Tajima to return, sans petrol maybe

Eight-time winner and record-holder Nobuhiro ''Monster'' Tajima, of Tokyo, visits the Highlands Motorsports Park at Cromwell yesterday. Photo by Mark Price
Eight-time winner and record-holder Nobuhiro ''Monster'' Tajima, of Tokyo, visits the Highlands Motorsports Park at Cromwell yesterday. Photo by Mark Price
The eight-time winner of the Race to the Sky hill climb at Cardrona just might compete next April in a car running on electricity rather than petrol.

Nobuhiro ''Monster'' Tajima (65), of Tokyo, holds the record time (8min 0.1sec) for the race, which ran for 10 years until 2007.

The race is being revived by the Highlands Motorsports Park and yesterday Mr Tajima and park officials checked how the gravel race course, from the Cardrona Valley to the Snow Farm on the Pisa Range, had changed since he last raced there.

At a press conference in Cromwell, Mr Tajima said he wanted to win the title twice more and set a record of under 8min.

And he did not rule out the possibility of trying to do it in his E-Runner electric car.

Mr Tajima switched to electric cars for the American Pikes Peak International Hill Climb in 2012, citing his concern over climate change.

This year, he came third in the electric modified class and was just 41 seconds behind the overall winner.

Mr Tajima said there were a variety of factors to consider when choosing what type of car to use for the Race to the Sky - altitude being a major one. Petrol engines lost efficiency at altitude, which gave electric vehicles an advantage at the high-altitude Pikes Peak event.

As well, the gradients at Pikes Peak and Race to the Sky were different and there were different road surfaces.

The sealing of the Pikes Peak track has left Race to the Sky as the longest gravel hill climb in the world.

It is 14.5km long, has 135 turns, and starts at 450m above sea level and finishes at 1500m.

Mr Tajima said he loved racing on gravel and taking part in the Cardrona event, and he would be giving his choice of electric or petrol car a lot of thought ''over a glass of wine'' while staying in Central Otago last night.

He believed electric cars were the way of the future and more would be seen of them in motor racing as batteries improved.

''Every hour, batteries improve. With good batteries, we can beat petrol.''

Race for the Sky founder Grant Aitken believed motor racing had to ''embrace'' new technology.

''It could be an electric car whispering up the Snow Farm access road next year in Race to the Sky. We've got to rethink things, don't we?''Mr Aitken said he was yet to decide whether he would be a spectator or competitor at next year's event.

Race for the Sky will run from April 17 to 19 and motorsports park owner Tony Quinn said some past competitors were keen to come back.

He expected more than 100 cars, bikes and buggies to compete to be ''King of the Hill''.

''Having Monster back is certainly a drawcard but we also want to attract more of the world's best and some of the new up-and-coming talent, too.''

mark.price@odt.co.nz