When the Superbike World Championship debuted in 1988 as an international series for production-based motorcycles, organizers aimed for horsepower parity by restricting four-cylinder engines to 750cc but allowing twins up to 1000cc. Despite this, the HRC V4 RC30 dominated in the early days at the hands of American rider Fred Merkel, winning both the Riders’ and Manufacturers’ championships in the first two years and retaining the Manufacturers title in 1990.
After a few years of race development, the competition’s larger displacement twin-cylinder machines began to make things difficult for the four-cylinder models, but HRC teams forged on and in 1997 won both the Riders’ and Manufacturers’ championships with American John Kocinski aboard the 750cc V4 RC45. Then, in 2000, HRC engineers responded to the displacement rule with a twin of their own—the 1000cc V4 VTR1000 (also known as the RVT1000 or RC51), which enjoyed immediate success, Colin Edwards securing that year’s Riders’ title. Two years later, Honda and Edwards repeated the feat in dramatic fashion, the American securing a double win in the final round at Imola to top Troy Bayliss by 11 points.
In 2003, rule changes removed the 250cc advantage for twin-cylinder machines, while MotoGP completed its transition to four-stroke engines. HRC made the decision to focus its efforts on Grand Prix racing and withdrew from WorldSBK. Nonetheless, the Honda inline-four CBR1000RR Fireblade was still successfully employed by satellite teams, most notably in 2007 when James Toseland won the Riders’ championship with the Hannspree Ten Kate team.
In 2019, Honda participated in a joint project with Moriwaki and Althea, entering the WorldSBK championship with an HRC-supported outfit, the Moriwaki Althea Honda Team, which fielded Leon Camier and Ryuichi Kiyonari on CBR1000RR SP2 machines. The season proved quite challenging but was at the same time fruitful with a view to 2020 activities.
In 2020 HRC returns to WorldSBK with Team HRC, a full factory team, based in the same HRC Europe office (in Barcelona, Spain) as MotoGP and Dakar.
HRC has signed 2019 WorldSBK runner-up Alvaro Bautista, and Leon Haslam, two highly competitive and very experienced riders, to race its CBR1000RR-R SP Fireblade, a brand-new machine, created with a clear focus on track performance.