What will a Safari-spec car look like in 2021?

Jari-Matti Latvala explains the changes that will be made for this week - and it's nowhere near as many as the past

Kankunnen, Safari

Safari spec. Two words which, for rally fans, conjure an immediate mental picture of running lights, snorkels and cars on stilts. Not this week. A modern day Safari specification means something quite different.

Quite different, but actually, pretty much the same. Would you spot the difference between a car heading for round five in Sardinia from one bound for round six in Nairobi? No. OK, if the set-up runs as we expect, you might think the car’s a little bit high for the first loop of stages, but that’s about all.

There was much debate about the inclusion of Safari-specific parts for the cars ahead of the event, but in the end the decision was taken not to make any alterations. In the past, the competing – and recce – cars have included running lights mounted close to the wing mirrors.

These were designed to offer greater visibility to oncoming traffic, and they also clearly demarked competitive cars. This week’s event is running on closed roads for the first time, so there shouldn’t be any traffic coming towards the cars.

Then there were the snorkels to allow the cars to travel through deeper water – there’s not expected to be any of that on the 2021 route, and the event’s running outside of Kenya’s traditional rainy season.

The lack of foot rests and handholds on the rear of the car are missing for a similar reason, the competitors are not expected to find sections of deep mud – and those parts were much more prevalent on two-wheel drive cars.

Finally, the ‘roo bars’ have gone from the front because the stages are running under much more controlled circumstances, with the organizers monitoring animal movements across the much shorter distances on the stages.

Jari-Matti Latvala
We should have kept the ‘roo bars’ because there’s going to be the chance of finding animals in the stages Jari-Matti Latvala

Jari-Matti Latvala missed competing on the Safari Rally by a couple of years – he made his WRC debut at Britain’s final round in 2002 – but he says he would like to have seen the cars looking different on what is an iconic event.

“We didn’t make the changes because of the extra cost,” the now Toyota team principal said, “but for me we should have kept the ‘roo bars’ because there’s going to be the chance of finding animals in the stages. I don’t think these cost too much.

“I’m not completely convinced we won’t see some animals coming to the road – we know the organizers will over-fly to move [groups of animals] with the helicopter, but there’s still some gaps coming between the cars and they [the animals] could go back to the road.

“For the rest, it would have been nice to have the lights and the snorkel to make the cars look more like Safari cars, but we’re not on the open roads anymore.”


Photo: Toyota Gazoo Racing

I’m with Latvala. Admittedly, some of the teams might spend more than others, but the FIA could have given some specific regulations on size and weight for lights, bars and snorkels and then we could have had recreations of some of rallying’s most iconic and appreciated images.

There will, of course, be some changes to the cars for Kenya – but those changes will be underneath and under the skin.

“We expect impacts will be bigger than normal,” said Latvala, “so we are going to be working on the protection for the car. We will have thicker guards underneath, more protection around the diffs and the sump and suspension.

“Of course, this is going to give more weight to the car, but you have to take this compromise to make sure you have enough protection.”

Should the regulations have been adopted to allow for some Safari specific modification? Have your say in the comments.