• Earlier in May, the Starlet rally car was unveiled at the Rola Toyota dealership in Bredasdorp.
• It is powered by a turbocharged 2.0-litre engine, also known as the 3S-GTE.
• The model was locally built and developed and conforms to all the safety standards specified by the FIA.
If you're talking about an automaker enjoying the most success in South Africa, look no further than Toyota. Their local line-up pretty much sells itself; then, you have the plethora of Gazoo Racing performance options on offer. With the introduction of the Starlet, Toyota Gazoo Racing SA now competes in three different race categories with locally-built examples, like the Corolla in Global Touring Cars (GTC), the Starlet in the NRC, and the Dakar-winning Hilux, which also participates in the South African Rally-Raid Championship (SARRC).
After the car was revealed to much delight, former multiple South African National Rally champion Guy Botterill stated that the Starlet rally car has been in the development process for more than three years, and even still, it is not the finished product. The model was locally built and conformed to all the stringent safety standards specified by the FIA.
Not your ordinary Starlet
The Starlet first launched locally in 2020 and fit the bill as a current test subject – previous rally models (think Serge Damseaux) used to include the Conquest, Etios, and RunX, all of which took part in the Bredasdorp rally. What better way to promote an essential model in the local line-up than with its own beefed-up version.
According to Motorsport South Africa, a rally car needs to comply with the regulations that generally entail modifying the vehicle with safety components such as a roll cage, special seats, harnesses, and fire extinguishers. You can either buy a vehicle like this second-hand and prepare it yourself, or you can get a preparation company to modify a standard road car on your behalf. In addition, rally cars have to use the public highway to get between stages. The car will also need to be licensed as per the National Road Traffic Act.
Compared to the road-going Starlet, the rally version has seen a host of extensive changes inside, outside, and under the bonnet. We take a look at some of them:
The normal Starlet comes equipped with a 1.4-litre four-cylinder petrol engine with Variable Valve Timing (VVT) and a tumble-flow intake manifold. Claimed power is 68kW and 130Nm.
In its place in the rally car is a turbocharged four-cylinder 2.0-litre engine, better known as the 3S-GTE, which is a popular high-performance engine most commonly swapped into older (box-shaped) Corolla chassis. Stock power ranges from 136kW to 191kW.This engine was a firm favourite in Toyota's popular models from yesteryear.
The LED headlights and daytime running lights are kept intact, but everything else has been enhanced. In addition to the red and white livery, the exterior is fitted with a widebody kit and sits on white painted rally-specced wheels. The OEM rear lights are retained, and the exhaust has been centrally positioned, so an entirely new exhaust tunnel underneath the car had to be constructed.
Everything on the inside is completely stripped out. The factory dashboard, door panels, and seats have all been chucked in favour of proper race equipment. Also, the driver's seat is positioned on the left side, as is the case with most European R5 and R4 rally cars, and is kept safe thanks to the fitment of a roll cage, spare wheel, and fire extinguisher. Both the handbrake and sequential gear lever selector are long reach, while a Motec engine control unit is used to manage all the electronics.
Toyota has also launched a new version of its Starlet passenger car, with pricing starting from R226 600, while Suzuki will also launch their new Baleno later in May.