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Kenyan rally drivers breaking barriers

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Kenya doesn’t trip over the tongue as a global motoring powerhouse, but at the Safari Rally, two pioneering local drivers determined to break down barriers lit up the famed event.

While Toyota’s Kalle Rovanpera enhanced his reputation as the new wunderkind of the World Rally Championship by conquering the Safari, another success story was unfolding on the Kenyan savanna. Part-time school teacher Maxine Wahome made history by becoming the first woman to win a WRC support class since Isolde Holderied won a Group N Cup round in 1994, with a win in WRC3.

But Wahome wasn’t the only local trailblazer, as paraplegic driver Nikhil Sachania inspired disabled drivers around the world to finish arguably the world’s toughest rally in the top 20.

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Wahome’s success has propelled the 26-year-old to not only national notoriety but global fame as well, with her achievements recognized by none other than seven-time Formula 1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton, who shared the Autosport post celebrating milestone.

Incredibly, Wahome’s success has come just 12 months after he started racing in the 2021 Safari Rally, with his victory coming in his first event at the wheel of the Ford Fiesta Rally3 car built by M-Sport Poland. Motorsports have always been in Wahome’s blood as the daughter of a rally driver, which initially sparked her interest in all things motoring.

Eleven years in motocross finally gave way to a foray into rallying after convincing his father that it was time to go rallying. And in the space of a year, Wahome has enjoyed a meteoric rise from competing in the African Rally Championship events to becoming a historic winner of the WRC3 event.

RELATED: Why the WRC Safari Tour is more than just a rally

“My dad used to rally in the 1980s and 1990s and when he looked at it that’s when he knew he wanted to do it,” says Wahome.

“I asked him one day and he told me that the easiest thing was to do motocross and I did it for 11 years and finally I told him that it was time to change. I got into Rallycross and last year we did the WRC Safari Rally last year with my Subaru Impreza, so I’ve only been racing for a year.

Maxine Wahome only drove her WRC3 car on gravel for the first time at Safari Rally Kenya

Maxine Wahome only drove her WRC3 car on gravel for the first time at Safari Rally Kenya

Photo by: WRC.com

“It’s definitely a big surprise for me. [to win WRC3]. My goal was just to learn the car, so by learning the car every day I guess I improved my speed and got to the top position.

“Thursday was the first time I sat in this car on dirt. I guess the only test I got was on tarmac, which is completely different for Safari. I just decided to take it step by step and learn it so that’s what got me here.”

Despite facing an arguably tougher Safari compared to his debut event last year, Wahome managed to complete all 19 grueling stages to win the WRC’s third-tier class by 25mins 27secs from Jeremy Wahome (no relation) , while McRae Kimathi sealed a total. kenyan podium Capping off the performance, Wahome finished the event in 16th place overall, one place behind M-Sport Rally1 driver Gus Greensmith.

MORE: African McRae aims to become WRC pioneer

Inspired by 2016 Australian rally champion and last year’s Extreme E winner Molly Taylor, Wahome was overwhelmed by success but fully aware of the important step she has taken to help inspire a new wave of women. pilot in sport.

“It was so amazing when I did my interview that I was speechless,” she says. “I couldn’t believe I made it and I was proud of myself and my team. I am proud to have made history.

“Definitely that [the Junior WRC] it is [a goal]. For my first time in this car, I would like more time in the seat, but eventually that’s my other goal – to stop getting there.” Maxine Wahome

“East [helping women into motorsport] It’s something I always think about no matter what car I’m driving, I’d like to encourage more ladies to get back into the sport. It’s been a long time since a lady has been at the top, so that’s also my other goal to get there. All this has to do with the empowerment of women.

“I admire Molly Taylor. She has been an inspiration and role model to me and it would be great to meet her one day.”

While Wahome may be a new face on the world stage, it was hard not to notice his presence in Kenya, his face plastered on giant billboards as part of a quartet of local rally drivers who are part of the FIA ​​Rally Star programme. . , whose objective is to discover new young talents worldwide. Wahome was joined by Junior WRC regular McRae Kimathi, Jeremiah Wahome (also no relation) and Hamza Anwar, with all four driving Rally3 Fiesta backed by national telecommunications firm Safaricom.

Maxine Wahome is set for more WRC3 starts in Estonia and Greece later this year

Maxine Wahome is set for more WRC3 starts in Estonia and Greece later this year

Photo by: WRC.com

Rallying is deeply rooted in Kenya thanks to the Safari Rally becoming the country’s biggest sporting event since its inception in 1953, in celebration of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. So when the WRC made its visit to Kenya, these four faces became the poster girl and boys for the event, prompting hordes of local fans to cheer on the quartet.

Before the Safari Rally, motorsports was purely a hobby, a golf-joining activity that Wahome partakes in from time to time when he’s not working as a children’s teacher. However, after the success, rallying could soon become more than just a hobby.

This could be the first step on the journey to joining the WRC on a more regular basis. The support has not stopped since the event. Safaricom offered Wahome one million Kenyan shillings (£7,000) as a bonus, while also confirming starts at the WRC events in Estonia (July 14-17) and the Acropolis Rally in Greece (September 8-11). . ). It looks like the Junior WRC could soon add its second Kenyan regular and its first female to its entry list.

“Definitely that [the Junior WRC] it is [a goal],” she added. “For my first time in this car, I’d like to have more time in the seat, but eventually that’s my other goal: stop getting there.”

While Wahome is now spearheading a new wave of African talent, paraplegic driver Sachania is on a mission of his own to prove to others facing similar challenges in life that motorsport is still a viable discipline.

Originally born in the UK to Kenyan-Indian parents before moving to Kenya aged five, Sachania’s world was turned upside down following an ATV accident while training in 2011. The tanker, then 22, was rushed to Nairobi hospital, but the facilities did not work. She did not have the equipment to perform the operation, so a move to India was required. It was there that she was confirmed that she would never walk again.

It came as a life-changing blow to him with the hope that his love of motorsports would continue to hang in the balance. However, three years after the tragic accident, Sachania was back behind the wheel as Kenya’s first paraplegic rally driver after refusing to give up on his dream.

After acquiring a Fiat Punto with a manual control mechanism in Spain, he has now graduated to a Mitsubishi Evo X using the same power supply system. Sachania can drive courtesy of two rings attached to the steering wheel. One at the front acts as a throttle when downward pressure is applied, while the ring at the rear is pulled up to deploy the brakes.

Last month was the second Sachania Safari Rally and he continued to defy his handicap to finish an impressive 18th overall out of 43 entrants.

Nikhil Sachania (second from left) on stage during the Safari Rally

Nikhil Sachania (second from left) on stage during the Safari Rally

Photo by: WRC.com

“Even before my accident, I’ve always liked speed and adrenaline, so I wanted to do this,” he tells Autosport. “It was hard for my family and friends to come back and do this thing that put me in a wheelchair, but I was excited and wanted to show that I could still do it.

“With the WRC coming to Kenya, I think the word has spread a lot more and I’m very grateful for that, and I hope it inspires other people in my condition. You can do whatever you want if you put your mind to it. The technology is available and if you are brave enough you can go to Kenya and do the Safari Rally.

“It’s all mind over matter, that’s my key advice” Nikhil Sachania

“There are some people who still don’t believe I’m driving. There are some places we go to in Kenya that are quite remote, so when they see me get out of the car in my chair, their jaws drop. It’s a crowd pleaser and a real talking point.”

For those inspired by her exploits, Sachania has some outstanding advice.

“It’s all mind over matter, that’s my key advice,” he says. “Getting into motorsport is getting easier, the FIA ​​has a whole commission for disabled drivers and they have helped me a lot.”

Africa may still be an emerging force in world motorsport, but Wahome and Sachania are evidence that there are determined drivers ready to push the boundaries to compete on the world stage.

The future of rallying in Kenya remains very bright

The future of rallying in Kenya remains very bright

Photo by: WRC.com

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