Can you imagine a race where a 400hp hatchback is not enough to master it? A race intense enough that 1 engine is not enough? The Pikes Peak International Hill Climb is that race. A race with something you don't see too often, an unlimited class. Some of us may know it from Gran Turismo featuring one it's most insane vehicles, the Suzuki Escudo, or, from Ari Vatanen destroying the course in the film, Climb Dance. However you know about it, with a little research you'll find out that the race has produced nothing but straight uphill, offroad madness, and one of my favorite periods of madness was the short period where Suzuki saw it fit that the only replacement for displacement, was another engine.
Preface: The VW Golf
I don't think I can progress any further without giving an honorable mention to VW's own twin engine Pikes Peak monster, the 1985-1987 Golf entries. Now, a little rally history would tell you that these 3 years had some stiff competition from the insane Group B Audi Quattro which was entered into the race and won by equally legendary drivers, Michèle Mouton (85), Bobby Unser (86) and Walter Röhl (87). VW wanted to compete with the Audis with a Golf, but also wanted the overall Golf silhouette to remain unaltered, to better market the car to the public. This meant no fancy aero, like what the Quattro had. With this limitation in place, they chose to focus instead on doubling down on power and grip. Despite this, Audi still walked over them.
Both VW and Audi stepped down in 1988, allowing Ari Vatannen to dance up the hill in his Group B derived Peugeot 405 T16. This was also the first year Nobuhiro 'Monster' Tajima entered. Tajima was a badass rally driver and, in my honest opinion one of the greatest drivers ever to come out of Japan. He seemed to be the best fit to fill the void left by VW with his own twin engine creations. Not too long before this race Tajima founded Monster Sport International in 1983, his own shop dedicated to creating off road machines using his years of rallying experience. In 1986, Suzuki partnered with him, forming Suzuki Sport Racing, and the legend began.
Phase 1: 1987(?) - 1993 The Cultus
Information before 1989 is a bit unclear. What I could scrape together from this archived Suzuki Sport page, Monster Sport's profile page and Tajima himself reflecting on his time at Pikes Peak, was that the story really begins from the All Japan Dirt Trial. What is the All Japan Dirt Trial? I don't know. I don't even know if it was once called the All Star Dirt Trial at one point. What is certainly known is that Tajima has 9 series wins in the series and picked up his nickname 'Monster' for his 'wild driving style' there. In the 1987 series, Tajima debuted his Twin Engine Cultus which took him to an overall win. I could find no further information on where else the Cultus raced or what the specs of the car were at the time. While it is known that Tajima entered Pikes Peak in 1988, according to Monster Sport, he achieved a 3rd place finish in the Showroom Stock Division, but nothing about a 'Twin Engine Suzuki Cultus' sounds 'showroom stock'. In 1989, is when we get our first clear view of what this Cultus is composed of during his 1989 entry at the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. It featured a pair of 1.6L Suzuki G16 engines, prepped and tuned by Monster Racing. You had one 400hp engine up front for the front wheels and another 400hp G16 around back for the rear wheels. When it all came together, you got 800hp of 4WD hatchback fury.
Sadly, he DNF'd in 1989 and DNS'd in 1990, but continued to develop and enter the Cultus throughout the year. Seen below is him racing it in the 1990 All Japan Dirt Trial Championship, with what appears to be the exact same car, but with some minor adjustments (noticeably the lack of a rear wing and eventually, rear engine)
After some more development, particularly in the aero department, Monster finally got some success. In 1991 he was able to get up to 3rd in the Unlimited class with class wins following in 1992 and 1993, still managing to lose the overall title to the open wheeled vehicles. More work was needed if Tajima wished to remain competitive, thus triggering the next stage of development for his next twin engine racer, the Escudo.
Phase 2: 1994-1995 The Escudo
The Escudo kept the G16 derived 4 cylinders, still making around 400hp each, but this time bump the aero up to 11. Dino Dalle Carbonare went in depth on the car over on Speedhunters which I recommend you go and look at. But for those wanting the summary, under body aero became a major focus on this car, featuring a splitter, wing and diffuser combo that looks like it could cancel out the lift of a small airliner.
The Carbonare's article also highlights just how much work goes into getting two engines to work together in harmony (again I recommend reading it). My favorite highlight is the linkages that connected the 2 clutches, 2 throttle bodies and 2 transmissions to only one set of linkages for the driver to control. The resulting development of the Escudo gave Tajima a 2nd place in the unlimited class in 1994 and finally, his first overall win in 1995 on a shortened Pike Peak course. Below is footage from his 1994 run and an early development of that crazy front end aero.
Intermission, 1996-1999 The V6 Escudo
You know it was coming to this
In 1996, Tajima took his Escudo to Pikes Peak again but did away with the two engines, this time focusing on only one, mid mounted, twin turbocharged V6, now producing almost 1000hp. Surprisingly enough, as much as this may be his most famous car, he never won Pikes Peak in it. 3 overall second place finishes (1996, 1998-1999) and a DNF (1997) is the record this car carries at Pikes Peak, each time losing to the equally insane Rod Millen Toyotas. The car however gained success at New Zealand's Race to the Sky (which is another story by itself).
Phase 3: The 2000 Suzuki Esteem, one last hurrah
Despite the notoriety and success of the Suzuki Escudo, Tajima gave the twin engine method one more go in 2000 in a Suzuki Esteem, now featuring a pair of 2.0l engines, producing the same 800hp. The car also featured near production bodywork, meaning all that wonderful aero was gone. Sadly, Tajima also DNF'd this year, ending his run of twin engine monsters.
Hiatus and return to success
Tajima entered again in 2001, going back to his single engine twin turbo V6 concept, this time dubbed the Suzuki Aerio P950. Monster Sport also entered a similar V6 powered Suzuki Grand Vitara driven by Yutaka Awazuhara this year. Tajima sadly DNF's with Awazuhara getting 4th place overall for the team. Tajima went on a Pikes Peak hiatus from 2002 to 2006 as his decision to focus on assisting Suzuki's WRC efforts constantly clashed with the Pikes Peak race (he however continued to race at the Race to the Sky) He returned to Pikes Peak in 2006, winning overall at a shortened race and then returning again in 2007 to break the world record for the Hill Climb. He continued to enter and win continuously up until 2011, where he broke the Hill Climb record again, being the first person to finish under 10 minutes. Each entry post-hiatus was with a mid mounted, 4WD V6 concept. The success spoke for itself and naturally seemed to be the layout of choice for Tajima, but even this dominance had it's end coming.
2012 - Present, The electric Monsters
Twin Electric Motors is still Twin Engined right?
Since 2012, Tajima shifted his and Monster Sport's focus on electric vehicles. His change to EVs was not only motivated by his interest to develop electric cars, but also EVs have the distinct advantage over conventional engines of not losing power with altitude. It is stated that during Pikes Peak, cars can lose as much as 30% of their horsepower climbing up the hill compared to the power they would have at sea level. That would be the equivalent of his Escudo losing 2 cylinders while climbing up hill, or the Cultus losing 250hp in one run. Electric cars suffer no such disadvantage and as a result, soon after became the vehicle of choice to tackle Pikes Peak. In 2013, Tajima broke the EV record and finished second in 2015 in a vehicle jointly designed with Rimac. 2015 also saw Pikes Peak's first EV overall victory with Rhys Millen in the Drive eO. The electric car reached it's competition peak in 2018 when Romain Dumas won overall, broke the EV record and the overall Hill Climb record with a time of 7:57.148 in the VW I.D. R.
It is difficult to see combustion engines, let alone twin engines monsters return to the top tier class of the Pikes Peak Hill Climb after the progress made by EV racers. It may seem natural at this point to mourn the loss of the monsters we once had, but as Dan Prosser shows us below, there is still much to enjoy with the 4 motor EV monsters we gained.