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Recently, a TamiyaClub member had an idea for a project which interested me: I offered to write some fiction for it, using ideas from that thread, the sources that inspired it, and influences from my own work. Reading the initial post there will give the required context for this thread. The result is a story that chronicles a potential development route for the famous Avante. The actual Avante's history is documented, so this is purely fiction. It uses details from the RC car's development, but otherwise attempts to treat it as a real racing car - and the driver figures as people. Certain elements of the story may not be entirely accurate - I never owned a Vanquish, Egress, or Avante 2001, after all - but are adequate for the narrative. My knowledge of Tamiya's actual racing programs is likely not entirely accurate, either, including the bits about the TRF 211X and 411X. Again, fiction. I am putting the story here in case it is not accepted as the vision of the project's creator, in which case it is my stand-alone writing. Personally, I find it interesting to think about an RC project including elements that go beyond just the car and its parts. The writing is amateur at best, but so are my other hobbies! This first part in particular is heavy on exposition, but will set up a story later. And now, presenting: Tamiya Azente: TXR, the Avante, and the Driver who Never Raced "First, be aware that I was the one chosen for this project among almost one hundred drivers. Among them, the promising Albert Attaboy who remained stuck in Baja Buggy races, Evert Edwards who had relatives working at Tamiya and who couldn't get more than the Vanquish. Even Greg Martin, who was popular thanks to the Hornet, was in the list. The most pathetic of all was undoubtedly Ricky Roop." These were the words attributed to Marcus "Paranoid" Perry, the lead driver for the Tamiya Racing Factory (TRF), and the one entrusted with the famous Avante. Chapter 1: The Avante Today, the Tamiya Racing Factory is a formidable force on the racing scene, fielding competitive racers across all categories and winning prestigious events around the world. Privateers using the team’s equipment have managed to score many successes at the club and national levels. The genesis was the Tamiya Avante program. *** Tamiya was responsible for the democratization of off-road racing; their Rough Rider and Sand Scorcher kits allowed even the casual enthusiast to take part in competitions. Both were setups high on value, with rugged components that could withstand the abuse of hard driving under harder conditions. The pair had a certain aesthetic flair, as well: purposeful lines that emulated the Volkswagens upon which they were based went well with the simple appeal that their oversized tires and sturdy mechanicals had. The ones with the most time and money of these amateurs became the professionals that established dominance over drivers with lesser vehicles. It took some time before the Rough Rider and Sand Scorcher could be challenged, but once rivals began improving on the basic layout, the racing scene began transforming rapidly. Lighter, faster racers emerged from other shops, and yesterday’s heroes became today’s second-class citizens. Tamiya sought to retain its stature within the racing community, and achieved it with the Frog. This lightweight rear-wheel-drive buggy was built on the principles that made the pioneering Rough Rider and Sand Scorcher so successful: durability, value, and aesthetic appeal. The emergence of composite engineering allowed Tamiya to drastically reduce the Frog’s weight compared to their earlier models, blessing the new one with the sprightly acceleration of its animal namesake. Thus, a cycle ensued between Tamiya and the other racing companies that were beginning to establish themselves to challenge the incumbent. As these rivals advanced, so did their designs, producing a gap that Tamiya would close with a new design of its own. It was an arms race that saw Tamiya launch weapons like the Hotshot, waging its wars on the track, fighting ferocious battles in every heat. As time passed, the cycle intensified… At last, Tamiya did not have an answer. The company had cars winning at club and national races, but was dangerously far behind its rivals on the international scene. The Hotshot, once the car to beat, had spent precious little time atop the time sheets, and new developments on this design proved ineffective in bringing the fight to the rivals once outpaced by the racers bearing the twin stars. It was in this tumultuous time that a new racer – something completely different – was unleashed. *** The new car was Tamiya’s superweapon. It was supposed to change the balance of power in the off-road racing scene, and restore Tamiya’s name as not the producer of cutting-edge racers, but of winners. Yet the design of the Avante would have guaranteed both. It would win Tamiya the war. Extensive research and testing programs resulted in a highly-sophisticated chassis in an innovative configuration. Four-wheel-drive was not new at this level, not even shaft-driven four-wheel-drive – indeed, Tamiya introduced it with their Hotshot – but a longitudinally mid-mounted motor certainly was. A double-deck composite chassis was specified in place of the then-standard ‘bathtub’ type, and metal was used extensively in the suspension links, in place of plastics, for more precision and adjustability. Metal was also used for the coil-spring damper bodies, and the dampers themselves were of much-higher specifications than those found on other Tamiyas. Special attention was paid to aerodynamics; while this aspect of design is a vital component in on-road competition, the incoming design placed new importance on it in the off-road category. The swoopy Thundershot predated the new car; however, the former did not go to the lengths of the latter, which even had a special undercowl to streamline the bottom surface. A large rear wing generated downforce, which at its most aggressive settings brought its aerodynamic performance closer to its contemporaries, but with much more useful grip. Set low, the car cut the air quite well. Even the wheels featured aerodynamic hub caps, with cam-lock mechanisms that allowed for tool-free wheel changes. This new racer was designed exclusively for electronic components. Eliminating the bulky mechanical speed control setup found in contemporary cars allowed the designers to wrap the body shell tighter around the chassis, reducing frontal area and chassis size. The cockpit featured fully-electronic controls and displays, and the steering wheel was shaped accordingly, to accommodate the requisite buttons and switches. It would only look slightly dated in a current Formula One racer. The result was a racing package that was (in principle) fully optimized for its intended use. Many bold decisions went into its configuration, creating a car unlike anything ever seen before in the racing world. Could a design rife with such fresh thinking really be as fast as it was believed to be? *** The Tamiya Experimental Racing (TXR) team was formed as a testing group for this groundbreaking car. The lead driver was Hinomoto Rikimaru, who was selected for his ability to adapt to ‘progressive’ designs, like the unusual Saint Dragon that he campaigned with the Coro Coro Racing Team. The finished prototype would be christened “Azente.” Some sources claim that it translates into “gift from God,” which is certainly how highly Tamiya regarded it, while others suggest it was the name of a powerful deity. Whatever the case, the Azente would be tested thoroughly by Rikimaru, and it was in this car that he was rumoured to have set unofficial course records faster than the leading racers of the day. Stifling secrecy characterized the Azente testing program. At the time, TXR was not even officially acknowledged by Tamiya itself! A special design with such prodigious potential could never risk being spotted by anybody, let alone a rival. Reportedly, the Azente was troubled by poor handling during early test sessions, but swiftly developed into a devastatingly-quick machine. Rikimaru spoke quite fondly of the car, and his lap times – some on the same circuits that appeared in the international racing scene – seemed to vindicate Tamiya for going ahead with such a bold design. Much of the prototype testing was done in America; hence, TXR would be based there. The location did allow for relative seclusion from Tamiya’s primary home in Japan. As the Azente progressed, the prototype gained new decals as different liveries were subject to tests, too! Tremendous excitement was building within Tamiya around the program. The astounding success of the race test sessions prompted Tamiya to push for an early start to the racer’s campaign. This decision was assisted by the acceleration of the program, owing to test driver Rikimaru’s devotion to the project and his long hours spent honing the car. *** The Azente was now deemed ready for competition. Somewhere before its first public unveiling, the name was changed to Avante. Refinements that went into the Azente was now changing the car’s design to the point that a new name was merited. Tamiya believed that “Avante” was more dynamic and indicative of the forward thinking that went into the new car’s design. The flamboyant lettering and colourful stars and stripes were replaced by a brilliant dark-blue finish, with sponsor texts in bright yellow. The intent was to give the car a more “professional [and] purposeful” appearance, befitting the high hopes that Tamiya placed on their latest weapon. Similarly, the TXR officially evolved into the Tamiya Racing Factory, to be the first team to race the Avante. The laid-back atmosphere that followed the crack squad of engineers working on a secret project was made more formal, in time with the group’s new role in the public eye. Suspension geometries and minor finishing details were revised for the Avante’s launch. A new testing program was launched, a quick one to further optimize the design for racing. Since it was felt that an engineer/driver was better at developing the Avante at this stage, Marcus “Paranoid” Perry, an emerging engineering and driving talent with the program, replaced Hinomoto Rikimaru. While Rikimaru did the driving for the Azente, Perry did the work refining the overall design package that resulted in the Avante. He would continue this role for the duration of the Avante’s career. Complementing the electronics package was an additional computer system that would allow the team to record and access live telemetry from the car. Data gathered here would be used by TRF and Tamiya for the further development of the chassis, as well as succeeding models. The Avante was unlike anything seen before in the off-road racing world at any level, and the engineers believed that its unique combination of adjustability, precision, and creativity could be leveraged into spectacular success on the international circuit, the kind that had been eluding Tamiya for so long. It had been designed from the outset with the qualities that made a championship racer. Tamiya felt that the car simply had to win. Nothing had been left to chance… *** What happened next is well-documented. The Avante, Tamiya’s great hope, and the flagship of its off-road racing efforts, failed conspicuously. The operation went into disarray as the new model showed poor handling tendencies and even worse reliability. The precision metal ball-end joints that were selected for their tight tolerances developed alarming slop after a few races, while other metal parts were either too fragile or too heavy. Drivers complained of vague-feeling steering that could suddenly snap into a spin, owing to its wide front tires and short wheelbase. The innovative wheels were also to blame, being much heavier than standard types, and less reliable. Cooling problems were evident in some events due to the compact packaging of electronic elements within the chassis; the motor was placed largely out of the slipstream, which made for better aerodynamics but poor heat exchange. The varied use of metal, composites, and plastic did not allow for a particularly-cohesive design, and so the overall quality of the product suffered. The Tamiya Racing Factory and its lead driver, “Paranoid” Perry, could only therefore collect limited in-race data from the Avante, and spent frustrating amounts of time replacing broken parts and tuning the chassis during the only season it was raced with factory support. At the end of its only factory racing season – a national one, no less – it could only finish seventh overall. *** The Avante was too expensive to write off as a total failure, and so different solutions using the existing chassis as a base were tried. Much of it was based off the data collected by TRF and “Paranoid” Perry: The Vanquish attempted to simplify things to the point of creating a new, less-expensive (and thus more marketable) model. This was an Avante with a longer wheelbase, bathtub chassis, cheaper components, and a new body. It featured more plastic than the racer upon which it was based, which increased slop but reduced the complexity of maintenance. The subsequent reduction in weight benefitted its handling. Unlike the Avante, the Vanquish could be equipped with a mechanical speed control, which increased its appeal with privateers. However, it remained out of the price range for many others, and so it did not recoup as much of the losses that Tamiya had hoped it would. Of note was the lightweight wheels: initially an upgrade for the Avante developed during its short front-line career, it would be specified as mandatory equipment for the Vanquish, along with aggressive pin-spike tires, to help address the vague steering and heavy rotational mass that plagued the Avante. The Egress, on the other hand, sought to upgrade the Avante to its maximum potential. In the process, it lost the metal ball-ends, but gained new chassis plates that extended its wheelbase to that of the Vanquish. Many of the plastic parts that were introduced on the Vanquish were used on the Egress, this time in the interest of lower weight. Switching to plastic ball-ends for suspension links further reduced weight and complexity. The Egress also featured Tamiya’s finest dampers, nicknamed “Hi-Caps.” The result was an improved car, but despite an elusive international victory, it was not a dominant racer. Incidentally, that winning car was heavily-modified from the factory Egress… Lastly, the Avante 2001 was a refreshed, simplified Avante. Unlike the Vanquish and Egress, this model would retain the Avante name and an appearance much closer to that of the original model, but using many of the chassis components that made their debut on the former two. This meant more plastic, including in the damper bodies. The Avante 2001 also returned to the same wheel design that appeared on the Avante, in a different colour. This model therefore retained much of the aesthetic character of the Avante, but would be easier to service and race. Despite these intentions, not many of them were produced or campaigned before Tamiya finally left the platform – and competitive four-wheel-drive off-road racing – behind. *** With the demise of the Avante, and the lingering spectre of its dubious competition legacy, Tamiya sought to quit four-wheel-drive off-road racing, and instead focused on rear-wheel-drive platforms. Much like its four-wheel-drive campaign, the two-wheel-drive effort saw few returns for the effort (including the notoriously-complex Astute). It was the end of an era. Yet TRF persisted, and once again Tamiya developed competitive two-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive racers for off-road competition. These models, dubbed the 211X and 411X, were tested extensively, under a much more thorough program that was influenced by the lessons learned from the Avante. The 211X went on to become the moderately-successful and well-received Dyna Storm, but the 411X was not developed further and was ultimately never released. Many years later, when TRF returned to off-road racing, they did so with a two-wheel-drive car: the TRF201. It was only after cautious research and development that a four-wheel-drive chassis was announced. To this day, the Avante remains a cautionary tale too close to Tamiya. In a twist of events, though, the Avante now enjoys premium collector-car status with off-road racing enthusiasts. Even in the face of poor results, time has allowed for the appreciation of the Avante as a seminal design that perhaps was just the victim of poor execution. Several features it introduced, such as the longitudinal mid-mounted motor, became standard on the next generation of top-line racers, and it has since been lauded for its forward-thinking packaging, use of high-quality materials, and pure aesthetic appeal. The vintage racing scene gives the Avante a new competitive setting, and with new modifications available, it has become an easier racer to live with. What it may still lack in speed, it makes up for in glamour, and it is partly due to its lack of success that the design has become quite unique among off-road buggies. There may well never be another quite like it. *** Stranger than the Avante’s elevation from factory flop to blue-chip collectible is another theory for the Avante’s ultimate failure: the appointment of Marcus Perry as Tamiya Racing Factory’s lead driver for the Avante’s campaign. It is unthinkable now, with “Paranoid” Perry being the most famous name linked to the model, and yet it has been suggested that the release of the very driver who paced the prototype Azente through its entire program – Hinomoto Rikimaru – was the primary factor for the poor competitive career of the Avante. Rikimaru certainly showed a pace in the car that Perry struggled to find; had the man most familiar with such a unique car been permitted to race it in anger, Tamiya could have found itself with the international trophies it so longed for. Counter to this theory is the notion that Rikimaru worked to the Avante’s detriment. A driver with more experience in conventional machinery could have developed the Avante to the style of a conventional driver, making it easier to access the design’s inherent speed. This theory posits that by entrusting Rikimaru with almost all the driving development, he built the car too much in his own image, and so the performances of other drivers in a car inherently set up for him would consequently suffer. Rikimaru was noted as having little experience in four-wheel-drive racers, which could have made a driver expecting the car to behave more like one drive it poorly. The Avante, by accounts, required more attention than most other racers to point it in the intended direction of travel. Confusing this further are the reputations of each driver: Hinomoto Rikimaru is simultaneously recognized as having exceptional car control and poor driving instincts, while Marcus Perry is at once a gifted off-road racer and a hard-luck loser. Whether Rikimaru spoiled the car through his incessant development, or Perry was too impatient to find an ideal race-day setup, controversy surrounds these two men’s involvement in Tamiya’s grandest plan. Rikimaru, for the record, has been bitter over his release from TXR and its allegedly-preferential treatment of Perry, while Perry continues to speculate that Rikimaru somehow set him up for failure… … They don’t call him “Paranoid” Perry for nothing, after all It is here where the story of Hinomoto Rikimaru begins…