Honda have arrived at the last two grands prix ready to celebrate their 600 th grand prix victory but the champagne has remained on ice. When Hiroshi Aoyama gave them their 597 th victory in the 250 cc race at their home track of Motegi in the Japanese Grand Prix, expectations were high for a the record breaking 600th win either in Malaysia or Qatar. Swiss rider Thomas Luthi pushed those expectations even higher when he opened the proceedings with victory in the 125 cc race in Malaysia but since then the wins have dried up.
Surely those celebrations will start either at Phillip Island or the Otodrom circuit on the outskirts of Istanbul during the next couple of weeks, with just two wins required in the six races. It's a truly staggering milestone for Honda who only started racing on the international stage in 1959 in the 125cc race at the TT races in the Isle of Man. Even a man with the vision and ambition of Soichiro Honda would have never envisaged 46 years after their historic debut , that the company he founded and nurtured, is about to re-write the history books once again.
Less than two years after their debut in the Isle of Man, Australian Tom Phillis brought Honda their very first grand prix victory in the 125 cc race at the twisty and tight Montjuich Park circuit on the outskirts of Barcelona. Jim Redman finished third in a race that just opened the floodgates for the Japanese factory. A month later Phillis and Redman finished third in the French Grand Prix in Clermont - Ferrand . Their domination of the 125 cc class was complete when they returned to the Isle of Man to take the first five places on the infamous 60.721 kms Mountain circuit , led by one of their greatest ambassadors, Mike Hailwood. At the end of the season, Phillis was crowned World Champion and Honda won the Manufacturers Championship and the ball has never stopped rolling since.
Camel Honda Team Principal Sito Pons may live in Barcelona but he can be forgiven for remembering nothing about Phillis's historic first victory at Montjuich Park - he was just one and a half years old when Phillis fought of the challenge of Ernst Degner's two-stroke MZ . However, Pons's contribution to Honda's success when he grew up, both as a rider and a Team Manager has been enormous.
He won 14 250cc grands prix for Honda and brought them two World 250cc titles in 1988 and 1999. His contribution to the Honda success story did not finish when he hung up his leathers. Under his leadership, no less than eight riders have won premier class grands prix for Honda. Current rider Alex Barros is the most successful, bringing the Honda Pons team six wins, starting in the 500cc race in the 2000 Dutch TT in Assen and finishing this year when he beat Valentino Rossi to win the Portuguese Grand Prix in Estoril.
Max Biaggi has won five premier class grands prix for Honda, including his amazing 500cc debut ride, winning the 1998 Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka. Three of those victories came riding for the Camel Honda team. In 2003 the Italian won in Great Britain and Japan. Last year he was victorious at the Sachsenring in Germany.
Carlos Checa has won two premier class grands prix, both in Spain and both for the Barcelona -based Honda Pons team. His first win was a memorable occasion for the team with victory in the 1996 Grand Prix of Catalunya, in front of a patriotic home crowd., including King Juan Carlos. His second win for the team two years later was also in Spain, at the Jarama circuit on the outskirts of Madrid.
Makoto Tamada also won two races for the Camel Honda team and both came last year. He scored an impressive victory in the Rio Grand Prix and then gave Honda a home win in Motegi. Loris Capirossi has brought Honda 19 wins on route to both 125 and 250cc World Championship. The Italian's one and only premier class win on Honda machinery came in the perfect location. In a very special afternoon for Capirossi and the Honda Pons team, he won the 2000 Italian Grand Prix at Mugello.
These days Alberto Puig is probably best known for masterminding the success of 125 and 250cc World Champion Dani Pedrosa but the Spaniard was also a brilliant grand prix rider. His career was cut short after a serious crash at Le Mans in France but before then Puig secured his one and only grand prix victory for the Honda Pons team. It came at Jerez in Spain in 1995 just a couple of months before the Le Mans crash.
Sito Pons as a rider and then Team Principle has has played a massive part in the Honda success story. Twenty eight of those 598 grands prix wins are down to his skill and bravery as a rider and his leadership. It would be fitting tribute to his close knit Barcelona team if Alex Barros could secure Honda that long awaited 600th grand prix win at Phillip Island on Sunday.