INTERVIEW WITH MONSTER TAJIMA
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!