Pang’ang’a Photo Essay

Move over Subaru boys, the best Safari Rally drivers are farmers!

Besides farms, most rally drivers hail from Mt Kenya, specifically Meru, Embu and Nyeri counties

Carl ‘Flash’ Tundo: The five-time Safari Rally winner said “driving on the farm helps you to read the road better. You understand how to navigate the rough, more technical sections. When it’s wet, we have the advantage because we have more experience than those who live in town.” Rallying also runs in the family as dad, Frank, mother Lynn and sister Natasha Tundo are all into the sport.

By Idris ‘Shoes’ Lule

Roving Editor

The greatest Safari Rally drivers in Kenya are not those Nancy Boys you see vrooming around in blue Subarus. Most are not even from a city like Nairobi or Kisumu and Mombasa. The best rally drivers, the most successful, hail from Mt Kenya, specifically Meru, Embu and Nyeri counties.

Check out this list: Patrick Njiru, Eric Bengi, Phineas Kimathi, Tuta Mionki, Peter Mutuma, Hellen Shiri are all from Mt Kenya East as was Washington Nteere and son Ken Nteere. Nyeri gave us Maxine Wahome, the late Ben ‘Baba Shiru’ Muchemi, the late John Ngunjiri and the late engineer Kim Gatende whose coffee farm is today, Garden Estate, in King’ong’o.  

But did you know the best rally drivers, besides hailing from Shags, are also either mechanics like Joginder Singh and Azar Anwar or large-scale farmers? Like Rory Green, now a retired driver, but is still a horticultural farmer in Limuru. Green won the Kenya National Rally Championship (KNRC) title twice in succession in 2001 and 2002.

And it’s not just in Kenya. Former World Rally Champion Petter Solberg learnt the ropes from their farm in Oslo.​ His son, Oliver Solberg, at 20 years, is the youngest driver in this year’s World Rally Championship in Kenya.

The reason farmers make better rallying drivers is that, instead of skating and riding bicycles, most start driving trucks on rough terrain giving them undue advantage and early head start. Most graduate into motocross with an even easier transition into rallying. Read on…

Shekhar Mehta, who began driving in his family’s sugar and tea plantations, became the master of winning in wet, slippery terrain

Shekhar Mehta: He won the World Rally Championship five times, having learnt the ropes from driving in tea and sugarcane plantations in Jinja, Uganda where the family lived before relocating to Kenya during the bloody regime of dictator Idi Amin Dada in 1973.  From sugar plantations, the  English, French and Gujarati speaking Mehta, became the master of winning in wet, slippery terrain largely in Datsun cars co-driven by wife, Yvonne Pratt and later, Mike Doughty. He died in London in 2006. He was 60.

In their wheat farm in Nakuru County, ‘my father made us a small track to drive around’, says Carl Tundo

Off in a Flash: Carl ‘Flash’ Tundo is a wheat farmer in Nakuru County. His Old Guy, Frank Tundo, was also in rallying. “I learnt to drive when we were farming up in Maralal from about 15 years and before that, I rode motorbikes from about six years,” explained Tundo. “The advantage of living on a farm in remote areas is that you get the chance to learn riding and driving much earlier. My father (Frank) made us a small track to drive around. He inspired me and I grew up with him rallying from the day I was born. We have always had a rally car in the yard and his enthusiasm rubbed off on me.”

It’s a casual affair for farmers because they drive off-road on a daily basis

Classic finish: Drew Sturrock, the co-driver of Baldev Chager (Right) celebrating their Safari Rally Classic win in Kilifi this February. Chager says “with or without money, farmers are great drivers. But there can be no rallying without money. It’s a casual affair for them because they drive off-road on a daily basis. Whether it’s dry or muddy, their nature of business requires them to drive. They are just great drivers.” Baldev’s Old Guy, Daljit and sister Avinder Chager are also motorsport buffs.

‘The first thing I ever drove at six years old was a Lorry,’ says Lee Rose. ‘That’s because my parents would not let me drive their cars’

Lee Rose: The wheat farmer was the Motorsports Man of the Year in 1993 before stepping into the Kenya National Rally Championship with his first rally in 1999 in a Subaru he had bought from Wales, UK, before dominating the 2003 and 2004 seasons. The three-time motocross champion said “the first thing I ever drove at six years old was a Lorry. That’s because my parents would not let me drive their cars but the truck driver had sufficient faith in me and that’s how I learned the ropes. We had a motocross track which we practiced on all the time in Narok. Farmers do a lot of driving on gravel roads due to the nature of their business.”  Riding bikes in the farm also helps “a lot with lines and balancing the car at high speed.”

Rallying also runs in the family as his father, John Rose started rallying in the 1967 Coca-Cola Rally in a Saab 99. The co-driver of Lee Rose was Peirs Daykin, an agricultural engineer in Timau and who won the navigators’ title twice. Lee Rose has since immigrated to South Africa.   

Large-scale farmers have financial muscle, giving them an edge as the sport is expensive

Azar Anwar: He lived in the family’s farm in Narok. He won the Kenya National Rally Championship three times: 1998, 2005 and 2006. Azar says besides the farm atmosphere, large-scale farmers have financial muscle, giving them an edge as the sport is expensive without corporate backing. “I spent a fortune to prepare for one event in 2005. That was inclusive of things like recce (rally practice), fuel, spare tires, transportation of the serving van and crew to the place of action. It is just damn expensive.” The Anwars are a motor sports family including younger brother Asad and son, Hamza Anwar.

In the final lap, the Safari Rally drivers are pretty region specific: Western Kenya produced rally drivers who can be counted on the fingers of one hand. The late Orie Rogo Manduli, the late Peter Shiyukah and Dr Noah Wekesa, but that is as far as it goes. Rift Valley had the late Jonathan Toroitich and Ibrahim Choge while Eastern has Nzioka Waita, but North Eastern and Coast have no one.

See Also:  Kiambu couple: Here is the life of ill-fated lovers in pictures!

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