What would a modern Safari Rally car look like?

Toyota's technical chief explains how WRC machines would have changed for the returning rally's unique challenges

920327EAK Alen hb 0063

There was no need for a workshop in Nairobi. No need for a separate African test team spending the thick end of six months on location pounding the plains. No need for a bespoke car. Or even much tuning to the current Rally1 car.

So, what would a Safari-spec 2020 Rally1 challenger have looked like as it departed the Nairobi start this week?

Much as everybody loves a Spanish-spec asphalt racer, most rally fans have a soft spot for snorkel, lion-taming roo bars and, of course, that extra set of lights which sit close to the wing mirrors, high above the mud line.

There would have been none of those things.

The FIA made no provision for such homologation waivers ahead of the World Rally Championship’s first return to Africa in 18 years.

With testing banned outside Europe, the teams were all heading for the roughest roads mainland Europe had on offer. They’re generally found at Château Lastours, near Toulouse in France’s south-west.

That’s where Toyota Gazoo Racing was taking its Yaris WRC to dial it in to Kenya.

“We’d done a recce with some engineers and made some video analysis, so we had a reasonable idea of what to expect from the Safari,” Toyota technical director Tom Fowler told DirtFish. “We were trying to replicate those conditions at our test, but, obviously, it wasn’t the same challenge as a traditional Safari.

“The thing it did have, that was similar to the old Safari, was some very fast stretches with some very rough places in there and that could be tricky. There’s a lot of energy [in the car] when you come there with that sort of speed – we were planning to test all of this in our test.”

1986 Safari Rallycopyright:Mcklein

In terms of the car itself, Fowler would have taken the Yaris back a step.

“We’ve talked, in the past, about the lightweight work we’ve done on the suspension. That’s still homologated in VO (variant option) section. We have some suspension parts which are heavier and a bit stronger – some of these parts were originally fitted to the 2017 car – which are heavier than what we use today.

“So, one of the areas we were doing was re-manufacturing older parts we know were a bit stronger. It’s not an active development, but we still needed to be making those parts.

“The other thing we’d been doing was to strengthen the under-floor protection, which isn’t covered in the [car’s] homologation, it’s just regulation parts. We were making the underside stronger; this would have been the biggest and strongest sumpguard we’d have used on the Yaris WRC since we started with the car.”

If the rain had arrived on a Safari originally set for this week, Fowler had a plan.

“We didn’t have any possibility to do any snorkel devices,” he said, “but we were doing some tests inside the engine bay to see where, when we were in really deep water, the water was coming from and going to.

“We were obviously making sure the splash system (the system deployed by the driver or co-driver to temporarily close air intakes – used at watersplahes and river crossings) was good enough for that. There was nothing external on the car, but we were doing a bit of optimization under the hood.

“In terms of the actual car set-up, for rideheight, we wouldn’t have been that much higher than we are in Turkey.”