Spirit 201/5 Honda/BMW
The Spirit BMW is powered by a 2000cc 4 cylinder BMW Double Overhead Cam engine with mechanical fuel injection and an ‘H’ pattern gear shift.
Driver Thierry Boutsen 1982 European F2
March Formula 2 employees John Wickham and Gordon Coppuck got together in August 1981 with secret backing from Honda and Bridgestone to establish Spirit Racing with the intention of using the team to help Honda prepare itself for its planned assault in Formula 1 racing. The initial announcement was for a new Formula 2 team in 1982 and a deal was revealed for Honda F2 engines. This enabled them to hire McLaren designer John Baldwin. Workshops were set up in the old Honda 500cc motorcycle team headquarters in Slough, England, and work began on the design of the Spirit-Honda 201. Over the winter months the team signed up drivers Stefan Johansson and Thierry Boutsen and landed backing from Marlboro.
Coppuck’s chassis, designated the 201, running early February 1982, was “neat and well designed around a honeycomb monocoque”. The car adopted the current F1 design principles into a Formula 2 car. The Spirit was purpose built to accept the Honda V6 first in 2 litre F2 form, then later in 1982 the 1.5 Litre F1 turbo engine. The car was deemed a little heavy for F2, but capable of handling the 600+ horsepower of the F1 test engine.
The result was a team which was immediately competitive, with Boutsen winning at the Nurburgring, Spa and Enna to finish third in the European F2 Championship. Johansson finished eighth. They had more pole positions - eight - and lead more races per car than anyone else. Boutsen spent more time in the lead than any other driver. Minor mechanical failures while leading undoubtedly cost Johansson the championship.
Towards the end of the year rumours began to circulate that Spirit was preparing a test car for a Honda F1 engine. This ran for the first time in November before being sent off to the little-known Willow Springs test track in California, where Boutsen and Johansson did the secret development work.
It was decided that Johansson would race the car and not long after the official announcement that Honda was returning to F1 the Spirit-Honda ran in the non-championship Race of Champions at Brands Hatch April 1983 . The car underwent a lightening program and made its debut as the 201C at the British GP. Johansson did six races, his best result being seventh in Holland.
That summer the team built the Spirit 101 but it was not raced and after Honda announced in October that it had signed a deal with Williams, and would not be supplying Spirit with engines in 1984, was modified to take the Hart 415 turbo engine. This car was tested by Emerson Fittipaldi although finance could not be found for the Brazilian race and an attempt to sign up wealthy Italian Fulvio Ballabio was blocked by the FIA. This left the team short of budget with Mauro Baldi driving. He finished eighth on three occasions but was then dropped as Dutchman Huub Rothengatter had more money. Things were not helped by a shortage of Hart engines which meant that Rothengatter had to race with a hastily-converted Spirit-DFV in Detroit. At the end of the year Rothengatter finished eighth in Italy but was dropped to make way for Baldi in the final two races.The team ran Baldi in a modified 201D in the first three races of 1985 but then the money ran out.
The team was revived as Spirit Motorsport by Wickham in Formula 3000 in 1988 with backing from Geoff Mitchell and Tony Searles. The team ran Bertrand Gachot in a Reynard chassis and scored two second places but Wickham was ousted in mid-season with driver Steve Kempton taking control. The team eventually went out of business. John Wickham is currently the General Manager, Technical and Operations of the A1 GP series.
In 1983 Jo Gartner bought 2 of the Spirit 201’s including the 201/5. The Honda engines had gone back to Japan and were replaced by Heidegger BMW F2 engines and run under Emco Racing for 1983 and 1984 with Pierre Chauvet. Although Gartner was competitive, winning just one race in the rain, the Spirit 201 did not match its former success with in F2 without the Honda power. Ralt had by that time secured an engine deal with Honda and went on to dominate Formula 2 over the next few years. Gartner was signed by the F1 Osella Alfa F1 team in 1984 with the Spirits being shelved from F2 late 1984.
This 201/5 continued to be run in Germany from 1986 till 1989. Unused in the 1990s, it was restored as a show car and sold to John Feurestein in California.
Chris Farrell purchased the Spirit from Feurestein after one year of negotiations. It was then brought to Australia in 2003. After extensive work by Rodney Gibbs and Peter Molloy, the Spirit Honda BMW returns a significant history of Honda and the Spirit 201 back to competitive motor sport.
The Spirit 201 represents Honda’s second return to F1 after a 14 year absence. Milldent Motorsport founder Steve Farrell and Malcom Oastler (see separete Milldent story) were principles in Honda’s third entry into F1 with British American Racing. Another Milldent Motorsport piece of history.