Honda’s Motocrossers: A Heritage of Winning
Honda’s commitment to motocross is only part of the company’s legendary winning ways, a heritage that flourished long before the sport of motocross ever appeared on the radar screen in the United States. After earning its first-ever championships in international road racing a decade earlier, that same competitive drive led Honda to win the first-ever AMA 250cc National Motocross Championship in 1973. Now celebrating three decades of dominance, the Honda line of CR motocross machines have earned an unparalleled 50 major National motocross and Supercross titles, a seemingly unassailable record compared to other manufacturers.
Setting the Standard
At the onset of professional motocross racing in the U.S., manufacturers were allowed to race special hand-built one-off race machines known as works bikes. However, beginning in 1986 the race sanctioning body, the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA), mandated use of production-based motorcycles available to the general public. This rule was designed to reduce the cost of racing and help level the playing field among competitors. Because Honda had already infused production motorcycles with the latest technological innovations, the 1986 rule presented no impediment to winning. That year Honda swept all four major titles, placed second in three classes, and filled out the standings with third-place finishes in two of the four. The playing field wasn’t exactly leveled and hasn’t been level since.
Two-Strokes VS. Four-Strokes
For the past four decades or so, two-stroke race bikes such as the CR250R and CR125R have dominated the motocross scene. With the recent advent of new four-stroke technology, manufacturers tapped into long-standing AMA rules permitting larger-displacement four-strokes to race in each class. As a result, 250cc four-stroke bikes now compete in the 125 class and big-bore four-stroke machines up to 450cc race in the 250 class. In 2002, Honda entered its ground-breaking new CRF450R four-stroke in 250 competition. Under the able guidance of Red Rider Nathan Ramsey, the CRF450R chalked up its first Supercross victory in the series’ 13th round.
The two-stroke vs. four-stroke battle came to a head in 2003 and not surprisingly, Honda lead both fronts. After winning an unprecedented 26 consecutive motos in the motocross arena, Ricky Carmichael and his CR250R two-stroke were defeated by Kevin Windham aboard a CRF450R; the first four-stroke to beat Carmichael’s CR250R in outdoor competition. Windham ended the season with six motos and two overall wins and was the only person to finish ahead of Carmichael throughout the 22-moto, 11-round series. The friendly rivalry between these two Red Riders is sure to continue this year.
In 2004, Honda will go deeper into the two-stroke vs. four-stroke fray with the launch of the new CRF250R four-stroke machine, which is eligible for 125-class competition. Nathan Ramsey, who is an eminently successful four-stroke pilot and 125-class Supercross rider already in the Honda camp, emerged as the natural choice to ride a flagship model in its inaugural year. Ramsey, the 1999 West Region 125 Supercross Champion, will actually pull double-duty in 2004 by riding the CRF250R in West Region events and the CRF450R in the 250 eastern events. When the series heads outdoors this summer, Ramsey will compete exclusively on the CRF250R in the 125 Motocross series in hopes of landing a championship aboard the new four-stroke in its inaugural season.
Honda CR Stable Borders On Perfection
With four different CR models in the 2004 Honda lineup, professional and amateur Red Riders hold the tools to conquer the competition. In addition to the all-new CRF250R, Honda engineers have fine-tuned the well-proven performance of the 125, 250 and 450.
For 2004, the CR125R received power upgrades including an electronic power valve system, a throttle position sensor, redesigned engine cases and an all-new piston. The 2004 version of the championship-winning CR250R also boasts new enhancements in the power department, receiving new engine cases, a reshaped exhaust port and a more direct air-intake system. Meanwhile, new suspension settings bring the CR250R to new heights of chassis refinement. The most powerful of the Honda CR line, the CRF450R shed three pounds in 2004 and also received the same suspension upgrades as the CR250R. A lighter piston, modified gearing, new exhaust system and a revised ignition all help boost the 450’s power output. In addition to each model’s engine and chassis alterations, every CR features the quality fit and finish made famous by the Honda Motor Company.
A Commitment to Innovative Technology
Just as Honda’s commitment to excellence has led to 50 national motocross and Supercross championships, its relentless quest for innovation has led to technological advancements in the world of motorcycle racing. Honda engineers and technicians strive to arm racers, from novice to National champions, with state-of-the-art performance. The most significant advancement in the sport’s current era occurred in 1997 when Honda released the first production aluminum-framed CR250R. Even after seven years of success, Honda has yet to be challenged by another manufacturer in the area of frame building. Yet, in 2004, the CRF250R features a new fourth-generation aluminum frame, an innovation that only further distances Honda from the rest.
“Honda made the jump to the aluminum chassis because we believed we had gone to the edge of the development envelope with a steel chassis in terms of strength and weight,” says Cliff White, Team Honda’s chief engineer. “The third-generation chassis of the CR125R, CR250R and CRF450R is much more stable, but at the same time also more compliant and comfortable for the rider. The 2004 fourth-generation chassis engineered for the CRF250R now takes us another big step forward in the development our chassis technology.”
Obviously, Honda’s technological achievements extend beyond chassis development. Honda maintains a long-standing commitment to producing the best production motorcycles available, machinery derived from a strong racing program. “Throughout my career as a racer and a team manager, Honda has always demonstrated their commitment to racing by pouring every possible resource into providing its riders with the best equipment,” says team manager, Erik Kehoe. “Every year, through the necessary advancements, our machines continue to excel, allowing our riders to do the same.”
These advancements would not occur without the collective effort of the entire Honda team. “Ricky, Ernesto and Nathan each have their own personal technician, one individual responsible for servicing and developing their motorcycles as the year plays out,” says Kehoe. “In addition, the team also relies on technicians that specialize in suspension turning, engine performance and data acquisition. Even though only one man rides each motorcycle, it takes a team to produce Team Honda results.” After each event, the team prepares for the next round, a chore demanding anywhere from 16 to 24 hours per motorcycle. The rigors of a National-class race require that each bike be stripped down to the frame, inspected and then rebuilt. In the process, the engine and suspension components are also disassembled and reassembled with new parts as necessary.
The meticulous Team Honda philosophy has built a heritage of championships, in turn producing the current machines favored to win the 2004 Supercross and motocross titles in the 125 and 250 classes. Returning Red Riders Ricky Carmichael, Ernesto Fonseca and Kevin Windham dominated the Supercross and motocross podiums in last year’s 250 competition and are set to repeat that feat, while Nathan Ramsey will surely prove the new CRF250R’s dominance in the 125 class.
Tagged: , Honda Motocross , Honda Motocross – 2004 , Honda MX , 2004 Team Honda , Team Honda , Ricky Carmichael , Press Kit Photo , motorcycle racing , 2004 , 2004 Honda , 2004 Honda racing