RetroGP Gone but not Forgotten
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. The result was a team which was immediately competitive, with Boutsen winning at the Nurburgring, Spa and Enna to finish third in the European Championship. Johansson finished eighth.
Towards the end of the year rumors 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. 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.
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