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Grastens

TXR Azente: Tamiya Fiction

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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…

  • Haha 1

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Wow, what fun!

This really did bring me back to that era of racing (RC, and 1/1) with some great details. I'll certainly steal a few little things for my build, @Grastens

 

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By all means!

Chapter 2: The Driver Who Never Raced

The interview was scheduled during a dreary day of rain. Even when the drops reduced to a drizzle and then a mist, the formless grey sky was enough to drain my energy.

The parking lot came up on the left. With no traffic in either direction, I made a casual turn onto the premises. This was the place where Hinomoto Rikimaru could be found.

Following his departure from the Tamiya Experimental Racing (TXR) division, Rikimaru – Hino, I believe, was his preferential moniker – was not quite the same. He returned to the Coro Coro Racing Team, where he campaigned his distinctive Saint Dragon racer before getting his hands on the team’s new four-wheel-drive car, the Fire Dragon. When he failed to turn in competitive results, the relationship between Coro Coro and Hino deteriorated rapidly, and he was dismissed shortly afterwards.

Despite having a decent reputation and some good years left in him, he never found a serious drive after that. One-off appearances in different off-road formulae, and a curious appearance in an on-road racer at one point, constituted the rest of his career before he retired from racing.

Some time later, he ended up at Diablo Engineering – once known as Spacetech Engineering, the same firm which did consulting work on the Tamiya Avante project. The world is smaller than we know.

He works there to this day, but not in the labs; now he can be found at a computer, double-checking project proposals and tenders. Sometimes, he is part of the delegation that Diablo sends to prospective clients. His contentious link to the Avante never comes up; after all, he was officially never involved…

After passing a brief security check, I am handed off to an assistant, who leads me to a waiting room. And sitting there, facing the door, is an older Japanese gentleman. He is wearing a dark blue shirt tucked neatly into crisply-ironed black pants. As he stands up and approaches me, he cuts a slender figure, a dark sliver in the wide white room. He cannot be much more than 1.70 m tall. His hair is still bushy, but his face gives away the years he lived. At first glance, he appears unintimidating and unfocused, but a closer look reveals sharp, clear eyes. It seems at odds with the way he walks, like a man distracted by recurring memories, preoccupied with himself.

This is Hinomoto Rikimaru: once a driver on the cusp of superstardom, and now a project proofreader with only fading experiences of racing buggies. I have no doubt that his face is the outlier, and that the Azente project aged him prematurely.

I reach out, and we shake hands. Mine feel coarse and rough in his. It is clear that Hino – no, Mr. Rikimaru – does not work in Diablo Engineering’s laboratory. Short pleasantries later, we head over to his office, where we sit down and I learn about the Azente, from the man who drove one.

 

 

Chapter 3: The Interview - the Back of the Coin

My transcript from that fateful day reads as follows:

 

So, Mr. Rikimaru, thank you for granting me the privilege of interviewing you.

Rikimaru: You are welcome. I do not speak much about my past, but today feels like a day to revisit some old memories.

 

And for that, I am grateful. Could you please introduce yourself to the readers? I am sure they would like to know a little bit about you before we visit the Azente.

Rikimaru: (he pauses here) … Yes. I was born in Japan, to Kenji and Tamami. He was a software engineer, and she was a professional chef. When I was young, I moved to Vancouver, in Canada, for my mother’s work. I lived there for some time before moving to California, in America, this time for both my parents’ work. It was around this time that I got into racing cars.

 

We have heard about your racing career, including your involvement with the Coro Coro Racing Team.

Rikimaru: I loved them. They were doing something different, getting on the wave of futuristic body work before the Thundershot and Avante arrived. We set up our cars a bit differently, and consequently drove them unlike anybody else.

 

Can you elaborate on that?

Rikimaru: We tried some interesting setups. Once, we used slick tires at a hard clay track. We reasoned that since it was dry that day, the clay might dry up, to the point that it was better to get surface area than to dig into the track. I did well in qualifying, and thought we might have been onto something, but I crashed hard in the first heat. We might never know what could have happened, which was a shame as the track was really drying up like we thought it would…

But anyway, I had a wonderful relationship with the engineers there, and even when they did their odd experiments, they always made sure I could drive the car in the end.

 

I see. What brought you to the attention of the Tamiya Avante program?

Rikimaru: It was a combination of a few things: one of our most-senior engineers had a contact within Tamiya and left us to work there. He was assigned to the Avante program, which at the time we did not know about. When the program needed a driver, he remembered me, and referred me to Tamiya. My experience testing cars for the Coro Coro Racing Team helped, and it was reasoned that I could work well with him, so I got hired. I did a few testing stints for other cars to prove my mettle before getting assigned to the Avante/Azente.

 

From what we know of the Avante’s development, the Azente prototype proved extremely fast in your hands. What was it like at the time? Was it really that special?

Rikimaru: It definitely took some time getting used to. The car was a little slow to respond off the line, but once I got to driving for a while, I developed a good rhythm with the car. We did need to change some details before getting the lap times right, though. For instance, we did a lot of early testing with geared differentials, front and back. I would lose speed quickly on loose surfaces, which convinced me that either a better seal on each or ball differential were superior.

Well, Tamiya was throwing a lot of money at this, so we had ball differentials fitted. After some time to set them up properly, the lap times started dropping. With the right setting, I could steer it with either the wheel or the throttle, and sometimes both.

 

If I recall correctly, though, the Avante was issued with geared differentials?

Rikimaru: One of the bigger mistakes we made was to let the Avante go with geared differentials. We were setting good lap times, and I was happy with the car, so Tamiya decided to push the car for an earlier start than we expected. This was in the middle of the ball differential testing, which we had to undertake anew after swapping out the geared types. Tamiya used the threat of budget cuts – we were using a lot of money, I admit – to tell us that this car showed promise and just had to be pushed out the door while we still had the element of surprise.

I had heard rumours about politics interfering with the introduction of the ball differential, too, but nothing more than that. Whatever the case, we were allowed to finish up our testing after that, and they would appear on the Egress.

 

You said it was one of the bigger mistakes. What else do you feel contributed to the Avante’s failure to capitalize on the promise of the Azente?

Rikimaru: I think the biggest problem was that Tamiya did not budget adequately for both prototype development and the race cars. The Avante was well-known for its mixed use of metal, composites, and plastics, especially metal in the ball-end joints. This was pioneered on the Azente, but the quality of the materials we used on the Azente was far superior to those which ended up on the Avante. We did eventually experience slop developing in the Azente’s ball-end joints, but not to the same extent that the Avante did.

The Azente’s use of these materials was much better than the Avante’s, but Tamiya could not justify producing the same-quality parts in the numbers required for a racing campaign. So, while the Avante did get nicely-finished components, the Azente’s was better still. I think the Azente was really the embodiment of the principles that the engineers sought to design the Avante with.

Back to the ball-ends: we were working on dust covers for those before the Avante was rushed out the door; like the ball differentials, we were forced to issue them later as a hop-up part. The Azente was a bit lighter and more durable than the Avante, though we too suffered from breaking uprights. That was also to be addressed, but again the early release meant we never got to work on it…

I guess the biggest mistake was to introduce the Avante when we did. We wanted at least another year to finish development, but Tamiya insisted on getting it out there. You can see how pressed for time we were, when essential bits like reinforced front uprights and ball-end dust covers were only appearing after the racer was released. Given the already-high purchase price of an Avante – at one point, Tamiya was selling them without motors to bring costs down – you can imagine that not too many racers were pleased with this business model. Not even TRF was happy with it.

 

TRF was not happy, you say. And we heard that you were not happy with TRF, either? What happened exactly between you two?

Rikimaru: (at this, he sighs deeply) … You might know that while I did most of the development work on the Azente, by the time the project transitioned into the Avante, I was replaced by Marcus Perry. Tamiya felt that, since he was a brilliant engineer and a talented driver, that he could somehow balance the two to develop the Avante further. He did oversee the refinements that saw the Azente transition into the Avante, so it must have been that he had a better handle on where the project was going.

Perry designed the suspension and specified many elements of the design that were innovative, and was getting the credit he fully deserved for it. I think it is a little strange that Tamiya suddenly decided that the car needed development during its first campaign, when earlier all the excitement was about how the new car was a winner right out of the gate.

Stranger still is that nobody talked about the Azente needing more development, whereas once it became the Avante, then it was felt that only a driver who was also an engineer could give it that all-important refinement. It is almost as if we took a step backwards with the whole thing…

 

How was your relationship with “Paranoid” Perry? How is it now?

Rikimaru: Perry was a great engineer. An arrogant one, but such is to be expected with young prodigies. He was only 24 years old when he was brought on, and was there before me. The senior engineer that came over from Coro Coro told me that Perry had wanted to be the project’s test driver, but thought that he was too inexperienced, and so told Tamiya to bring me in.

To his credit, Perry was only stern with me for most of the time. It was understood that we were to be consummate professionals: he designed the car and gave it to me to drive, and I drove it and reported on the design’s progress. This was fine for me; Coro Coro on race days was one of the few places I could relax and be less formal, but I think Perry struggled with it.

The day he replaced me as test driver, he was the most relieved I had ever seen him. He was not only stern with me, but tense, as the Azente matured. Any longer, and maybe he would have blown up on me for having the job he felt he deserved. At the time, I was disappointed, but still happy with the progress we had made. Perry was not my friend, but he was a talented colleague who I could count on to put in the work we needed.

All that changed when he was appointed the lead driver of the new Tamiya Racing Factory. I accepted my change in position after Perry’s promotion, thinking that I would later drive the Avante in races. It was the only thing that I would have given up Coro Coro for, and I had already done that. It was not just that he was named as the lead driver, but I was not even given a second driver, or support, or testing role afterwards. I felt like the program discarded me. Now I felt betrayed.

When I asked around, I learned that Perry was given some control over the selection of his teammate. Well, I was told I was not even considered. When my name came up, he said nothing. He had to know about the work I put into realizing his vision and making it a reality, and now I was to be completely removed from the very project I had given up everything for – and he did nothing to help me.

At first, I was outraged, and furious with Perry, in addition to feeling betrayed and quite deeply hurt. Maybe Perry wanted a teammate that he could show up more than one who could push him. I also think that he is not entirely responsible for my eventual crowding-out of the project, and that ultimately the management at Tamiya – not even at TRF – was responsible. I made the mistake of thinking I was indispensable, when all along I was quite disposable…

I do not talk with Perry. I do not keep in touch with anyone from that program, which is a shame because some really nice people worked on that car. I kept in touch with the senior engineer from Coro Coro for a while; after the Azente, I was admitted back into the team, along with him. We designed the Fire Dragon, using Thundershot parts, and the Saint Dragon, using a Madcap as the base.

 

Interesting. What did you do with Coro Coro after that?

Rikimaru: The whole Azente experience soured four-wheel-drive racing for me for a while, so I campaigned the Saint Dragon. Eventually, the team wanted me to drive the Fire Dragon after the engineer told the manager about my work at Tamiya. I loved the Saint Dragon, it loved me, and I was not ready to jump back into a four-wheel-drive car, but that is what happened.

The next season was a disaster. Expectations were high for me in the Fire Dragon, but it did not drive nearly as well as the Azente. I was foolish then, to expect anything like that ever again. I quickly lost confidence in the car, but soldiered on with it. Losing confidence in myself was the next step, and soon I was finishing well down the time sheets. Management got angry with me for my underwhelming results, and the once-excellent relationship I had with the Coro Coro Racing Team disintegrated. I was dismissed at the end of the year.

 

Was leaving Coro Coro the beginning of the end for you as a driver?

Rikimaru: It should be pretty obvious that it was. I could not hold down a steady drive after that; if it was not my lacklustre results with the Fire Dragon, it was rumours about my involvement with the Avante and Perry, and if it was not either one of those, it was a lack of heart. I was losing interest in driving.

I thought a touring-car race would change that, but despite a respectable result, I decided not to go further. I did two more races after that: one was a waste of time at a low-level race, and another was one last drive with the Saint Dragon, but not with Coro Coro… That is a story by itself.

 

Would you like to elaborate on that?

Rikimaru: No, thanks.

I understand.

 

Two final questions: you are now enjoying a successful career with Diablo Engineering. Diablo Engineering did some work on the Avante back when they were known as Spacetech Engineering. It is a prominent entry in the company’s portfolio. Do you ever get nostalgic about the Azente or Avante, being in a place like this? Do you miss driving at all, now that all this time has passed?

Rikimaru: I am aware of the irony that I ended up working with an Avante-related company when I wanted to rid myself of reminders of my career. What did I do with the Avante? All my work died with the Azente when it became the Avante, and now Perry claims what’s left as his own. I don’t miss it.

To answer your last question: no… with the exception of the Saint Dragon. That was a car I was ready to make my own before the Fire Dragon intervened. But otherwise, I do not miss it.

 

Thank you for your time, Mr. Rikimaru. I really appreciate this opportunity to interview you.

Rikimaru: You are welcome.

***

And with that, the interview is over. His assistant appears at the door to escort me out.

The sky outside is still the same, its featureless cover obscuring the sun that shines beyond. Now I know what must be within Mr. Rikimaru’s heart.

I get into my car, and turn right onto the road home.

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...is it wrong that I read the entire story in the accent of the guy who did the Tamiya SRB commercials, complete with 80s-quality audio, and a collage of poor-quality video footage snapped from race broadcasts, factory promotional tours and private test events..?

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2 hours ago, Mad Ax said:

...is it wrong that I read the entire story in the accent of the guy who did the Tamiya SRB commercials, complete with 80s-quality audio, and a collage of poor-quality video footage snapped from race broadcasts, factory promotional tours and private test events..?

Don't omit the byline "First in Quality Around the World!!" B)

 

jeez my dyslexia is playing up... every occurrence of Rikimaru comes out as "Rikibobi"... in a French accent...! :wacko:

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7 hours ago, Mad Ax said:

...is it wrong that I read the entire story in the accent of the guy who did the Tamiya SRB commercials, complete with 80s-quality audio, and a collage of poor-quality video footage snapped from race broadcasts, factory promotional tours and private test events..?

Only if you have a soundtrack instead of a mains hum in the background ;)

4 hours ago, WillyChang said:

jeez my dyslexia is playing up... every occurrence of Rikimaru comes out as "Rikibobi"... in a French accent...! :wacko:

Tamiyadega Nights, anyone? :D Good excuse to include a Daytona Thunder!

As for where the story goes from here: I will mull it over while the TXR Azente build thread gets underway...

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19 hours ago, Grastens said:

Only if you have a soundtrack instead of a mains hum in the background ;)

I have a lot of tape hiss, I'm sure it's an old recording on VHS.

 

I'm a fiction writer too.  I'm usually buried in other projects but the temptation to join this thread with some backstory from another avenue is almost overwhelming :D 

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3 hours ago, Mad Ax said:

I'm a fiction writer too.  I'm usually buried in other projects but the temptation to join this thread with some backstory from another avenue is almost overwhelming :D 

Looking forward to see what you come up with ;)

Edit: Did I mention how much I want an Avante after this, despite the fact that it did not work out the first time around? Probably with a Saint Dragon-inspired paint scheme...

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Chapter 4: The Driver Who Did Race

On the flip side of Rikimaru’s story is that of Marcus Perry, the “Paranoid” driver who helped launch the Avante to superstardom.

… Maybe I should say “the driver who got caught up in the Avante’s superstardom,” because Rikimaru’s version of events, and the Avante’s lacklustre racing career, suggest that Perry did little in the way of driving to elevate the car’s stature. No; that would be the car itself.

Yet it took my previous interview with Mr. Rikimaru to see this. Perry had granted a previous interview which more or less coloured events in his perspective. According to this one, Perry was responsible for the Avante and everything that defined it, including the exotic materials and the use of the Technigold motor. He also maintained that somebody had sabotaged it during its racing career.

With new knowledge of Rikimaru’s involvement, could it really be…?

Even asking Perry about his thoughts on Rikimaru might be contentious; in that previous interview, Perry declared himself far and away the best driver for the project, speaking dismissively of other names like Attaboy, Edwards, Martin – and especially Roop. Perry went on record saying that the last-named was particularly pathetic.

Whatever the case, the location for this assignment was definitely more exotic than the last one.

Perry had taken up life in Switzerland some time after his campaign with the Avante, and now called a beautiful chalet on a mountain home. A place like that could only belong to a skier, a title which I imagine Perry assumed in the winter months.

I could not help but think of the Avante and its elegance as I drove up the picturesque road to the chalet. Yes, this is certainly where I thought a famous racing driver would live.

These days, Perry is semi-retired. His involvement with Tamiya remains as an exhibition driver, brought out for the special occasions where the company’s Avante is demonstrated. The last time that happened was in an off-road racing showcase put on by them, and it seemed fairly certain that Perry would make another appearance in an Avante in time for the model’s 30th anniversary. Where there was an Avante, Paranoid Perry was sure to appear – the two were made inseparable by history.

He insists that without Perry, there is no Avante. Maybe there is no Perry without Avante, too…

I make it to the chalet. Two Dobermans appear; I have been told to expect them. Nonetheless, I fight to suppress my uneasiness as they follow me to the door.

Perry arrives at the door. Short pleasantries later, he leads me to his office. The previous interviewer made note of the impressive displays of trophies and memorabilia around the premises, and it seems that little has changed. Inside one tall glass case is a full racing suit, along with the helmet that Perry wore when he drove the Avante.

The tall glass case is at odds with its owner’s stature. That, too, was mentioned by the interviewer, but I am still taken aback by what appears to be a noticeable size difference between him and Rikimaru. Somehow, Perry seems much smaller, despite being no more than two inches shorter.

We sit down in the office, and I am ready to revisit the Avante and its most famous pilot.

 

Chapter 5: The Interview – The Face of the Coin

My transcript from that interview:

***

Good morning, Mr. Perry. Thank you for taking the time to sit down for this interview.

Perry: Of course. This is part of my job as a driver.

 

We already know a bit about you from the previous interview that was published about you some time back. Therefore, we can get to talking about your most famous project. Recently, more information about the formative days of the Tamiya Racing Factory has surfaced, and naturally you were quite involved. Can you tell us more about your experience?

Perry: Ah, the Tamiya Experimental Racing division. You know, nobody had to know about just how hard we were working to create the perfect racer. I’m surprised that details are known even now, but I guess there is no need to hide it any longer. Let me ask you: what do you know about the project?

 

Well, we know that there was a prototype called the Azente.

Perry: That car needed work. More so, it needed to keep its direction. Nobody else would have been so devoted to perfecting the concept. I worked on a lot of that car, including the suspension design and component package.

 

We learned that you were elevated to head of the project, at which point the car was redesigned and became the Avante.

Perry: That is correct. The Azente was half-baked at best, and Tamiya wanted us to get racing with it. So, I knew what needed to be done; putting me in charge simply made sure it was. This included refining the suspension settings, differentials, and electronics, in a way that changed the nature of the final product. That change made it only natural for Tamiya to go ahead with a new name, and I fully supported it.

 

Can you tell us more about the Azente testing program?

Perry: I was the lead driver for the project when it became the Avante. Previously, it was entrusted to a Japanese driver – I forget his name. He drove the very odd Saint Dragon, I think… Anyway, there were five of us: myself, that Japanese driver, a British one – Booth, I think – another Japanese driver named Sugiyama, and Ricky Roop. We put in the development work on the track, and then Sugiyama and I used the information from those sessions to refine the design.

 

I had the chance to speak with that Japanese driver the other day; his name is Hinomoto Rikimaru. He claims that you two did not get along outside of professional commitments.

Perry: It’s all coming back to me now… Yes, Hino. It was so difficult watching him participate in the testing program. How can you expect to develop the perfect racer with a so-very-imperfect driver?

 

Can you clarify?

Perry: Nothing about him suggested that he knew what a driver wanted in a car. You need consistency in a test driver role, in order to replicate driving inputs and conditions so as to fully assess and compare modifications. Hino lacked this very basic skill, and he had bad instincts behind the wheel, too.

 

So, how would you describe your relationship with Mr. Rikimaru?

Perry: Tough. Like it or not, he was the test driver for the Azente, and handled the early development. I took it upon myself to get behind the wheel much more after that. It took a lot of strength for me to tolerate his presence; I was happy to see him go after we formed TRF. If he had been allowed too stay much longer, he probably would have ruined the car.

 

And yet, the Avante’s racing results suggest that it was not a good racer anyway…

Perry: … It was too difficult to undo everything Hino contributed. I think it was a mistake to trust him with the development, when the car was my idea. Ultimately, whatever failure the Avante encountered had to do with the disconnect between the vision and the execution. I should not blame Hino too much, though; having that Ricky Roop involved as well must have surely made it worse!

 

Do you still believe that the Avante was subject to sabotage by other racers and teams during its career?

Perry: Not just the other racers and teams! I have never understood why the Azente was so durable, when the Avante was so fragile. I never specified the cheap materials that went into the Avante when it was prepared for racing. Again, it failed because the execution deviated from the vision…

 

So, you don’t believe there was any interference from within the program?

Perry: There was a time I thought Hino was deliberately impeding with the progress of the car. Since then, I have come to believe that he was simply the wrong driver for the job; he was not purposely doing anything wrong, but he could not do much right, either. And I never took anything that Ricky Roop said seriously, either. The other two, Sugiyama and Booth, were trustworthy.

 

Tamiya made other racers using Avante components. Are any of them closer to what you envisioned the Avante would become? If not, which model is the closest to your vision?

Perry: I hated all of them. The Vanquish is just a cheap Avante, which is a total oxymoron. The Egress is adequate, but lacks the personality and sophistication of the original. And I always thought the Avante 2001 was a tacky spin-off that wanted to bank on the name of the Avante. I was even offered the drive for the Avante 2001, and point-blank refused. I told Tamiya that they could put a knock-off driver in their knock-off car, and that was that!

I suppose if you asked me which one I hated the least, I would say the Egress. Booth drove one and had some good results, I heard, but by then it had strayed even further from the original concept… He and I never agreed on that car.

 

What do you think about the Avante Mk.2 and the Aero Avante?

Perry: Caricatures. Farces. Corruptions of the corrupt. An Avante 2001 would look good next to them.

 

Well… What do you have planned this year?

Perry: This year is the 30th anniversary of the original Avante. That is all I can – and have to – say.

 

Thank you for your time, Mr. Perry.

Perry: Of course.

***

As I leave, I wonder what could possibly await the Avante’s 30th anniversary. For Perry’s sake, I hoped that Tamiya would give the Avante a special exhibition. Of everybody involved, even Tamiya, he might need it the most.

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Blackholesun.fr, where the original Tamiya "driver" interviews were based, was down when I wrote this set about the much-maligned "Shakey" Roop:

 

Chapter 6: “Shakey” Roop

"… The most pathetic of all was undoubtedly Ricky Roop."

These words echoed in my head as I made my way to my next assignment. Marcus “Paranoid” Perry spat this out in an interview, putting his obvious disgust on display for the record. It was a quote that put a dark stain on the career of a man who definitely did not need one.

“Shakey” himself had been interviewed in that same series, along with his ex-wife “Vibrant” Vannie, and her new lover, the driver most popular as “Wild Willy.” Vannie, Willy, and Perry all painted a bleak picture of Roop: that of a weak-willed man, who let his career and his marriage slip away out of his own feebleness, incapable of good decisions when he could make any, saddled with – and cruelly forever linked to – one of the worst racers ever produced by Tamiya.

The Striker was rolled out as an innovative racer, with a monocoque chassis that served as its body. Integrating the body and chassis in this manner made it one of the lightest cars in its class. It used semi-trailing arm rear suspension, and was designed to minimize its overall parts count. As such, it was aimed at new teams and drivers entering off-road buggy racing, and Roop was selected to campaign it on behalf of Tamiya’s Twin Star Racing effort, bringing it to the masses that the company hoped to attract.

The design was undone largely by its front suspension, chassis design, and appearance. The swing-arm front suspension, coupled with its simple coil-over dampers, led to severe understeer on loose surfaces, and the car generally lacked directional control. The chassis had a weak point on its front end, and tended to break on the jumps that were encountered in many races. The light weight of the chassis also meant that much of its overall weight was concentrated in the rear, contributing to stability problems.

Compounding all this was its controversial angular appearance: drawing from the unconventional inspiration of Formula One racers of the day, it was seen as hideous and was generally derided at the events it participated in. Driver protection from flying debris was also poor, as the open cockpit left the pilot exposed – and often covered in the dirt flung up by the faster cars.

Tamiya gave the basic design some better shock absorbers and a crude rollover cage, as well as a more forward driving position for better weight distribution, to create the Sonic Fighter. The suspension upgrades were welcomed, but the appearance was not, and many of the poor driving characteristics of the Striker carried over to this other attempt. It was not well-received.

Times have changed since then. The Striker has an odd cult following, as does the closely-related Sonic Fighter, and modified examples still appear as the testament to the model’s quirky but enduring appeal, fixing some of the problems that made it such a laughingstock in its heyday. Little could have saved the Striker from its terrible reputation at the time, but it is gradually becoming accepted that Roop was a good driver with an awful car. Chassis breakages – Roop must have suffered through thousands – were hardly something which could be blamed on a driver. Yet the nickname “Shakey,” coming from his perceived lack of consistency and control behind the wheel, persists…

***

Since my interview with Rikimaru, it had been established that a five-man testing team handled Azente development at one point, and the most disrespected driver in off-road buggy racing was apparently good enough to land a spot in that group. Surely, something did not add up, even in period. What happened to Roop? Did he really deserve that nickname, or was he really once capable of much more?

I certainly did not think he amounted to too much when I pulled up to the modest-looking house. Rikimaru had his engineering work; Perry had his chalet… and Roop had his quiet little suburb? I reasoned that he had to be at least a little bit successful to be owning his own house, especially in what looked like a clean and safe neighbourhood.

I had to be careful. Many people aspire to an ordinary life…

My watch read 5:02pm. I was told that Roop would be available at this time despite a full-time job, but not all the time. Nonetheless, I proceeded to the door and knocked on it.

A woman answered the door. “Hello. Can I help you?” She looked a bit tired, but quite pretty, with long brown hair that she wore in some sort of ponytail.

I introduced myself and gave her my credentials. “Oh, you must be here for Ricky,” she inferred. “He’s not home yet, but he should be back soon. You can wait around here, if you’d like.” She seemed quite pleasant. I accepted, and followed her into the house.

As I did, she said something apologetically about not getting dressed up for the occasion, but my attention was focused on my surroundings. They looked quite ordinary, with neutral-coloured walls and pictures of landscapes framed on them.

Passing the kitchen, we went into the living room, and I was invited to have a seat on the couch. There, on the mantle, was a miniature model of a Striker, and a single photo of who I assumed to be Roop, in full racing gear and getting ready to step into the car. Where Perry might have wanted to show off mementos from a glorious racing career, Roop seemed to have restricted it to two small souvenirs. There was no other sign of a race car driver in the house.

“Excuse me, but what is your name?” I never learned the woman’s name.

“Oh, sorry,” she fumbled. “I’m Lyn... Ricky’s wife.” She extended her hand, and I shook it.

“Pardon my bluntness, Lyn,” I replied. “It is nice to meet you. When will Ricky be here?”

She glanced at the clock on the wall beside us. “He’s a little late today… He usually comes back on Fridays at 5pm. Maybe he has something at work, but he knew you were coming…”

“Excuse me,” she finished, as she turned and made her way upstairs. “Just sit back and relax; he won’t be long,” she added over her shoulder.

As if on cue, the front door opened. Standing there, briefcase in hand, years removed from it all, was the man of a thousand broken chassis. It was Roop.

***

Lyn was there at the door to meet him. I walked up, too.

“Hi, Lyn,” he greeted her with a peck. He turned to me and said: “And you must be the interviewer.”

I smiled. “Yes. Your wife invited me in to wait; I haven’t been around long.” Something about that sentence caused him to freeze momentarily, his face unreadable.

Then: “Well, let’s get to it.” I let him pass by, and then followed him into the living room.

Unlike Rikimaru or Perry, Roop was fairly tall, probably around 1.90 m. Balding, and definitely not as lean as the other two, but nonetheless in decent shape. His pants and dress shirt were slightly wrinkled. He appeared relaxed, possibly due to the day of the week, as he lumbered over to the living room to begin the interview.

I was about to meet the least-likely member of TXR.

 

Chapter 7: The Interview – The Driver of a Thousand Breakages

My transcript from that interview reads here:

***

Good evening, and thank you for taking the time to sit down for this interview.

Roop: The pleasure is mine. Sorry for making you wait, by the way.

 

Not a problem. Many off-road buggy racing fans know you as the driver of the ill-fated Striker, but recently information about the Tamiya Experimental Racing division – TXR – has surfaced, and your name is there as one of the Azente prototype test drivers. How did that come to be?

Roop: Oh… I thought that was supposed to be classified. I guess it has been long enough, though…

 

Do you remember how you came to be involved with TXR and the Azente?

Roop: … It happened some time after I was signed to drive the Striker. I was a promising young driver before then, with a few good results at club and regional levels. I had a reputation as a mechanically-minded driver, with a good feel for racers. A combination of those traits probably led to me being asked to join, which was bolstered by the fact that I got the Striker drive in the first place.

Whether I was signed on by Tamiya to drive the Striker with an eye on the Azente, or signed to drive the Striker and then recommended for the Azente, I cannot remember. But it all seemed low-key at that time; it was presented to me as a side project that fulfilled some other obligations I had in my contract. I thought it was a nice way to get some more track time, so I agreed. There was no way for me to tell exactly how special that project was...

 

You were part of a five-man team assigned to test the Azente prototype, which later became the Avante. What do you remember of the testing, and the team?

Roop: We had our names on the one prototype. Someone had the idea of adding tally marks every time we did something in the car, but I forget whether it was hours driven, test sessions, or crashes… I probably would have had a lot of tallies, then!

“Paranoid” Perry was the designer and one of the drivers. He had some uncomplimentary things to say about me, then as now. I got along with Hino Rikimaru; he was a nice guy who cared a lot about his work and not much about the politics around the project. The other two never said much but put in their hours, too, and I respected them for that.

What can I say about the engineers? They worked hard, but they never seemed to be in a friendly mood. I guess they had plenty to do to make the car driveable.

 

Rumours say that you were faster than Perry in testing, while in an earlier interview, Perry suggests that you had the most trouble controlling the car, and were possibly unaccustomed to a four-wheel-drive car after so much time driving the Striker. Your comments?

Roop: It is true that driving the Azente was not at all like driving the Striker. There was a big learning curve, and one that took me a lot of time to adjust to. The Azente was unpredictable, but in its own way, that had nothing to do with the same issues that showed up on the Striker. It could not have helped that I was the only driver in that program without prior experience in four-wheel-drive buggies, but if that had been such a problem, I am sure I would not have been considered at all. As it stood, I had some catching-up to do, though once I did, I did turn in some fast times. I was quite proud of that.

 

Perry claims that he did not include much of your input from those sessions in the development of the Avante. Is it true?

Roop: It was getting hard to tell once he gained more control in the engineering department. I felt ignored, but I think I was not alone, either. Having that title meant that Perry could do whatever he pleased with that car. He listened to Sugiyama, I know that, but the others? Not so much… I think he only really wanted one or two other drivers working with him, and treated the rest of us accordingly.

Some time after the Avante was released – and after it had failed, too – I was given the chance to drive one in a club race. It drove nothing like the Azente did, so I can be sure that Perry told the truth.

 

Do you remember how you finished in that race?

Roop: Yes – something broke before the halfway mark! And that was the last I saw of it.

 

What are your memories of the Avante program since then? Has anything changed?

Roop: There was no need to remember anything. Perry made it clear we were all guests in his little venture, so we were booted out with a promise to keep quiet on the whole thing. After the Avante failed, there was certainly no need to say anything. I definitely wanted to avoid it, because I was already the very public face of the Striker, and at the time I thought I would be blamed for the downfall of Tamiya’s most ambitious project.

Driving had lost its appeal. It had taken so much out of me: my time, my marriage, my credibility, and my patience. That Avante drive was basically the last time I stepped into a racer, because the Striker program had been wound up shortly after TXR became TRF. Even if I wanted to, there were soon no parts to keep a Striker running as a privateer. And it needed a lot of parts…

 

What are you up to these days?

Roop: Before I became a racing driver, I was going to be an accountant. I thought I would return to it after racing did not work out, and I have been there since then, working for the same company that hired me out of school. A few years later, I met Lyn, and we got married. That is about it, really, and I have been happy with it.

I guess I have the life I thought I would have had if I never became a racing driver, with the benefit of having been a racing driver! Funny how that works…

 

Looking back on your racing career, do you still have fond memories of it, or are you happy to leave it?

Roop: It was time for me to go. At the time, there was nothing I could do. Now that I have settled down, though, I would not mind heading out to the track at least one more time. I might enjoy it a little more, now that I have something else in my life.

 

Thank you for your time.

Roop: It was a pleasure.

***

After the interview, Roop asked if he could show me something. He led me to the garage, a two-car type; sitting in there were a humble little Chevrolet coupe and an exotic silhouette covered in a tarp. He pulled back the cover…

… and sitting there – no mistaking it – was the chassis of a Striker.

Roop smiled wistfully as he told me: “Nobody wanted one until a few years ago, so I got to take one home. Maybe someday, I can get it running again… Lyn doesn’t think so, but I do.”

Many people aspire to an ordinary life…

Roop was one of them, and he had found it, working just a little harder than everyone else to get it.

Just then, Lyn called for him. It was time for me to leave, anyway, so we quickly shook hands, and I showed myself out.

As I drove away, I could not help but think that Perry had it all wrong. I could not comment on what Vannie or Willy said, but it was enough for me to see “Shakey” settled down in a life that suited him.

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Yes, this project might be off the rails. No, that will not stop me from continuing to write - at least, not yet!

That being said: @Bwaaatch, feel free to stop me if you are good for material already :P

Our intrepid interviewer wants one more link in the chain, it seems...

 

Chapter 8: Drivers, a Designer, and an Engineer

I had managed to interview Hinomoto Rikimaru, Marcus “Paranoid” Perry, and Ricky “Shakey” Roop, but never reached the other two drivers in the TXR program: Jamie Booth and Yoshiaki Sugiyama.

What we do know is that Booth spent some time testing the Azente, and then the Avante. In the end, he was not selected to accompany Perry in the Avante’s campaign, but was retained by Tamiya for other work. He would play a larger role in the development of the later Avante-based Egress, working with Tamiya to refine it, and then racing it successfully at the national level. His championship-winning Egress sported plenty of modified parts that went into the next generation of Tamiya four-wheel-drive buggies.

Sugiyama was selected to drive alongside Perry in the Avante’s front-line season, and assisted in the continuing development work that went into the car. Racing at the national level, he managed to help the team achieve a 7th-place finish in Japan. While the Avante’s career ended there, Sugiyama’s career would continue after that, but with limited entries of Tamiyas.

Fumito Taki was a designer who worked alongside Marcus Perry in the Avante project. Even as Perry consolidated his power in the program, he continued to consult with Taki, who was a well-respected veteran of Tamiya’s racing department, and indeed the one who designed the Sand Scorcher. After the Avante, he worked on a few more projects with Tamiya before leaving. He would become a founding member of a famous industrial design firm.

The “senior engineer” that Rikimaru spoke of was Junichi Tazawa. He had been one of the founding members of the Coro Coro Racing Team, and was the one who convinced Tamiya to hire Rikimaru as a test driver. Not much was known of him; perhaps I could learn more, if I knew how to track him.

My only lead to him was Rikimaru, but from his interview he had made it clear that he did not keep in touch with anyone after TXR. Tazawa had been the exception, but presumably those ties were cut once the driver was removed from the racing team. It was worth a shot, though…

After a while, it certainly looked like Tazawa was the only other person I could talk to about TXR. Booth and Sugiyama were both committed to their personal schedules, and I did not know enough about the other staff members to finagle an interview with them. Taki was also unavailable; I doubted he would be able to say much about it, either, given that he was also assigned a sizable role in the less-secretive Avante part of the project. Besides, the Avante, for all its glory, might have been just one of a great many designs in his illustrious career.

So, I picked up the phone, and dialled Diablo Engineering’s office.

***

There was nothing unusual about the phone call, at first. I even expected an electronic menu system for navigating to a specific phone, but Diablo Engineering must have been small enough for me to get directed to a receptionist. He proved helpful in getting me to Rikimaru’s line, and soon I was on hold.

Rikimaru picked up, and seemed a little confused. “Hello?”

“Mr. Rikimaru, it’s me.” I gave him my credentials. “I interviewed you a month ago about TXR.”

“TXR?” How could he not remember?

I tried again. “You know, Azente? Avante?”

“Oh, T-X-R,” he replied, sounding out the letters. “I remember.”

“Mr. Rikimaru, I recall you did not keep in touch with anybody after your racing career; however, I would like to ask if you can help me locate one Junichi Tazawa.” Could he?

A pause on the other end, and then: “I saw Mr. Tazawa yesterday. He visited our office.”

What dumb luck! Who would’ve thought?!

 “Really?!” I blurted out. My disbelief crept into my voice. But I thought he didn’t-

“Mr. Tazawa is a client of ours. He uses our lab facilities a few times a month. He will not be back for another few days, but there is a good chance he will return on Thursday.”

He added: “He also said he would be interested in talking to you, if you are still working on that interview project. I told him about it.”

I could not believe it! “Thank you so much! Can I visit you that day? What time?”

Another hesitation (maybe the line was lagging?), and: “It would be best to go through him; I doubt he would waste lab time on a journalist.” I detected some contempt in that last word…

Nonetheless, I went from stone cold to at least moderately warm on finding Tazawa. Having the drivers’ perspectives on the project, I wanted to interview another team member to get a different take.

“However, you can at least schedule an interview with him,” Rikimaru continued. “He usually comes in at noon. You should come, because you will not find him otherwise.”

What did that mean? But also: “Thanks. I thought you didn’t keep in touch with racing colleagues…”

“Just because I see him, does not mean I care what he does.” Rikimaru hung up rather abruptly.

“Hello?” Yes, that was the other end hanging up, all right. Recalling how his relationship with Coro Coro ended, I could understand why he had misgivings, but after all this time?

No matter – I knew where to find Tazawa, and I had to get to work to make sure I would be ready.

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An imaginative reimagining of the Fire Dragon and the Coro Coro Racing Team:

 

Chapter 9: The Dragon Cars

While I did not know a whole lot about Mr. Tazawa, I did know about the Coro Coro Racing Team.

They were a privateer racing team, primarily in off-road buggy racing. The team was created by four friends who wanted to race their buggies on weekends, eventually adopting the team name from their favourite hangout: the Coro Coro Noodle House. The founder of the restaurant was initially uninterested in having his business associated with the ragtag team, but relented and allowed them to use the name.

The team scraped together enough money to enter a single round of the 2WD Nationals off-road racing series, entering an old Tamiya Sand Rover. They predictably finished well out of contention, but the experience inspired the team to expand their operations. Two of the original members left the team in the face of the greater commitment, while the other two concentrated on building it into a larger operation, recruiting personnel while putting in full-time hours to establish the club.

Once created, the Coro Coro Noodle House granted permission for the team to use the restaurant’s “lucky dragon” logo, which appeared on the shop’s signs. The modest additional revenue generated by the team’s earlier efforts went into the new one’s first sponsorship deal. The groundwork was laid for one of the most distinctive privateer teams to race an off-road buggy, and the next few years saw them participate, then contend, in the 2WD and 4WD Nationals and Worlds categories.

Their ascension ran parallel to the fortunes of the once-tiny noodle shop that lent the team its name; the symbiotic relationship helped both franchises to grow and flourish. The racing team grew, from one car in one category, to two cars, and then three cars over two categories at its peak.

Accounts differ on whether Coro Coro, in this iteration, commissioned Tamiyas to race or simply re-engineered them; whatever the case, their cars made heavy use of Tamiya parts. These cars often sported flamboyant body styling, and were quite easily distinguished from their contemporaries. A young Hinomoto Rikimaru was one of their first full-time drivers.

The first unique design that appeared as their entry was known as the Dash-1 Emperor. This had an uncompromisingly-angular body, with massive side panels and a gargantuan rear wing. It was based on the new Tamiya four-wheel-drive buggy at the time: the Boomerang, which at the time ran in the 4WD Nationals/Championship category. “Eager” Ted Edwards was the Tamiya’s most famous driver, taking the fight to the red-hot Hotshot of “Crash” Cramer for overall honours.

However, the aggressive modifications were enough to place the Dash-1 Emperor in the special 4WD Unlimited category, pitting it against specialized machinery like the Super Sabre and exotic entries from other companies. The Boomerang-based chassis was competitive for a time, and at least enough to take some top-10 placings for the team.

Yet even when racing teams were experimenting with space-age styling on their buggies, which was the pretext for the 4WD Unlimited class, Coro Coro developed a reputation for particularly-bold designs. The resulting publicity from their unusually-named Dash-1 compelled the team to continue fielding entries in this category, even at the cost of results.

The decision to prioritize fame, however, led to problems, as the team failed to develop several of their ensuing designs. One of them – the potentially-competitive Dash-3 Shooting Star – never even made it to prototype testing. Long-time team driver Hinomoto Rikimaru was also hired away by Tamiya, as was one of the team’s senior engineers, Junichi Tazawa. Meanwhile, at least one imitator emerged from the hype, and not as the sincerest form of flattery, either.

While Coro Coro struggled to field a new racer after their Dash-1, the similarly-styled Bom Bom Racing Team, complete with cartoon bomb mascot, managed to finish and enter their sensational Winger. It was fortunate for Coro Coro that the design did not amount to much, especially as it was first devised on the basic Boomerang chassis, without the upgrades featured on later Tamiya chassis of this lineage. However, surely it was unsettling that another team using a near-identical approach was also failing…

At some point, though, Coro Coro regrouped and managed to proceed with a new racer. Tamiya had entered a new car, named the Thundershot, to replace the outgoing Super Sabre in the 4WD Unlimited series. The updated chassis, which was a refined Boomerang type, was clothed in radical new futuristic bodywork. Its bubble canopy and frontal profile gave it resemblance to a bullet, and the impression of a sleek spaceship on wheels. It was unlike anything before from Tamiya, and their chosen drivers were making a strong impression in the category with the new design.

Coro Coro managed to acquire one of these chassis and created the Thunder Dragon, an aggressive silver wedge whose details evoked some type of mechatronic beast. It was the first of the ‘Dragon’ cars, with bodywork designed in the shape of a dragon’s head, and was the ultimate aesthetic expression of the team. The extreme shape incidentally generated some useful downforce, adding handling to a well-proven chassis. Resplendent in contrasting blue and yellow thunderbolts, the new car looked striking, and promised to bring the fight to Tamiya’s Thundershots.

But by then, even the Thundershots were outdated, and Tamiya was preparing to unleash its greatest weapon yet: the Avante. Entered in the same 4WD Unlimited division, the psychological advantage was with Tamiya’s latest racer and team, the newly-formed Tamiya Racing Factory, or TRF.

The launch of the Avante was surprising to some; Coro Coro nearly scrapped the Thunder Dragon in development upon learning of the Avante. Yet rumours suggest that the team would have only done so if an Avante could be made available to them…

The privateers need not have worried so much, for as the Thunder Dragon neared race-worthiness, the Avante’s campaign began falling into disarray. The cars were plagued by breakages and poor-quality parts, with unhappy drivers complaining of snap oversteer and balance issues, along with insufficient suspension clearance. For all the Avante’s sophistication, Coro Coro was now the team with a reliable car in their Thundershot-based Thunder Dragon.

Returning to the fold at this time were engineer Tazawa and driver Rikimaru, released from Tamiya in time to refine and pilot the new racer, respectively.

Embarrassingly, the remaining Thundershots managed to finish ahead of the Avante on a few occasions, and so did the Thunder Dragon, qualifying 12th on its debut where the Avante could not manage higher than 15th. All were outclassed by other designs from rival companies, though. But unlike TRF, Coro Coro was content to field a car that could sit near or within the top ten results, and got just that when their Thunder Dragon came home in 4th in one of the more calamitous rounds.

This result, while coming in a race where more than half the field was wiped out in accidents and with mechanical failures, prompted Coro Coro to develop a new racer for the 4WD Unlimited class. At the same time, favourable past results also allowed for the team to expand into the emerging 2WD Unlimited class. It was seen that the former division’s rising costs would force the team into the latter, so the program was essentially part of a transition plan. It was not to be done without one final racer in the 4WD class… The new cars would be the Fire Dragon in 4WD, and the Saint Dragon in 2WD, following as the second and third ‘Dragon’ cars for the team.

Despite enjoying a longer development period and an earlier start than the Saint Dragon, the Fire Dragon marked a return to the early form for Coro Coro, with the project suffering a protracted testing phase owing to numerous design changes. The Saint Dragon was even entered into 2WD Unlimited races before the Fire Dragon was to appear in the 4WD Unlimited series. While the 2WD project was quickly proving successful in the hands of Rikimaru, the 4WD program limped on, draining time and resources, kept alive by the stubborn desire to see the maligned Thunder Dragon successor through to the starting line.

At last, the 4WD Fire Dragon was completed. Driver Rikimaru was moved to the four-wheel drive racer. Rikimaru, of course, had experience with total traction, though at the time it was not obvious that it had been with Tamiya’s Avante prototype. Like the Avante, much was being expected of the Fire Dragon; in the hands of its seasoned driver, it had to get good results, or at least that is how Coro Coro felt…

Rikimaru and the Fire Dragon disappointed, finishing no higher than 11th that season. Where this would have been business as usual for the Coro Coro of the past, the current one demanded better, especially with the success of the 2WD Saint Dragon. As the car proved mechanically reliable, Rikimaru was blamed for many of the low placings. It would be the end of the long partnership between Coro Coro and Rikimaru, with the two of them parting ways at the season’s conclusion.

Perhaps the team came to regret that move, for the Saint Dragon would never achieve the same results it did in the hands of their now-departed driver, and the Fire Dragon even more so. Coro Coro would withdraw from all Unlimited-class off-road buggy racing just one year later.

Meanwhile, the noodle house franchise had grown into an empire.

Years later, this empire commissioned Tamiya to reproduce the Fire Dragon design. It was issued as a batch of limited-edition tributes to the original, and were quite literally placed on modified Thundershot chassis. Despite diminishing returns in the team’s final days, the Coro Coro cars were show-stoppers to the end, and the favourable reception of this run of replicas attested to their enduring visual appeal. The more-successful Thunder Dragon and Saint Dragon have yet to receive this treatment…

Today, the Coro Coro Racing Team exists as a footnote, as little more than the (defunct) little racing team with the wacky-looking dragon, sharing a name with a noodle shop, which was splashed on the flanks of an oddball resurrected buggy. Yet that quirky racing team was a substantial part of the life’s work for at least one man, and I intended to find him.

 

(I have no idea what the Coro Coro Racing Team actually is, and maybe I would like to find out one day, but in the meantime...)

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Been busy for a couple of weeks on other things and … well … I have some catching up to do!

Great commitment @Grastens!

I'll read when I have a spare hour.

My project not moved, but not forgotten. Been finishing off my other two Avante bodies (regular and Back Special) and just got hold of the actual body for this project. FYI, it will be an Avante, not an Azente, really. But hopefully still worthy of your story!

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A resurrection of a rather-old thread, but I finally had the time and inspiration to finish(?) what I started:

Chapter 10: A Splash of Coro Coro

On a bright Thursday morning, I got into my car and started down the streets back to Diablo Engineering’s facilities. With luck, I could catch him around noon, as Mr. Rikimaru suggested.

Junichi Tazawa, from what I understood, was a “client” of Diablo Engineering. I gathered that Mr. Rikimaru did not talk very often to him, despite their time together with the Coro Coro Racing Team. That struck me as quite odd: how could an experience as crazy as building a racing team out of a noodle shop not make friends for life?

All I knew about him was: he was one of the founding members of the Coro Coro Racing Team; he was hired away to work on the Azente program and took driver Rikimaru with him; he returned to Coro Coro when the Azente became the Avante; and then he worked with Coro Coro through to the end of their own 4WD Unlimited-class involvement.

Rikimaru’s words returned to me: “Management got angry with me for my underwhelming results, and the once-excellent relationship I had with the Coro Coro Racing Team disintegrated.” I also recalled that the Fire Dragon, while not competitive, was at least reliable. Inflated expectations were to blame for the departure of the once-popular Japanese driver, but whose?

My interview trail had taken me to so many interesting places: I got to meet the secret face of the early Avante in California, before sitting down with the very public face of the finished car in Switzerland, and then with an unlikely connection in the middle of small-town suburbia. I had learned so much, and there was still so much more to discover, yet I had to focus on one question: between Rikimaru and “Paranoid” Perry, who could claim to be in the right about the Avante program and its mysterious predecessor, the prototype Azente?

The time I spent with “Shakey” Roop seemed to sway general opinion toward Rikimaru. Even he admitted that “Perry made it clear we were all guests in his little venture” and that “He had some uncomplimentary things to say about me, then as now,” while he “got along with Hino Rikimaru; he was a nice guy who cared a lot about his work and not much about the politics around the project.” Without reaching Booth or Sugiyama, neither of whom appeared overly involved with the drama surrounding the Avante’s fate, the narrative was squared solely upon the struggle between Rikimaru and Perry.

Roop was a driver, though, and as Perry took a special disliking to him, the opinion could only be taken so far. Perry was heavily involved on the engineering side of the project, meaning he likely worked closer with engineer Tazawa, especially as the Avante program matured.

My thoughts were interrupted when I spotted the industrial building and its parking lot on the left side of the road. No traffic again – I eased the car into the lot, and once parked, quickly made my way into the building. My watch read 11:58am.

***

The security check took a bit longer than I would have liked. As the clock in the room ticked to 12:00 exactly, I implored the officer: “Could we please hurry? I’m only here to see a Mr. Junichi Tazawa, and only if he’s there.”

A voice piped up from behind: “I’m here. That’s me.” I turn around to see a short, slightly-stooped, elderly Japanese man. His wire-rimmed glasses are from a time well before this one, and it looks like he had not changed his clothes since that time, too: compared to the clean-cut Rikimaru, this man is quite dishevelled. But his crooked smile betrayed a mischievous spirit, and I found myself charmed despite his unkempt appearance.

“Oh! Mr. Tazawa, it is a pleasure to meet you,” I said, shaking his hand. It feels rough and coarse in mine – this is a hands-on engineer. “I am writing a story on the Tamiya Experimental Racing division and the Azente program, and am wondering if you have a few minutes to spare to talk about it?”

The grin faded from Mr. Tazawa’s face, replaced by a solemn expression. Given how pained he looked, I thought he had bad memories about the whole thing, and I nearly apologized for bringing it up, until he replied: “I have something to do here, but if I finish ahead of schedule, maybe I can do that.” The smile returned. “Can you wait for an hour?”

What other chance was I going to get? “Yes. I will see you in an hour.”

We both cleared security, following which Mr. Tazawa disappeared out a back door. I could hear a truck rumbling outside, getting closer and closer. What could he be working on?

I stepped hesitantly toward the back door and took a peek outside. There was a truck parked outside a garage door at the back of the facility. Mr. Tazawa was talking with someone who appeared to be the driver, while four other people in matching uniforms were unloading a very alien-looking four-wheeled figure from the back of the truck. The mystery car was wearing a tarp, but the curious shape was obvious underneath the sheet.

Feeling that this was something I was not meant to see, I quickly ducked back into the building. That silhouette reminded me of a Coro Coro racer, but not like any I knew… The wait was going to be even longer than I expected.

Somehow, I made it through (with the help of some old racing magazines), and Mr. Tazawa emerged from the laboratory some fifty minutes after he entered.

“Mr. Tazawa, do you have some time…”

He beamed as he pulled out a chair across from me and sat down. I was about to find out how the engineering department handled the Avante and the Rikimaru/Perry saga. Could this be where I find out who was responsible for the Avante’s downfall?

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Chapter 11: The Interview – The Missing Link

My transcript for the interview was as follows:

Well, thank you for taking the time to sit down with me, Mr. Tazawa.

Tazawa: I didn’t know if I would have enough time to grant you this interview, and then couldn’t recall if I knew anything about it! Those were some names I haven’t heard in many years…

Names? Like TXR? Azente? Avante?

Tazawa: Oh, everybody knows about the Avante. The TXR and Azente, though…

How did you get to the Tamiya Experimental Racing division, exactly?

Tazawa: The Coro Coro Racing Team was in ascendancy. We had been racing with the Dash-1 Emperor for a little while, and while we weren’t the fastest, we were sure we had the right idea to make an even better racer. We had the aerodynamic balance and light weight; we just needed to develop a chassis… In hindsight, I somewhat regret not spending more time on that.

Anyway, we had caught some people’s attention with our car and some of our results. I get a job offer from Tamiya, and was asked to interview with them almost immediately. This wasn’t too hard, because I was asked to meet them in California. I was unaware they had a facility there at the time, but of course our own shop was based there, too.

What was the interview like? Did Rikimaru ever come up? Did you have any clue that what you were going to be working on would become so special?

I don’t remember much about the interview, except that I was offered quite a substantial sum of money! There was mention of a product-development role, but hints were also dropped at something bigger during the interview. My eyes were full of dollar signs at that point, though, so I just signed the papers right there without much of a second thought. Resigning from the very racing team I built was tough, but the crew was quite professional about it.

I was less than a week into the job when an executive approached me and asked if I could put in a word for them to the Coro Coro driver, Rikimaru. I thought they would be offering him a big-time salary, too, so I did that – and that is how Tamiya hired away two senior Coro Coro team members in a blink!

Secrecy is a big part of the product development process, especially in a competitive racing program. I think we were both unprepared for just how significant the Azente was going to be, though…

What do you remember about TXR? How do you remember it?

Tazawa: Early on, it was surprisingly relaxed – a lot like Coro Coro, actually. I remember thinking this was why they hired me: I had plenty of experience in an environment much like the one at TXR.

It was a bit strange, too, because it quickly became clear that what we were working on was unlike anything ever seen in the racing world. I thought that a project of that importance deserved more formality, but TXR didn’t see it the same way, and so we were allowed to work much like I was used to – except with far more secrets.

Officially, we were involved in other projects. Mine was the redevelopment of the ill-fated Striker; with some cues borrowed from fighter planes, we turned it into the Sonic Fighter. That was an embarrassing story, since our budget was so small. There was no way we could turn it into a competitive car, which was a shame given its forward-thinking chassis concept. But then, money we saved on the Striker replacement was money we spent on the Azente…

So, while I was not all that happy on the official side of things, that was all anybody in the public eye knew I did. What kept me going was the excitement of the Azente, especially once Rikimaru really got some good laps going in testing. We thought we had a revolution on our hands!

But, when “Paranoid” Perry commandeered the project, everything seemed to change. I guess that was just how things went: it felt a lot like an after-hours volunteer exercise for some time, until the concept showed real promise, and then the factory stepped in and turned it into a real professional project.

You mentioned that it felt like an informal project in your spare time early on, yet your recollection suggests you were targeted specifically for a factory-backed effort on the Azente. Why is that?

Tazawa: I think I arrived at that turning point in the program. But even then, I think Tamiya was just throwing money at me to get my attention, and then pushing me into the project to see what would happen next. They spent the money to make sure I was on board, but kept their involvement low-key until they were convinced they could turn our work into a winner.

I think once there was proof the car could compete, the factory involved itself fully, and in doing that they appointed “Paranoid” Perry as the lead driver. That was when things really changed…

How was your relationship with Perry?

Tazawa: It was clear that Perry knew what he was doing – for a while, anyway. But he was so headstrong, and his earlier successes with the car – including that novel suspension layout – seemed to reaffirm everything he thought he knew about his own abilities. Soon, he began filtering suggestions from the engineering department, and by the time the Tamiya Racing Factory was established, it felt like he was ignoring us completely.

To be fair to him, he never called us names, but it did feel like he looked down on us in Engineering sometimes, to the point of irritation. It bothered us that he himself tinkered with the designs that we had worked so hard to perfect. I wonder if that is why nothing seemed to work together on the car.

I don’t really care for Perry as a person, but even with all the things I thought he did wrong, there was no denying he had a brilliant mind. I think the problem was that he knew that, and so took his own word as the only one he could trust. He worked TRF into a program that would do that, too. Maybe he was too brilliant that way…

Before Perry, there was Rikimaru to test-drive the car that became the Avante. Obviously, you two go a long way back. But there are disputing claims about who led to the downfall of the car: do you think it was Perry, or Rikimaru, who was responsible?

Tazawa: I don’t know what you mean.

In a previous interview, Perry claimed that Rikimaru was not a typical driver, and so had a penchant toward unconventional setups and configurations that made it difficult for other drivers to drive the same car. As a test driver developing a new car, this is said to be the reason the Avante handled so poorly in the hands of other racers. Is this true? Could it have played a part in the Avante’s fate?

Tazawa: … As far as I know, Rikimaru was not involved in the primary design of the Azente. He had some say in the fine-tuning, and we only made major changes based on his driving feedback. He was not as in-depth an engineer as Perry was, so I don’t see how he could have botched a car that was already so unlike anything else on the track.

The biggest mistake was by Tamiya, I think. Rikimaru could develop a car quite well, but contrary to what many believe, he was a bad test driver. Coro Coro was successful with him because he was the one driving the finished car – he wasn’t really testing it so much as he was practicing.

Perry was much the same way: he knew exactly what he wanted in a car and could tell you exactly what he needed from its settings to help him go faster, but he had a poor sense of what other drivers might want or consider.

By hiring two drivers who could only think of themselves, and then not sticking to one or both drivers the whole way through, Tamiya doomed themselves from the moment they began working together. Of course, back then I didn’t know much about Perry, or about what would happen over the course of the Avante program.

So, in the end, were both drivers responsible?

Tazawa: You might be able to say that, but I think Tamiya itself is the real culprit.

This is all quite revelatory… Mr. Tazawa, thank you for your time.

Tazawa: You’re welcome. Now, if you’ll excuse me…

***

With that, Mr. Tazawa hustles out the front door. The visitors’ parking lot is empty by the time I get to my own car. The truck that I saw unloading the mystery project earlier is gone, too.

His time in the Diablo Engineering laboratory raises so many more questions on its own, but he already gave the answers I came for. I stepped into my car, eased it out of the lot, and watched the building disappear in my rear-view mirror as I rolled down the road.

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Chapter 12: The Big Picture

My findings from my interview assignments did little to change the narrative of the Avante’s history.

Of the two drivers I had singled out, Rikimaru seemed to be more amicable than Perry, but then did not really go out of his way to be nice to people. Rikimaru just went about his business, and rankled when it was suddenly taken away from him with Perry’s increased involvement – most people would have. The secrecy of the Azente meant that he never got closure for that slight, and while he is certainly quite settled in today, I never shook the feeling that it cast a shadow over his subsequent career and life.

Perry, meanwhile, was part of the Avante’s legacy, and outwardly appeared to enjoy the attention. He was living an elegant life over in Switzerland, with an easy schedule as a special driver within Tamiya. Despite his success, he did not seem entirely happy – and in period, neither were the other drivers and several engineers who worked with him. The Avante appeared to be his closest friend, and the only one he kept in touch with, which helped me to understand his feelings when its development was in the hands of other personnel. But was that really the way he wanted it?

“Shakey” Roop distanced himself from the Avante completely, and unlike Rikimaru or Perry, seemed genuinely happy with his life since the Azente pulled into the garage for the last time. In the Azente program, his contributions paled to those of Rikimaru and Perry, and consequently he was not really to blame for the car’s failure. Perry still saw fit to aim some vitriolic remarks his way, and with the flop of the Striker and other setbacks in his career, he left the cockpit. Regardless of his perceived skill behind the wheel, though, he was nice, and I was happy to see him in a life that suited his stable demeanour.

The key to this story was Junichi Tazawa, who was on the engineering team that developed the Azente and then the Avante. Though he left shortly after the Tamiya Racing Factory made its debut, he still provided a calculated assessment of the whole story. With Rikimaru as one of his long-time colleagues before Tamiya, he was not without some bias, but was blunt in stating that his teammate made for a bad test driver. Simultaneously, he depicted “Paranoid” Perry as manipulative, but genuinely talented and intelligent, with good ideas. The notion that the program could have succeeded with one or the other personality in the cockpit was a perspective I had never considered.

In the end, the Avante’s failure to win was not Perry spoiling the car, or Rikimaru stunting its early growth, but Tamiya’s mishandling of two excellent racers whose working styles could not be reconciled. We had all believed that Tamiya muddled the execution of an excellent concept; my findings only gave another reason as to how that happened. I wondered if I was still missing some important details from my inability to interview Sugiyama or Booth for my work.

It was not all for naught, though: with the uncovering of the prototype Azente, we saw, however briefly, a world where the Avante would become a champion. In those early days, it was completely possible.

The words of “Paranoid” Perry from an earlier interview came back to me: “Nobody believes me, but some day… yes, some day I’ll prove it.”

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Since the writing project started, 2018 has become 2019, and I have fallen out of touch with @Bwaaatch and his Tamiya Azente project. Nonetheless, this has been a fun project - if you have managed to read it all, even after all this time: thanks!

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