Pikes Peak is one of the most treacherous venues in all of racing — maybe in all of sports — hell, maybe in all of anything. Each year, dozens of hardened teams of racers attempt the seemingly impossible task of assaulting this 14,115-foot mountain and being crowned the fastest man to the top.
Last week, two days before his 61st birthday, Nobuhiro "Monster" Tajima did just that, breaking a record that stood like the four minute running mile of motorsports: ten minutes or less to the top of Pikes Peak. After crashing out of the race I had to know how he did it.
You would think with all the motorsport teams in the world and all the crazy machinery people build, that the record would have been broken by now. Even more interesting is Tajima previously set the record in 2007 with a time of 10:01.4.
Most guesses say the 10 minute barrier was broken because of the additional pavement above Devil's Playground. But I think they're wrong, I think it was Tajima's special race week diet. Salad, salad, and more salad. Each night was an adventure in finding the best salad bar in Colorado Springs. But here's the secret twist. Every trip to the summit during reconnaissance was an orgy of chili dogs and doughnuts.
To the normal person this sounds insane, but I get it. There is something special about stuffing your face with doughnuts at 14,000 feet when you can hardly breath. To Tajima it was ritual. He was having the time of his life. He knew this was his year.
The only time I didn't see him smiling was when he was stretching, about to get in the car to achieve greatness. He was dead serious, focused, in a trance. I asked him what he was thinking that morning when he climbed into the car.
CASWELL: Was this the year?
MONSTER: "Yes, It was my feeling, which was very good based on qualifying."
CASWELL: When did you know you had beaten the record?
MONSTER: Halfway around Glen Cove (approx. 6 miles up)! The tires! The suspension! The engine! They kept getting better and better! The car was fantastic!
CASWELL: Bottomless pit, there was oil everywhere and many cars slowed down. They were warning all the cars at the start. Where you concerned?
MONSTER: There was oil on the outside, so I used the inside, slower than the best line but it was the clear line.
(I watched him come thru this corner and he never lifted, he rode the whole corner on the inside and at the last minute ducked to the outside to turn in exactly where oil ended. It was perfect. The shift on the oil line is best seen in the whole climb video below but the Bottomless Pit video can be found here.)
CASWELL: You weren't able to drive the car back down? What happened?
MONSTER: Just before I entered Cog Cut, I lost power steering and the water pump. I had to muscle the car through the final corners. When I crossed the finish line the water temperature was 150 degrees celsius!
CASWELL: Was the motor misfiring from the heat?
MONSTER: No, but if I lost the water pump even a corner earlier I might not have made it. I was very lucky.
Yes Tajima, the mountain was good to you.
So naturally I wanted to know what had changed from last year other than the livery. "We had new tuning and turbos and a new wheel and tire package." Tajima said.
In case you're curious, Tajima designed and built the entire car himself with his crew, all of which have WRC experience. He believes in mechanical engineering, not fancy computers. His center diff? Old school cool —mechanical. His crew chief was one of the principal of Suzuki's old WRC team. I personally think it's the fastest car on the planet, I mean what else could beat you in Gran Turismo
if you chose Monster's car? It runs Motec, Garret Turbos (a T304r variant) and Falken Tires prepared specially for Tajima, a Ziex 295/40/20 to fit his new 20" by 11" HRE wheels.
I understand this is an SUV model specially adapted to Pikes Peak with a unique tread pattern and a crazy sticky compound, a monster special. Speaking of which, the gift shop at the top of pike's peak is considering selling a Tajima Special for $9.51. I hope it's a double chili dog on a bed of doughnuts. The secret recipe of success!
As a side note, Tajima feels the extra strength required to break the record was due to the hope and optimism of his home country Japan. Tajima told me they are still suffering but things are getting better.
He wanted to break the record to show that even in the toughest of times, the most difficult of obstacles are still obtainable. It was important to Tajima to give back, to take the energy of winning and use it to improve his country's morale. People call Tajima "Monster" but I think of him more the like a children's cartoon monster. The loveable one that gives back and makes it all ok in the end.
Oh and how did Tajima celebrate his 61st Birthday after breaking one of the most famous records in modern motorsports? With his friends, team, and sponsors at Go Pro's headquarters in Half Moon Bay. I understand there isn't a drop of sake to be found within 20 miles. Congratulations Tajima!
The Full 1080p run to the top can bee seen here.
Photos: Monster Tajima/Yujiro Otsuki, Bill Caswell