2017 Honda Civic Type R Against the World - The Story of How Honda's Fiery Hatch Took on All Comers at the Track and Won

Mark "Bark M." Baruth
by Mark "Bark M." Baruth
2017 honda civic type r against the world the story of how honda s fiery hatch took

If you haven’t been within shouting distance of me in the last 12 months, or if you don’t live somewhere that has the internet, you might not be aware that I was the winner of the Unlimited class in the Sports Car Club of America’s inaugural Targa Southland event last year. Targa, along with Track Night in America, is part of the SCCA’s new Experiential program, which focuses not only on bringing new types of experiences to existing members, but also on attracting new members to motorsports.

Granted, I had a bit of an advantage, what with having a pre-production Acura NSX and all, and having the world’s best autocrosser, Jadrice Toussaint, as my co-driver for the cone-dodging events. But still, at the end of the event, I went home with the trophy, and if you ask any racer — any real racer — they’ll tell you that winning’s winning.

In fact, we had such a good time driving all over the Southeast last year that I was among the first to sign up for this year’s Targa when registration opened. Of course, I knew I couldn’t get the NSX again, but thanks to my friends at Honda, I had another secret weapon scheduled to make its way across the country to Charlotte (where Targa Southland 2017 would begin). Yes, I would be the first person to have the opportunity to win a national SCCA trophy in the 2017 Honda Civic Type R.

Of course, just having the opportunity to win wasn’t enough — I actually wanted to repeat my win from the previous year. And since this year’s event only had one autocross on the schedule instead of two, I began to look for a co-driver who would be an asset on the road rally (an event in which I failed rather badly last year, losing valuable points) and would also help me gain some valuable social media bonus points.

Plus, I wanted somebody whom I wouldn’t want to kill after spending three days and 2,000 miles together.

Enter long-time friend, Honda motorcycle racer, and occasional TTAC contributor Rebecca Turrell.

Rebecca has been riding her CBR600RR at tracks up and down the East Coast for years, and has a motorcycle racing license with Championship Cup Series, but had never done any competitive racing on four wheels. However, to call Rebecca a Honda fangirl would be a massive understatement. In addition to her multiple Honda motorcycles, she’s been the owner of several different Civic Si generations, and currently has a deposit down with her local dealer on a Type R of her own.

It took all of one Facebook message asking her if she wanted to be my teammate to get an “OMG YES YES YES WHEN DOES IT START YES” response.

Since Rebecca was long on motorcycle track experience but short on the car variety, we decided that our team name would be Bark’s Racing School. We also decided to have a little bit of fun with the stereotype of modded-out Civic owners, planning to dress in flat-billed hats and Oakley sunglasses for the whole weekend. And when we found blinged-out hats with “LOVE” and “OBEY” on them at the gas station on the way to zMax Dragway for the first morning of the event, well, that just completed our look.

We were all irony and jokes on the outside as we pulled up to the dragway for that morning’s autocross, but on the inside, we knew we’d have a tough battle ahead of us. There was some serious metal in the event this year — C7, C6, and C5 Corvettes, Shelby GT350 Mustangs, an Alfa 4C, a couple of 911s, and a whole host of S2000s — as well as some talented drivers, including a couple of autocross national champions. To compete for an overall win, we were going to have to drive our asses off.

And in our class, which was called “Stock 2” (mostly higher-horsepower FWD sedans and hatches, plus four-cylinder pony cars), we had a formidable opponent in the VW GTI of James Rodatus and Aditya “Deech” Madhavan. While we had a 80-horsepower advantage over the GTI, we were running a completely stock car — including stock brake pads, rotors, fluid, and Continental Sport Contact 6 tires. The weight of the Type R meant we were not much faster, if at all, in a straight line. We also had to compete with a very well driven and setup EcoBoost Mustang and an E46 M3. Even a class win wasn’t going to be a walk in the park.

Upon arrival, we met our Honda-supplied technician, Leo, who immediately launched into a battle with Rebecca about which Moto GP rider was the best. Naturally, we knew he’d fit right in, so we went back and got him his own hat. Leo helped us put the required class number sticker and sponsor decals on the car, checked our pressures, and got us all set up for the first event of Targa, a four-run Autocross on a very fast circuit, full of big, wide open turns and 75-foot slaloms.

Since my thoughts on autocross are, um, well-known amongst people who take this stuff pretty seriously, I had a target on my back from the very beginning. The idea was that I would take the first run, and depending on how we were doing against the field, that Rebecca would either take the remaining three runs, or I would continue to take runs until we had a comfortable lead.

The comfortable lead, unfortunately, never materialized.

The Type R has three drive modes — Comfort, Sport, and +R — and, in its most extreme suspension settings, it manages to perform some slights of hand that almost make you forget it’s front-wheel drive. But, at the end of the day, its 62/38 front/rear weight distribution is simply a matter of physics, and like Selena Gomez’s heart, the nose wants what it wants. It’s been five years since I autocrossed with any degree of intensity (and most of my autocross experience has been in lighter, rear-wheel-drive cars such as S2000s and RX-8s), so it took me a couple of runs to figure out just how much I could ask the front Continental tires to do.

As such, each of my attempts was ruined by a plow here or a late-brake there. Madavan was running faster raw times by about .6 of a second in his GTI, but he had hit cones on both of his first runs, placing in in a precarious P1.

“Sorry, Rebecca,” I said. “In order for us to win, I think I’m going to have to take all of the runs.”

“I’m just happy to get to drive the thing to lunch,” Rebecca replied. “Go do your thing. And keep it lit for the gram.” The gram, for those who don’t know, is what the kids call Instagram. What a great teammate, am I right?

I dropped my time another .6 seconds on the third run, but Madavan managed to clean it up and drive faster, giving the GTI a lead of just over a half second. In order to pull out the win, I would have to go faster everywhere, and the Continentals were already showing signs that they didn’t care for this type of thing — the top half of the word “Continental” was slowly disappearing from the sidewall with each run. I didn’t dare raise pressures any further, as front-end grip was already lacking.

Luckily for me, the Type R and I were finally getting to know each other by the time the fourth run came about. Launching the Civic is a challenge in and of itself — there’s no official “launch mode,” but it will hold revs at 3,500 RPM with the clutch engaged in first gear. Unfortunately, holding it there and dropping the clutch causes the car to lurch and bog in a rather amateur fashion. By my fourth run, I had somewhat figured out how to reasonably launch the car, but it was still nowhere near perfect.

Everything was going very smoothly for the first half of the run — I had figured out that I could run nearly everything except for the first 90-degree right-hander with flat throttle until I reached a hard right into the back sweeper of the course. As a result, when I entered the sweeper, I was carrying much more speed than I had been on previous runs, and my braking point was too late. Fuck me.

The nose of the Civic plowed off into the abyss, and all I could do was slam my right foot to the floor and hope that the helical limited-slip differential would do its job to bring me back on course, which, mercifully, it did. Figuring I had lost at least a half second (maybe more), my only hope was to flat-foot it to the finish through two offset slaloms.

This is where I began to love the Civic Type R.

The damn thing just crushed the fast transitions, the suspension gobbling up the lateral shifting of weight with seeming indifference. I cursed myself for not trusting the car more on previous runs, knowing that if I had combined a good sweeper with a strong slalom I’d have a lead of a second or more. No matter. All I could do was hold my breath as I crossed the lights and wait to see if my time was good enough.

It was — barely. I had beaten Madavan by a mere four hundredths of a second, but he still had another run to go. All I could do was drive back to my grid spot and wait. But as I slowly cruised through the grid at walking speed…

Split. Splat. Drip. Drop.

I learned that God really is a Honda fanboy. Rain appeared out of nowhere, slowly at first, but quickly increasing in intensity to a downpour as our GTI nemesis left the line. The water on the course made his last run an exercise in frustration, as he slowed down by over two seconds, thus preserving the win for Team Bark’s Racing School.

Overall, we finished 6th out of 52 cars at the autocross with a time of 44.646, beating every S2000 and Corvette in attendance, and finishing just .2 sec behind a pretty well set up E92 M3 with a national tour-winning driver behind the wheel. Not too shabby for a completely stock car with a driver who hasn’t autocrossed since last Targa. Based on my result, I have no doubt that the Type R will be a real contender in National Solo in 2018, especially with real autocross tires and suspension modifications.

Of course, when you’re in Charlotte, there’s only one place to go to celebrate a victory.


Since I had hogged all of the autocross driving thanks to my over-competitive nature, I turned the car over to Rebecca for our touring laps of Charlotte Motor Speedway’s road course that evening. And, like most people who’ve never driven on a banked surface before, Rebecca had a rather powerful reaction to being at a rather sharp angle in comparison to the infield below.

“Seriously, this is weird.” The problem with having 52 entries in an event is that lead-follow sessions basically turn into “Ignore the dipshit in front of you and try to discover the line yourself” sessions, so I did my best to talk her through the track (which had undergone a significant infield course change in preparation for Cup cars to run there later this year). Nevertheless, the course is still challenging and amusing, with some elevation changes and a serious braking zone coming off the NASCAR oval into Turn One.

Rebecca decided that she’d like to ride passenger with me for a session, and then she’d take the wheel for the remaining two. Jon Krolewicz, a vital member of the Targa staff who has been involved with Track Night in America from the very beginning, split us up into two groups — one being the faster cars and drivers, the other being the cars and drivers on the other end of the spectrum. I took the Type R out into the faster group, and I think I might still be smiling about it.

Why? Simple. The active rev matching is brilliant.

The infield section of the track requires no fewer than four shifts down to second from third, and the Type R’s rev-matching system executed each one flawlessly. As a driver, I prefer not to have to execute heel-toe downshifts with the steering wheel turned, which means any downshifts have to happen in a straight line. Not so with the R. I was able to trail off into a turn, quickly downshift, and get right back on the gas.

All was going well until, about 10 minutes into the session, I transitioned from the road course onto the banking, just like I had for the previous laps and…nothing. The car threw two warnings onto the dash — “Emissions System Error” and “Rev Matching Error” —and immediately went into limp mode. Uh oh.

“Sounds like you might have the wiring harness issue,” said Jason Owens, a fellow competitor who also happens to be a certified Honda tech. “I’ve seen it on 5 out of 7 Type Rs that I’ve worked on. The thing just shears right off and then throws those two codes.” Uh oh. Luckily, fellow TTAC contributor Bozi Tatarevic had come out to hang out with me that evening, and he, Jason, and our tech, Leo, went to work diagnosing the issue.

The harness was intact, thanks to a fix Honda had already made to my tester. No, it turned out that the code was…no fuel. Oops. I was at about a quarter of a tank, but apparently, instead of simply starving in corners like most cars, the Type R throws a code and goes into limp mode when it starts to run low. Turns out that we had run through 3/4 of a tank in two 20 minute sessions.

Slightly red-faced, we sent Leo for fuel, and then Rebecca took her turn on track.

I normally wouldn’t recommend that somebody do their first track day on a NASCAR oval in a car they’ve never driven before. Oh, and did I mention it was raining? She wasn’t thrilled about it.

“Imagine you’ve driven a car 20 minutes on the highway, and then you’re tasked with taking it in the rain, on the banking, and there’s cement walls everywhere. It was pretty exhilarating, and definitely intimidating.”

Luckily, her motorcycle instincts kicked in quickly, and after a couple of recon laps she was quickly getting point-bys from nearly everybody in the slower group. Unfortunately, we were sharing the session with the Central Carolina Region’s performance driving experience group, and they weren’t as familiar with what to do when a blue, angry looking economy car was filling up their mirrors.

One third gen Camaro SS refused to admit that a girl in a Civic was faster than he was, and he ended up looping it right in front of her coming out of Turn 4. But being no stranger to having people slide out in front of her, Rebecca simply looked where she wanted to go, rather than at the spinning orange beast, and went right around him.

Having wrapped up our track night with no bent metal, we made our way down to Gainesville, Georgia, to get some rest before the time trial at Atlanta Motorsports Park the next morning. AMP is my favorite track in North America, bar none, but we had three and a half hours of drive time before we’d be able to sleep, so I handed the key to Rebecca and let her take the Blue Devil Down to Georgia. Yes, I know I mixed a couple of metaphors there.

“It’s very well-mannered,” Rebecca marveled. “It just feels like a normal car on the road.” In Comfort mode, one would be hard-pressed to know the Type R was anything other than a regular Civic hatchback. The seats were far more forgiving than those found in, say, the Focus RS, and the suspension felt floaty and soft over the back roads of the Blue Ridge mountains. The hatch also provided more than enough room to accommodate our two carry-on suitcases, helmet bags, and laptop backpacks. I’m sure some douchebag somewhere will call the Type R a “RACE CAR FOR THE ROAD,” but, in reality, it’s nothing of the sort — it’s just a pleasant little hatch that excels at double duty.

Six hours of sleep and a 30-minute blast through some equally sleepy speed-trap towns later, we were there. AMP provides a significant challenge for even purpose-built track cars, much less a hopped-up hatchback. With elements borrowed from both the Nurburgring and Spa, not to mention a white-knuckle, high speed finish that always claims at least one car per track day (sadly, our event was no different, with an S2000 meeting the wall in rather abrupt fashion) followed by a downhill, full stop braking zone, it’s rare to find a street car that can handle multiple sessions without brake or overheating issues.

The Type R was no exception. After about 10 minutes in our first time trial session, brake fade was noticeable, especially in the downhill braking into Turn One. And in our second session (in-car video with my annoying commentary here, outside car camera with excessive wind noise below), we lost braking power after six minutes and overheated the motor right at 10 minutes. However, I’ve experienced similar issues with both the NSX and the 991 GT3 at this track, so I can hardly blame a sub-$40k FWD hatch for running hot.

None of these hiccups caused us to be slow, however. Our best time of the day was a 137.7, claiming the win in class by a second and once again getting inside the top 10 overall, running even with the Focus RSes. The Civic was strong through the second half of the track, rocketing out of tight turns and making excellent use of the LSD, but the carousel was brutal.

Our combined margin of victory in the autocross and time trial was so slim — essentially one point — that we needed a good score in the road rally portion to ensure victory. The rally was a combination of a Time Speed Distance and Gimmick rally, meaning teams have to arrive at checkpoints at exactly the right time. A second too late or too early, and you’re assessed penalty points — and answer a series of questions about signs and objects seen on the route. Each wrong answer meant five points added to the team’s overall score, and the object is to have the lowest score possible at the end, just like a round of golf.

Admittedly, Rebecca hadn’t really been paying attention in the rally driver’s meeting, so she blew by the first checkpoint as I yelled and waved my hands at her. We were five seconds early, meaning that we got five penalty points. After a quick explanation about what we were trying to do, Rebecca calmly nailed the rest of the checkpoints, meaning that all we had to do was answer all of the questions correctly over the remainder of the 60-mile trip.

Of course, we got tricked a few times by rallymaster Peter Schneider, but overall we felt we had done pretty well when we arrived at the final bonus question. It read:

For fifty bonus points, which way is the red arrow pointing?

Well, there was an obvious red arrow sign pointing to the right just before the final checkpoint. But wait — bonus points are bad, not good! So I circled “Left” on my answer sheet, and Rebecca and I congratulated ourselves for being so smart as we heading off to that evening’s dinner at the world famous Rendezvous diner in downtown Memphis (a mere seven-hour drive away). Ugh.

So we found ways to entertain ourselves.

We arrived a little early for dinner, so we amused ourselves by going shopping at Lansky’s at the Peabody, the official clothier of Elvis Presley in downtown Memphis. Just when we thought we had found the worst, tackiest clothing possible, we turned a corner and found something even worse.

In keeping with our matching outfit theme for the weekend, we decided to show up to dinner in these excellent shirts.

That bald-headed, handsome gentleman with the $100 bill is Heyward Wagner, Director of Experiential Programs at the SCCA, and he greeted us as we arrived at Rendezvous. After a delicious Memphis BBQ dinner, where the poor rallymaster was booed roundly for his trick bonus question that only six teams got “wrong,” we learned that we had finished in sixth overall in the rally, and first in our class by well over 10 points. Essentially this meant that all we had to do to win our class was show up at Memphis International Raceway the following day.

Which is why we chose to stay at the Memphis Marriott East rather than the official event hotel downtown. I didn’t feel like risking a brand-new, OEM-provided car in downtown Memphis. When a fellow competitor showed up at the track minus their wheels (which had been lifted from their trailer overnight), I felt confident we made the right choice. But the track wasn’t much better than the rest of the city — there was nobody manning the gate house, and it took me a second to realize that I had actually crossed over a section of the road course to get to the parking area.

“What a fucking dump,” mused Rebecca as we got out of the car, saying what pretty much everybody was thinking.

And then we got to drive it. Wow.

Memphis International Raceway uses a half-mile drag strip as the front straight for its road course, which meant that the Type R was doing right around 130 mph as we entered the long carousel for Turn One. The rest of the circuit involved a combination of fast turns which required drivers to jump the curbs and a long sweeper surrounded by concrete walls. In short, it was fantastic.

Our healthy lead meant Rebecca would take her first competition runs of the weekend in the afternoon’s TrackCross, which was a timed run through the technical portion of the course. In order to warm up for the time trial, we got three 20 minute track sessions on the full circuit. With a weekend of track time under her belt, and the sure footing of the Type R’s suspension underneath her, well, entire body, Rebecca proceeded to stick the Type R directly up the tailpipe of everybody else on track. Some of the higher-horsepower cars ran away from us on the dragstrip, but the little Civic that could roped them all back in the turns.

Feeling confident from her time on track, Rebecca threw down some very competitive TrackCross times, but she was still about a second and a half back from the lead in class. I hopped in to take the last of the four runs, and lowered our time to .2 off the lead, which was enough to secure the class victory for the weekend by eight and a half points, and put us solidly into second place overall out of 52 entries.

So there you have it — the 2017 Honda Civic Type R proved not only that it can punch far above its weight on track, it’s a comfortable, pleasant highway cruiser as well. The latter characteristic was greatly appreciated on my seven-hour drive back home to Kentucky.

It’s also very, very close to being a good car right out of the box. Of course, if I were to buy my own Type R, I’d downsize to smaller wheels with something like a Hankook Ventu RS4 tire, as our Continentals were complete toast halfway through the weekend. In fact, I probably would have my own Type R on order right now, were it not for one, small problem.

I already have this. Since all the competitors in Targa knew I own a Focus RS, the one question I heard over and over again was, “Would you pick the Type R over the Focus RS?”

It’s not an easy question. If I were never planning to track my car, and I only wanted to enjoy a quick, nimble car in my day-to-day, I’d take the Type R every time. But the Focus is undoubtedly faster on track, both on long straights and in tight turns. And — it’s hard to believe I’m saying this about a neon blue rollerskate — the Focus is a little less aggressively styled than the Type R. But at just under $34,000, the Type R is considerably less money in Touring trim than the FoRS is in RS2 trim (assuming you can find a Honda dealer who’s willing to sell you one for MSRP).

Ugh. I don’t know. Maybe I’ll buy a Type R and keep the Focus, too. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve had two blue hatches.

I do know that the weekend did nothing to dissuade Rebecca from keeping her order for her own Type R, and she’s also hooked on four-wheel track driving now. “I’m thinking of making the Type R my street car and turning my Z4M into my dedicated track car,” she messaged me on her way home. Since Rebecca clearly graduated with flying colors from Bark’s Driving School, we’ll be back next year for Targa to defend our crown, but we’ll have a new name:

The Fast and the Curious.

(Images: Mark “Bark M.” Baruth/Jon Krolewicz/SCCA/Rebecca Turrell/Charley Baruth]

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2 of 29 comments
  • Plamry Plamry on Aug 28, 2017

    Good read! I was just wondering how a non biased source might compare the Civic Type R to the Focus RS. It seems like the R is the hot hatch of the moment. I own an RS and love it. I also drive it year round in Wisconsin so I appreciate the AWD. I would love to drive the R to see how it compares and not second guess my choice of the RS.

  • Pmirp1 Pmirp1 on Aug 29, 2017

    Great writing and pictures. Loved the rendition. Keep it up, love the piece just like last years in R&T.

  • Surferjoe Still have a 2013 RDX, naturally aspirated V6, just can't get behind a 4 banger turbo.Also gloriously absent, ESS, lane departure warnings, etc.
  • ToolGuy Is it a genuine Top Hand? Oh, I forgot, I don't care. 🙂
  • ToolGuy I did truck things with my truck this past week, twenty-odd miles from home (farther than usual). Recall that the interior bed space of my (modified) truck is 98" x 74". On the ride home yesterday the bed carried a 20 foot extension ladder (10 feet long, flagged 14 inches past the rear bumper), two other ladders, a smallish air compressor, a largish shop vac, three large bins, some materials, some scrap, and a slew of tool cases/bags. It was pretty full, is what I'm saying.The range of the Cybertruck would have been just fine. Nothing I carried had any substantial weight to it, in truck terms. The frunk would have been extremely useful (lock the tool cases there, out of the way of the Bed Stuff, away from prying eyes and grasping fingers -- you say I can charge my cordless tools there? bonus). Stainless steel plus no paint is a plus.Apparently the Cybertruck bed will be 78" long (but over 96" with the tailgate folded down) and 60-65" wide. And then Tesla promises "100 cubic feet of exterior, lockable storage — including the under-bed, frunk and sail pillars." Underbed storage requires the bed to be clear of other stuff, but bottom line everything would have fit, especially when we consider the second row of seats (tools and some materials out of the weather).Some days I was hauling mostly air on one leg of the trip. There were several store runs involved, some for 8-foot stock. One day I bummed a ride in a Roush Mustang. Three separate times other drivers tried to run into my truck (stainless steel panels, yes please). The fuel savings would be large enough for me to notice and to care.TL;DR: This truck would work for me, as a truck. Sample size = 1.
  • Ed That has to be a joke.
  • SCE to AUX One data point: my rental '23 Model 3 had good build quality, but still not as good as my Hyundais.Test mule aside, perhaps the build quality of the CT will be good in 2027.