In 2015, Honda races in more than 100 categories, from its MotoGP activities, to categories undertaken by its subsidiaries worldwide. This all began with the Isle of Man TT races. Honda’s founder, Soichiro Honda, believed that winning the premier motor sports event of the time - the Isle of Man TT - would not only allow Honda to venture into the world, but would contribute to Japan’s technological development. In March 1954, Honda declared his company's entry into the Isle of Man TT races.
In the declaration, Soichiro Honda stated that to perform at world level, an engine had to produce 100PS per liter. But at the Isle of Man TT race in June that year, the German NSU company's 125cc machine made 15PS and its 250cc machine made 35PS, nearly 150PS per liter. Visiting the race, Soichiro Honda was shocked by this, and realized how difficult it would be to win a world class race.
Undaunted, Honda began its journey to winning the Isle of Man TT by competing in domestic races, which were beginning to take hold in Japan. Honda viewed these races as testing grounds for bike performance, and began the development of precision ultra high-revving engines, aiming to realize high output and solid reliability.
In April 1958, based on prior race records which indicated speeds of 120km/h (or more than 17PS) were required, Honda began designing the RC140 aiming to output 20PS (160PS per liter). In October that year, Honda succeeded in producing an engine which output more than 120PS per liter, enabling it to enter the Isle of Man TT race in 1959. Honda entered the race with the RC142 (4-valve version of the RC141, which was based on the 125cc RC140), but although its output was 17.3PS (138.4PS per liter), top class machines were outputting 150PS per liter, a seemingly insurmountable gap. Honda won the team prize. Results far exceeded expectations, however, with Naomi Taniguchi finishing 6th, Giichi Suzuki 7th, and Teisuke Tanaka 8th. Every Honda employee was understandably overjoyed, but reaction to Honda’s performance was further reaching, as Japan's Ministry of International Trade and Industry made an unprecedented statement announcing that domestic motorcycles were now world-class, and the future of Japan’s product export was bright.
In 1960, Honda forayed into 250cc class racing in addition to the 125cc class, and World GP racing (which included the Isle of Man TT race). In Round 1 (Isle of Man TT), Honda finished 6th in the 125cc class, and 4th in the 250cc class. Honda fought valiantly in Rounds 2 and 3, but the world’s top class machines seemed an impossible hurdle to overcome. But, in Round 4 (East German Grand Prix), Kenjiro Tanaka finished 3rd in the 250cc class, giving Honda its first podium finish. Six years had passed from the Isle of Man TT declaration, as team members hugged and shared tears of joy. Honda maintained its momentum, taking 2nd place in the 250cc class at both the remaining Ulster and Nations grands prix, finishing the constructors' championship 3rd (125cc) and 2nd (250cc).