On Safari

With the demise of the famous, or even infamous, Safari Rally from the FIA World Rally Championship, you’d be forgiven for thinking that cars built to the unique specification required to not only survive but succeed on arguably the toughest event ever to feature in the WRC would have also disappeared. But in fact, this is far from the case, with British company MML Sports developing and building Safari-spec Mitsubishi rally cars for the 21st Century.

The company was recently approached by the Team Kibos rally team and asked to supply two Group N Mitsubishi Lancer EvolutionX rally cars; one for the Kenyan Rally Championship and one for the FIA African Rally Championship. The two cars were built to identical, Safari-specification with the only difference between the two being in the livery, with one series’ door plates larger than the other.

It’s no surprise that MML Sports knows what it’s doing when it comes to building rally cars to survive the toughest conditions on the African continent. In its previous guise as Ralliart Europe, which ran the works Mitsubishi team, it took four wins while the event was part of the WRC and a Mitsubishi has won the event, which continues to run as part of the African series, eight times in the last ten years.

When Kibos first approached MML Sports, they were already running a Group N EvoX but limitations were causing the team problems. So MML Sports applied its experience and expertise to its existing Group N specification to ensure that the two cars headed for Africa would prove both competitive and reliable.

Works began on the base cars, with additional strengthening in the bodyshell thanks to seam welding all of the main joints within the standard shell. Suspension, engine and transmission crossmembers are also strengthened in the same way, with seams and joins re-made to increase reliability. Grooves for eccentric bolts, used to adjust suspension geometry and usually pressed into the material of the crossmembers, are flattened and much thicker, fabricated guides added.

Underneath the car is more protection than the company adds to what it calls its European-specification Group N. The rear exhaust system is strengthened while the composite skid protection on the bottom of the bodyshell extends the full length of the floorpan, instead of halfway along on the European cars.

The rear differential guard is stronger than the Euro-spec item while the front sump guard is considerably uprated from both MML Sports’ Euro kit and the item that was fitted to Team Kibos’ previous car. Fabricated from 8mm aluminium as opposed to composite, this extends from the leading edge of the front bumper to behind the main engine and transmission to provide complete protection from impacts under the engine.

Both the mounting area on the sump guard and those on the front crossmember are reinforced while shock-absorbing material is also fitted in the gap directly between the oil sump and the guard itself.

The result is an increase in ground clearance of more than 40mm using the MML Sports under-body protection, which provides not only a greater degree of protection for the underside of the car but also, means less time for the car bottoming-out on the sump guard and hence, more time with the tyres in contact with the road surface.

The Reiger dampers fitted to the cars have been specifically developed for the rough African conditions and will cope with extremely high-speed movement, typical with wheels and tyres rolling over large rocks or dropping into pot-holes. The suspension mounting points have also been strengthened to cope with these enormous shock loadings which can lead to famous images of cars arriving at the end of sections with suspension legs protruding from their bonnets.

MML Sports Managing Director John Easton estimates that the MML Sports Safari-specification Group N EvoX will weight approximately 40-45Kg more than its European counterpart. However, he also feels that this is a small price to pay for the additional reliability and durability that the car will exhibit. It can also potentially be offset by developing a strategy to run the car with the right fuel load and number of spare tyres, for example, to suit the conditions.

The first outing for the Team Kibos cars will be Sasol Rally South Africa on April 11/12 and MML Sports will be supporting the team, with technical and strategic assistance at each event. Of course, the highlight of the year is likely to be the KCB Safari Rally, which forms part of both the FIA African Rally Championship and the Kenyan Rally Championship, over the weekend of 12-14 September 2014.