Kenya is not a global powerhouse in motorsport, but at the Safari Rally two pioneering local drivers determined to break down barriers lit up the famous event.
While Toyota’s Kalle Rovanpera cemented his reputation as a new World Rally Championship prodigy by conquering the Safari, another success story unfolded on the Kenyan savannah. Part-time 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 victory in WRC3.
But Wahome wasn’t the only local pioneer, as paraplegic driver Nikhil Sachania inspired disabled drivers around the world to finish arguably the world’s toughest rally in the top 20.
Wahome’s success has propelled the 26-year-old not only to national prominence, but also to global fame, with her achievements recognized by none other than seven-time Formula 1 world champion Lewis Hamilton, who shared the post. from Motorsport.com celebrating the milestone.
Incredibly, Wahome’s success came just 12 months after starting rallying at Safari Rally 2021, and his victory came in his first event driving the Ford Fiesta Rally3 car built by M-Sport Poland. Motorsport has always been in Wahome’s blood as the daughter of a rally driver, which initially sparked an interest in anything with a motor.
Eleven years of motocross finally gave way to a foray into rallying after he convinced his dad it was time to rally. And within the space of a year, Wahome had a meteoric rise competing in the African Rally Championship events to become a historic WRC3 event winner.
“My dad used to do rallying in the 1980s and 1990s and when I watched him, that’s when I knew I wanted to do it,” says Wahome.
“I asked him one day and he said the easiest thing to do was do motocross and I did that for 11 years and finally I told him it was time for a change. I walked in in Rallycross and last year we took part in the WRC Safari Rally last year with my Subaru Impreza, so I only raced for a year.
Maxine Wahome only drove her WRC3 car on dirt for the first time at Safari Rally Kenya
Photo by: WRC.com
“It’s really 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 my first time sitting in this car on dirt. I guess the only test I had was on the tarmac, which is completely different for the Safari. I just decided to take it step by step and learn it so that was what brought me here.
Although she faced arguably a tougher Safari than her debut event last year, Wahome managed to complete the grueling 19 stages to win the WRC third class by 25 minutes and 27 seconds from Jeremy Wahome (none report), while McRae Kimathi sealed an all-Kenya podium. To top off the performance, Wahome finished the event 16th overall, one place behind M-Sport Rally1 driver Gus Greensmith.
Inspired by Molly Taylor, 2016 Australian Rally Champion and Extreme E winner last year, Wahome has been overwhelmed with success, but is fully aware of the important step she has taken to help inspire a new wave of female pilots in the sport.
“It was so amazing when I did my interview that I was speechless,” she says. “I couldn’t believe I had made it and I was proud of myself and my team. I am proud to have made history.
“Certainly that [the Junior WRC] is [a goal]. For my first time in this car, I would like to have more seat time, but ultimately that’s my other goal, to stop making it.” Maxine Wahome
“This [helping women into motorsport] is something I always think about, no matter what car I drive, I would love to encourage more women to come back into the sport. It’s been a long time since a lady has been on top, so it’s also my other goal to catch up up there. It is about the empowerment of women.
“I look up to 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 be aware of his presence in Kenya, with his face plastered on giant billboards as part of a quartet of pilots local rally venues that are part of the FIA Rally Star programme. , which aims to unearth new young talent on a global scale. Wahome was joined by Junior WRC regular McRae Kimathi, Jeremiah Wahome (also unrelated) and Hamza Anwar, with all four Rally3 Fiestas drivers backed by national telecommunications company Safaricom.
Maxine Wahome set for further WRC3 outings in Estonia and Greece later this year
Photo by: WRC.com
Rallying has deep roots in Kenya thanks to the Safari Rally which has become the country’s biggest sporting event since its inception in 1953 as a celebration of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. So when the WRC traveled to Kenya, these four faces became the poster child for the event, unleashing hordes of local fans to cheer on the quartet.
Prior to the Safari Rally, motorsport was purely a hobby, an activity akin to golf which Wahome participates in from time to time when not working as a children’s teacher. However, following the success, rallying may soon become more than a hobby.
This could be the first step towards a more regular membership in the WRC. The support hasn’t stopped since the event, with Safaricom offering Wahome a million Kenyan shillings (£7,000) in bonuses, while also confirming entries for WRC events in Estonia (July 14-17) and Rally of the Acropolis in Greece (8-11 September). It looks like the Junior WRC could soon add its second Kenyan regular and first female to its entry list.
“Certainly that [the Junior WRC] is [a goal],” she added. “For my first time in this car, I wish I had more seat time, but ultimately that’s my other goal, to stop making it happen.”
With Wahome now spearheading a new wave of African talent, paraplegic driver Sachania is on a mission to prove to others facing similar challenges in life that motorsport remains 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 a quad accident while training in 2011 The then 22-year-old petrolhead was rushed to hospital in Nairobi, but the facility did not have the equipment to perform the operation, so a transfer to India was required. . This is where it was confirmed that he would never walk again.
It was a life-changing hope to pursue a love of motorsport hanging by a thread. However, three years after the tragic crash, Sachania was back behind the wheel as Kenya’s first paraplegic rally driver after refusing to give up his dream.
After buying a Fiat Punto with a manual override mechanism in Spain, he has now upgraded to a Mitsubishi Evo X using the same power distribution system. Sachania is able to drive thanks to two rings attached to the steering wheel. The 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 Sachania’s second 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
Photo by: WRC.com
“Even before my accident I always liked speed and adrenaline, so I wanted to do that,” he told Motorsport.com. “It was hard for my family and friends to go back and do that thing that put me in a wheelchair, but I was excited and wanted to prove 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 hopefully it will inspire other people like me. You can do what you want if you put your mind to it.The technology is available and if you are brave enough you can come to Kenya and do the Safari Rally.
“Mind over matter is my key advice” Nikhil Sachania
“There are people who still don’t believe that I drive. There are places we go to in Kenya, which are quite far away, so when they see me getting out of the car in my chair, it opens their mouths. It’s a real crowd pleaser and a real talking point.
For those inspired by her exploits, Sachania has an important piece of advice.
“Mind over matter is my key advice,” he says. “Getting into motorsport is getting a lot 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 global motorsport, but Wahome and Sachania are proof that there are determined drivers out there ready to break boundaries to compete on the world stage.
The future of rallying in Kenya remains very bright
Photo by: WRC.com