Knockhill Honda Civic Challenge
BTCC vs Civic Type R vs Civic Sport
Have you ever wondered how a Honda Civic you can buy from your local dealer and drive away on the road, performs compared to the latest FK8 Honda Civic British touring car version? Or, how about how a standard Civic compares to the latest Type R and the touring car? Well if you have, the questions are answered by an enthralling challenge between the three different takes on the Honda Civic held at Scotland's national motorsport centre, the Knockhill Racing Circuit.
This special event represents the ultimate Honda Civic Challenge, where the Civic Sport, Type R and the FK8 touring car went head-to-head in a one lap shootout to see how they measure up to each other. Instead of one driver doing a timed lap in each car, this event was much more exciting with the three cars being driven by three different drivers competing against each other.
At the wheel of the Honda Civic Sport with its 1.5-litre turbocharged engine was Matt Neal – triple BTCC Champion after winning the British Touring Car Championship in 2005, 2006 and 2011, and six-time BTCC Independents Champion in 93, 95, 99, 2000, 2005 and 2006.
Driving the latest Honda Civic Type R was Jess Hawkins – Britain's youngest professional racing driver who raced to glory in the Buckmore Park Club Honda Cadet Championship at the tender age of just 12, and has been racing competitively since the age of eight.
Dan Cammish is a touring car rookie and has the honour of piloting the race-spec FK8 Civic Type R which, already in it's first year of the BTCC competition, has notched up a couple of wins at the hands of none other than Matt Neal. Although a rookie in this category of motorsport, Dan has quite a racing pedigree behind him as winner of the 2013 British Formula Ford Championship in stunning fashion, with an incredible 24 wins out of 24 races entered.
Those are the drivers – so what about the cars? The most modest of the Civic trio is the 1.5-litre Civic Sport, which showcases the first turbocharged engine to power the road-going Civic, introduced in 2016 with it's tenth-generation.
When this model arrived in 2016 it switched to being built on an all-new global platform, which also underpins the US-market saloon and coupe versions of the Civic. At a little under 4.5 metres in length it's notably larger car than the previous generation, and a wheelbase of 2.7 metres makes it the longest C-segment car in Europe.
In VTEC Turbo Sport form, the Civic's 1.5-litre engine produces 180bhp and 240Nm of torque which is sent to the front wheels through a manual or a CVT gearbox.
Inevitably, the Type R ramps up the power with a turbocharged 2.0-litre powerplant under the bonnet producing an exhilarating 316 horsepower and 400Nm of torque, which is appropriately offered with a manual gearbox for maximum driver engagement and enjoyment. But what makes the Type R legendary is the way it can be a beast of a car on track days one minute, but the rest of the time it is a well-mannered road car that's as practical as it is exhilarating. At the heart of the car's immense versatility are it's different driving modes; ‘Comfort’, ‘Sport’ and track-focused ‘R+’ which alter the car's steering, throttle, damper and gearshift response. Another feature of the Type R worthy of a special mention is its rev-matching function, which automatically blips the throttle on downshifts to help smooth gear changes and maintain the car's momentum.
What may surprise some observers is the BTCC car isn't outrageously more powerful than the Type R as you might imagine. Although it's difficult to get the exact power ratings for the engine out of the team, Matt Neal's official website quotes the car as boasting 350+ horsepower and 400+ Nm of torque. The gearbox is an Xtrac 1046 Six-Speed Sequential, and the dry weight of the car, including the driver, is 1,280kg. There are obviously a lot of race-spec components the other two cars competing in the challenge don’t have, but the difference from the road-going versions are not as great as they are when comparing something like a World Rally Championship car with a retail equivalent.
Obviously, if the three cars started at the same time the BTCC car would win, the Type R would come second and the Civic Sport would be third. Unless there was some unfathomable driver error, you can't argue with physics, after all. The race therefore begins with a staggered start to allow for the power differences between the three, with the Civic Sport starting first, the Type R going second and the BTCC model going away last.
What's notable from the start is the way Matt Neal gets away from the line and effortlessly deals with the curves and undulations of the circuit in the most modest of the three Civics on display. The poise shown by all three cars is impressive, to say the least, but as the race goes on the gaps between the three continually narrows. As the cars navigate the last right-hander and head uphill towards the finish there's very little in it. As they approach the finish line Jess pulls over to the right of Matt in the Civic Sport in an attempt to cross the line first however, in doing so, Jess opens up the door for Dan to steal in between Matt and herself. In the closest of finishes Dan just manages to get the mighty FK8 BTCC Civic Type R to take the chequered flag ahead of the other two. Interestingly, there's hardly anything in it between the Type R and the Civic Sport.