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Q&A with Honda's engine chief, Yasuhide Sakamoto
The highs of IndyCar, a V10 sports car engine that never saw the light of day and a chance to work on the rebirth of the NSX: Yasuhide Sakamoto gives insight into his career and working on some of the most exciting Honda powertrain projects of the last 20 years
Can you give a summary about your career background before working on the NSX project?
"I have been very privileged to work on a number of great projects during my career. For the first 17 years with Honda, I worked on the development of mass production powertrains, including V6 engines.
Between 2000 and 2007, I worked on the development of Honda’s Indycar programme. During my time working on this series with colleagues from Ilmor, we became the dominant engine supplier in the series.
I returned to Japan in 2007 to begin work on a V10 powertrain that was to be used by a Honda sports car that never made it to market. My next role returned me to my roots in mainstream mass production cars, taking on the role as assistant large project leader responsible for powertrain development on the 2013 Accord.
Since 2012, I’ve returned to performance development, working on this exciting NSX project. I am so happy that I have been part of the team that has made this car a reality."
This is one of the first global development projects Honda has undertaken. How has this been different from other projects you have worked on?
"Joint development projects between Japanese and American colleagues are actually not that uncommon in Honda. Minor change vehicle developments, where we optimise an existing design happen quite regularly.
NSX was different as we developed a new power unit from the ground up in parallel with the chassis. The aggressive development timeline and coordination between US and Japanese colleagues made this a very ambitious project."
What were the reasons you opted for such a power unit rather than a more traditional powertrain?
"The powertrain that we decided to use is an expression of the feeling we want the driver to have and the performance targets we wanted to achieve.
During the development of the previous V10 sports car project, we had different development goals. But with the new NSX we wanted to achieve this feeling of instantaneous response. This feeling is not possible without the cutting edge power plant we have developed."
Did you have any exchange of information with Honda’s racing teams during the development of the power unit?
"While there has been no official link between the NSX development and Honda’s racing teams, many of the associates who have extensive experience of racing. Therefore they have this same spirit and hunger to achieve a high level performance.
During the course of the project, many members of the NSX team moved over to Formula 1 engine development. Using their experience of developing the NSX power plant, they have been instrumental in Honda’s re-entry into Formula 1.
This process of job rotation has meant that the development of NSX has acted like an incubator for new ideas and creativity, spreading throughout the Honda business."
How do you see this platform developing over time? What’s your image for a future version of the NSX?
"Basically we believe there are two directions for future developments. One path is to increase the power of the combustion engine. The other is to possible reduce the reliance on the combustion engine and increase the amount of power derived from the electric elements. At the moment, we are not sure which the best way is so we are investigating both avenues.
Now that NSX is in the hands of journalists and owners, I look forward to hearing their thoughts about which direction we should take. This feedback will be central in helping the team decide the best step forward."
What race series would you like to see NSX compete in?
"I have a strong affinity with endurance racing generally and would love to watch this new NSX battling on track at Le Mans in the GT class sometime soon."
3 August 2016