too hot, they melt and that's the end of your race. So during the race the drivers had to keep their eyes on the battery heat meter at all times. Water nor air was powerful enough to cool this oversized battery so they went to the extreme and decided to carry dry ice in the back seat to cool the batteries.
I mentioned earlier that the electric motor works similiar to a supercharger. The biggest difference is that the motor assist only when it is necessary according to the ecu mapping. The electricty from braking is collected and used to charge the battery.
At first it was set to assist 4th gear to gain top speed. But they realized they wanted more pick up rather than top speed. So they programmed it so the motor would kick in for pick up and if it had enough power left over to also help the top speed.
With fine tuning they were able to achieve efficiency while improving maximum power.
As for drivers, basic driving skills is a must but whether you can save electricity during the race becomes a big factor. This Civic uses a regenerative braking system so you brake early going into a corner but should never shift down and engine brake. You have to go into a corner without giving any gas using only the brakes to slow down. This way you slow down and generate energy at the same time.
After Daisuke came back from his first impression of 3 laps, Keiichi tried to hop in the car as he usually does for his turn. But the engineer told him that they were out of batteries and have to recharge. I guess Daisuke engine braked and drove the car like a normal car which didn't allow the car to generate enough electricity.
This needs getting use to for the driver at first. As more and more hybrids make it out to the racing tracks, drivers will have to adapt to the new requirments of hybrid car racing.