It might be pint-sized, it might not be an obvious choice, but believe it or not this micro-machine packs more punch than it lets on. Yes it is a Suzuki Swift, which is perfect for grabbing groceries, pottering off to the garden centre in, or picking up granny on a Sunday afternoon. This particular example though, would for sure give granny a full-blown heart attack.
Of course the man behind this incredible creation is none other than Nobuhiro Tajima. More commonly known by us Kiwis as ‘Monster’, the king of Pikes Peak took an afternoon out for me to come and shoot his latest creation and spin a yarn with him about the upcoming Race to the Sky event. 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 however 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 upmost 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. Any rally fan will remember back to the Suzuki World Rally team. Monster was the brain behind the operation so he called up his Shizuoka R&D facility and brought the WRC and Pikes Peak engineers together to design something properly nuts.
Firstly 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 loose the traditional shape that people could connect with so after all the numbers were crunched the final version was pumped out to 1770mm after some bulging fenders were thrown into the mix.
Next up was the requirement for 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; it is 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 (1.9l conversion) this engine was tuned exactly how they would tune a World Rally car. ‘This is effectively a unlimited WRC machine’ he grins. Final power output of the engine comes to a very tidy 420bhp @7850RPM, which in today’s horsepower wars doesn’t sound like much, but think of it being 1.5 World Rally cars all squashed into a Suzuki Swift and you start to see what a beast this is.
Of course to take the punishment of 420 horsepower the gearbox is exactly what you find in a WRC machine, 6-speed sequential dog box mission with all 4 wheels spinning frantically courtesy of a Monster Sport original turbo designed specifically for this car. 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% 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 too. ‘With the humongous torque that World Rally Cars produce it needed to be very rigid, so we went with a WRC-styled cage’. For Monster the body was so important because if the body 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. After the subframe was strengthened the well thought out suspension arms layout was installed, ‘we wanted to make sure maintenance was super easy so we took inspiration once again from the WRC, and no wonder, gearbox changes in 7 minutes, the rally cars are the ultimate machines for any mechanic to work on.
I wanted to know a bit more about the difference between the ‘greatest hillclimb in the world’ and our own event downunder that Monster used to be so dominant in, ‘the biggest difference is that in NZ you get airborne, and the surface isn’t smooth. It changes so you need to be constantly on top of your game just like 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, organisation, 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 hillclimb. ‘One thing about New Zealand which very few of you seem to realise is the quality of hillclimb roads you have’. It certainly is no secret that our roads are top shelf but Monster doesn’t rate it as top shelf, he went one step further. ‘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!