The thinking behind Toyota’s Safari snorkel

A eureka moment in the rain, quick thinking and some reverse engineering has resulted in one of the coolest looking Safari snorkels in history

Yaris intake 1

Unless you’re a Toyota driver, it’s the talk of Naivasha. Forget Kenya’s big five – the GR Yaris Rally1’s big snorkel has dominated service park chatter ahead of this week’s event.

Predictably, Kalle Rovanperä, Elfyn Evans and Taka Katsuta were tight-lipped on how the World Rally Championship’s biggest ever air intake landed above them. So, DirtFish went in search of the architect himself, the team’s technical director Tom Fowler.

Shifting the Safari forward from June to March raised the potential for prolonged wet weather – the long rains, as they’re known in Africa – and that raised the potential for water ingestion into the engine.

Finally, the teams have done the decent thing and fitted snorkels, giving the cars that unique Safari-look. Or at least some of them have. Hyundai hasn’t shown its hand – or its snorkel – yet. The i20 N Rally1 has remained in its original form, but if the weather turns wet, it will be bolted on in no time.

Yaris intake 2

Now that, my friends, is a Safari-spec rally car and a beautifully African picture – loads of dust, super-cool vegetation and a snorkel

M-Sport Ford has gone with a more traditional snorkel running up the a-pillar. But Toyota has gone all-in, right across the roof. One thing’s for sure, even in these high altitude stages, the GR Yaris Rally1 really shouldn’t be short of breath this week.

There’s nothing new in the need for a snorkel. The issue with Safari is the potential for traditional air intakes at the front of the car becoming blocked with water, fesh-fesh, grass, gravel or mud. If that happens, the engine can quickly overheat and suffer damage – the same if water is taken in.

We’ve seen air intakes mounted at the base of the a-pillar in the past, but the thinking on Safari is to get them as high as possible into the cleaner air and as far away from water as possible.

But where did the inspiration for Toyota’s come from?

Adrien Fourmaux

M-Sport Ford has gone more traditional in its design, running the snorkel straight up the a-pillar on the co-driver's side

Fowler told DirtFish: “We did quite a lot of research into what people have done with snorkels in the past. We also did some research into where snorkels are used in other forms of motorsport and other forms of motoring – they’re used for off-road driving of all kinds of different vehicles.

“The principle is that you want to only take clean air and leave water behind, which is not straightforward. One of the difficulties we have with the Rally1 cars – and with the WRC cars in the previous era – is the new aerodynamics that came in 2017. We optimised the car to be incredibly efficient aerodynamically in Tarmac rallies and in Finland and these kind of places.

“By homologation regulations all those features have to be used here in Kenya. On our front bumper we have big flat scoopy surfaces which are pointing towards the roof. We have wheels which are a long way outside of the original road car bodywork with only small fenders which are made as small as possible for performance reasons. All of this doesn’t lend itself to having clean air around the car, because all those features which normally guide and control airflow around the car also pick up water and throw it in the air.

“Those features are up-washing, they’re trying to force air and water upwards. You end up with a very big splash when the car goes into water and so that makes the design of the snorkel even more challenging than maybe it was 25 years ago.”

Fowler 270324

Tom Fowler and his team found the snorkel solution during a wet test they feared might offer little in terms of development

That’s all fine, but how did this one get so big? Eureka moments are rare these days, but there was something of one while the Toyota team was standing in the rain in Portugal earlier this month.

Fowler said: “We had a test for Kenya which, in some ways, was quite disappointing. In a test you want to test as many different things as possible and you want to do quite a lot of kilometres to understand lots of different things for the next rally. But we had an incredible amount of rain at the test site we selected for Kenya and the road was very rough.

“All that roughness filled up with a lot of water. So, we took the opportunity to investigate what we can do in terms of water splashes – we’ve had some difficulties in that area in the past. On site we were able to produce various different snorkel designs and came up with the one that you see now.”

Fowler was quick to point out that this one was very much a team effort.

Thierry Neuville

Hyundai hasn't deployed its snorkel. Yet. When the rain comes, expect the i20 N Rally1 to don its swimming apartus sharpish

He added: “A lot of these ideas come about as a combination of some engineering for certain aspects, but also our mechanics, our technicians and all our team members also have good ideas. Certain people will know what we’re talking about with this topic, but there was a lot of mechanic input to what you see here.

“And not only in this project but in other ones as well that quite often you can make some really useful work very quickly by just having very handy people doing things immediately. If you go away and think about it for too long, say that everything has to be calculated, everything has to be designed, everything has to be tested on a rig… then you’re two months behind. If you can take everyone’s ideas, bring them into reality as quickly as possible and then reverse engineer them to be available immediately, you can save that time.”

But when is the snorkel in play? Not all the time. The deployment of the snorkel is controlled by the co-driver via a solenoid valve. It’s essentially a glorified version of the button the co-driver’s push to close the regular air intake when the car goes through a watersplash. The precise deployment strategy hasn’t been decided on yet – but I’m sure Kalle, Elfyn and Taka will be happy to share that with us as the event progresses…

The main thing to understand is that, when the rain comes this week, the GR Yaris Rally1 will likely take on a certain submarine-like capability.