Of all the news coming out of Pikes Peak this year, the most surprising was Nobuhiro ‘Monster’ Tajima’s decision to enter the Electric class instead of the Unlimited field he has dominated for 6 years straight. There’s no hiding how important this switch is in terms of promoting electric racing; Tajima has an incredibly high profile in motorsport and is arguably the most famous Pikes Peak competitor of all time. We caught up with the Japanese hill climb legend to explore his reasoning behind the move and to uncover more technical details about the car he will be driving on 8th July.
Why did the team decide that now was the right time to use electric propulsion instead of fossil fuel?
“These days, environmental changes like global warming are becoming a serious matter for us. In order to create a better environment for our children and the younger generation, we need to take action now. We hope to send the message through this project that the uptake of electric vehicles will help solve many environmental problems.
Also, by challenging 2012 Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, we would like to give courage to the victims of the earthquake last year and to cheer them up. We also hope to introduce the pleasure of manufacturing and creating something new and realise the joy of driving a car with perfect control. Moreover, we want to suggest an opportunity for people over 50 years old called ‘active seniors’ to live a more active, happy life to the fullest. We hope they find more purpose in life by sharing their great experience and skills.
This race will enter a new era as the course will be all tarmac this year. Pikes Peak International Hill Climb is held in a beautiful national park and we believe that the message from us as a defending champion will have significant meaning this year.”
What are the benefits of an electric car on Pikes Peak?
“The merits of electric vehicles are not only their low levels of pollution and harm to the environment. There is almost no performance decrease due to the drop in air pressure and oxygen compared with internal combustion engines, and we believe that this feature will be a huge advantage at the 3000-4000m altitude of Pikes Peak race course.”
Has the car been designed from the ground up or is it based on an existing chassis?
“Our car is completely original and has been designed and developed from new by Monster Sport division. We are pursuing performance that can win at Pikes Peak International Hill Climb based on more than 20 years’ experience from our very first entry in 1988.”
How have your sponsors reacted to the decision to use an electric car this year?
“Japan has the highest level of technology development in electric and hybrid cars, so the switch to an electric vehicle has been welcomed with huge excitement and expectation. We could also welcome some great new partners from this new field, such as latest lithium battery developer Mitsubishi Heavy Industry and the well-known educational company, Benesse.”
At what stage is the car at now? Is it going through testing, and if so, how and where are you testing it?
“Our car is right in the middle of assembly in the factory at Iwata City, Shizuoka. Our shakedown test is planned for later this month and will be performed at circuit in Japan.”
Who are your technical partners for this project?
“Mitsubishi Heavy Industry provides us with an exclusive lithium battery which has superior electric discharge. Two motor units will be installed in our car, transferring driving force (power) to 4 wheels via drive shafts made by NTN. The chassis is made of aluminum and is very light and strong. Suspension will be double wishbone type, we use Ohlins dampers and coil springs made by King Spring products from Australia. We are using an active regenerative brake system, and mechanical brake pads from Winmax. The body shape is also an original design, with aerodynamics developed through the Aerodynamics Wind Tunnel Machine at our factory. We receive support from FALKEN TIRE, which are installed onto HRE wheels. The combination is the same as last year that accomplished six consecutive wins.”
I’m particularly interested to see how the two motor, four wheel drive set up works, I’m guessing that each motor will run through a localised differential. Interesting to see that they haven’t gone for the ‘one motor per wheel’ arrangement that would allow full electronic torque vectoring. As one of the most successful and therefore watched teams at Pikes Peak it’s not surprising they are playing it relatively safe with mechanical diffs they know and understand.