EX­CLU­SIVE

IN­TER­VIEW WITH MON­STER TA­JIMA

NZ Performance Car - - Front Page -

It might be pint–sized and not such an ob­vi­ous choice, but be­lieve it or not, this mi­cro-ma­chine packs more punch than it lets on. Yes it is a Suzuki Swift com­monly used for grab­bing gro­ceries, pot­ter­ing off to the gar­den cen­tre in, or pick­ing up granny on a Sun­day af­ter­noon. This par­tic­u­lar ex­am­ple, how­ever, would for sure give granny a full- blown heart attack.

Of course, the man be­hind this in­cred­i­ble cre­ation is none other than Nobuhiro ‘Mon­ster’ Ta­jima, more com­monly known by us Ki­wis as ‘Mon­ster’. The king of Pikes Peak took an af­ter­noon off to show us his lat­est cre­ation, and spin a yarn about the (at time of print) up­com­ing Race to the Sky. Strolling out of his of­fice proudly wear­ing his ‘Race to the Sky’ po­lar fleece, you can just tell this guy is ex­cited when you men­tion New Zealand.

First, I needed to get my nose over to the men­ac­ing Suzuki sit­ting in the show­room. Mon­ster is no stranger to prop­erly men­tal race ma­chines; he has built some of the most iconic hill­climb ma­chines on earth. This time round, he wanted to build an in­sane ma­chine that the public could connect with, thus a pro­duc­tion car was an ab­so­lute must for the build. For Mon­ster, there were two things that were of ut­most im­por­tance — beauty and speed. The lit­tle Swift is cer­tainly beau­ti­ful. “It just screams WRC,” I said to him, while stand­ing back ad­mir­ing it. “Ex­actly,”’ he quickly quirked back. Most rally fans will re­mem­ber back to the Suzuki World Rally Team, of which Mon­ster was the brains be­hind, so he called up his Shizuoka R&D fa­cil­ity and brought the WRC and Pikes Peak en­gi­neers to­gether to de­sign some­thing prop­erly nuts.

Firstly off, the big­gest task of the project was to de­cide on aero. Luck­ily, Mon­ster had just the right man for the job, Shinichi Sak­aguchi. He is re­spon­si­ble for the aero packages on the WRC Suzuki ma­chines, and the Pikes Peak cars Mon­ster has cam­paigned. Us­ing a wind tun­nel that has a rolling floor, they worked out the fine de­tails of the aero­dy­nam­ics; they were even able to sim­u­late drift­ing con­di­tions with a 1/5 scale model. Mon­ster didn’t want to lose the tra­di­tional shape of the Swift that peo­ple could connect with, so af­ter all the num­bers were crunched, the fi­nal ver­sion was pumped out to 1770mm wide thanks to some bulging fend­ers.

Next up was the re­quire­ment of an en­gine and driv­e­train that would match the an­gry look, so it was off to the all-year-round tem­per­a­ture con­trolled en­gine room. The en­gine was not an all-out rac­ing en­gine, be­ing based on the pro­duc­tion en­gine. “We wanted to ex­tend the en­gine and dis­cover the po­ten­tial that this pow­er­plant re­ally has,” Mon­ster ex­claims. Based on the M19 kit (1.9-litre con­ver­sion) this en­gine was tuned ex­actly how they would have tuned a WRC car. “This is ef­fec­tively an un­lim­ited WRC ma­chine,” he grins. Fi­nal power out­put of the en­gine comes to a very tidy 313kW (420hp) at 7850rpm, cour­tesy of a Mon­ster Sport turbo de­signed specif­i­cally for this car. In to­day’s horse­power wars that fig­ure doesn’t sound like much, but think of it be­ing 1.5 times a WRC ma­chine all squashed into a Suzuki Swift, and you start to un­der­stand what a beast this is.

Many peo­ple in Ja­pan view Mon­ster Sport as an ex­pert en­gine builder shop. I guess with all the events they have ever en­tered, their 40 per cent win­ning ra­tio leaves no doubt in your mind that this is a top shelf out­fit. Look­ing at the en­gine, there could po­ten­tially be a lot more power dragged out of it, but Mon­ster said he isn’t in­ter­ested in im­press­ing peo­ple in a cat­a­logue with a large horse­power read­ing.

“I want to swing the car side­ways in front of the crowds, I want them to feel pure ex­cite­ment!” says Mon­ster, think­ing back on the build. “The turbo out­put is high, but we never de­vi­ate from fo­cus­ing on torque and re­sponse.”

The body was some­thing that Mon­ster had par­tic­u­lar in­ter­est in. “With the hu­mon­gous torque that WRC cars pro­duce, it needed to be very rigid, so we went with a WRC–styled cage.” For Mon­ster, the chas­sis was so im­por­tant, be­cause if the chas­sis was done prop­erly, all the torque from the en­gine could be trans­planted into the tyres and onto the tar­mac, where he plans to slay tyres in a Ken Block style, af­ter be­ing in­spired by Ken him­self.

So, the fi­nal re­sult — does it gain the Mon­ster stamp of ap­proval? It sure does, he said that he found it hard to be­lieve that the 1900cc, 313kW car was so easy to con­trol. En­gine and chas­sis bal­ance is great, and even on a wet track the trac­tion is in­cred­i­ble. As the car is de­vel­oped fur­ther, Mon­ster said he would like to pos­si­bly get to­gether and do some­thing cool with Ken Block. The rea­son the car was built was to cheer Ja­pan up af­ter the quake and tsunami by in­tro­duc­ing “mind­less fun” and feed­back de­vel­oped en­gi­neer­ing tech­niques into pro­duc­tion car per­for­mance parts. If this doesn’t make your bot­tom tin­gle, then you clearly don’t know what fun is.

Speak­ing of a tin­gle dow­nun­der, by the time you read this, Mon­ster will have at­tended the clas­sic Race to the Sky event here in New Zealand. “I am very ex­cited to be head­ing back to New Zealand again!” he says with a smile from ear to ear. It is no se­cret that he is quite fond of our coun­try. Of course, with High­lands Mo­tor­sport Park boss Tony Quinn also en­ter­ing a pur­pose built car, I had to ask Mon­ster if he has been fol­low­ing the up­dates. “What car?” he asks, I guess be­ing busy run­ning his busi­ness he hasn’t had the chance to do any spy­ing. I wanted to know a bit more about the dif­fer­ence be­tween the ‘great­est hill­climb in the world’ and our own event dow­nun­der? “The big­gest dif­fer­ence is that in New Zealand you get air­borne, and the sur­face isn’t smooth. It changes, so you need to be con­stantly on top of your game just like in ral­ly­ing, as the grip is never con­stant.” The other big­gest sin­gle- fac­tor for any driver is the lack of altitude at our event, com­pared to Pikes Peak. “We don’t need to ad­just to the thin­ner air, and the car doesn’t need to be spe­cially tuned to deal with the lack of power as we go higher up. It’s just max­i­mum attack with full power un­til the end of the course.” He was very quick also to show his love for gravel, pok­ing his tongue out when the ‘t’ word was men­tioned. “On gravel you have grip lev­els al­ways chang­ing on you, so only the best driv­ers are able to fully mas­ter gravel hill­climbs. Any­one can do it on tar­mac, but gravel sep­a­rates the men from the boys.” The ic­ing on the cake for Mon­ster is cer­tainly the noise that you get rac­ing on gravel; “The sound of the stones vibrating along un­der­neath the car and un­der the wheel arches is amaz­ing.”

Now with Pikes Peak be­ing sealed, the speeds are much higher than be­fore. “The re­sults of an ac­ci­dent can be very se­ri­ous on Pikes Peak, and it is al­ways in the back of our minds, as if it wasn’t, then that would be to­tally reck­less.” While dis­cussing the dan­gers, Mon­ster rem­i­nisced back to the tragic pass­ing of our beloved Pos­sum Bourne. “One thing I want to men­tion about the New Zealand event is that it is very safe, both in recce, or­ga­ni­za­tion, and the race it­self. The event isn’t danger­ous in my opin­ion, so I don’t want any­one to think what hap­pened with Pos­sum was a re­flec­tion on the dan­ger of the event. It was purely a very un­for­tu­nate ac­ci­dent, and the fans should come and wit­ness just how safe and amaz­ing this event is for them­selves.”

Mon­ster is no novice to the world of mo­tor­sport, and es­pe­cially the art of the hill­climb. “One thing about New Zealand which very few of you seem to re­al­ize is the qual­ity of hill­climb roads you have.” It cer­tainly is no se­cret that our roads are top shelf, but Mon­ster doesn’t just rate it as top shelf — he went one step fur­ther, say­ing “I have raced at the world’s most fa­mous and pres­ti­gious events, yet none of them beat the road of Race to the Sky. It is ab­so­lutely the most amaz­ing piece of road I have ever raced on, even bet­ter than Pikes Peak.” If that isn’t an en­dorse­ment for New Zealand mo­tor­sport, then I don’t know what is — the Mon­ster seal of ap­proval!

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