• In 1999, Carol guided Locho to victory in the CRC (Clubman Rally Championship) in a Hyundai Accent.
• Last year, Shiri was elected the head of FIA Women In Motorsport Africa, globally headed by WRC legend Mouton.
Despite limited hype on women drivers compared to their male counterparts, ladies have been competing since the earliest days of the sport.
According to a report on the FIA Website (www.fia.com), their uncanny abilities date back to the first known ladies’ motorised tricycle race in 1897.
However, the report entitled: 'Women Through The Decades' further highlights that until 1910, there were few opportunities for women to compete and only a few appearances behind the wheel. Pioneers include Madame Labrousse, Italy’s Countess Elsa d’Albrizzi and in 1900, Miss Wemblyn.
But it was Camille du Gast— one of France’s most famous female racing drivers — who became the first woman to race consistently at international level.
Frenchwoman Michelle Mouton featured prominently in WRCs in the early 80s. She debuted in rallying as a co-driver but quickly moved to the driver’s seat, behind the wheel of an Alpine-Renault A110 in national rallies.
In the 1982 World Rally season, Mouton finished a close second overall to Walter Röhrl, after wins in Portugal, Brazil and Greece, and helped Audi to its first manufacturers’ title.
In Kenya, women haven’t been left behind in matters motorsport. The indefatigable all-woman crew of Ann Taieth and Sylvia King were active drivers in the early 70s through to the 80s. Their knack of taking men head-on endeared them to fans countrywide.
Orie Rogo Manduli made history by becoming the first African woman rally driver to grace the Safari Rally when she took part in the 1974 edition alongside her late co-driver Sylvia Omino.
Manduli said she was driven into racing by the desire to prove that indigenous Kenyan black women could compete behind the wheel.
Sylvia and Ann won the Coupe Des Dames on Safari in 1972 in their Datsun 1600SSS.
In the 1983 Eldoret Rally (then Raymond Rally), Ann and Sylvia entered their names in the annals of the country’s motorsport history as the first all-women crew to win a round of the Kenya National Rally Championship (KNRC). They also won the Guru Nanak in 1984.
Ann’s record of being the only woman to have won a round remains while Sylvia’s was equalled by Natasha Tundo (Tasha) when she guided his brother Carl ‘Flash’ Tundo to victory on the 2012 edition of Guru Nanak, taking over from Tim Jessop.
Natasha later jumped into the driver’s seat of a Subaru Impreza and went on to clinch the 2016 KNRC Division 3 title alongside her partner, Chantal Young.
‘Ladies Luck’ Rally Team of Michelle Van Tongeren and Safina Khan were quite competitive and are best remembered for multiple victories of the coveted Coupe Des Dames award on WRC Safari in 2000 and 2001 as well as 2003 when the Kenyan premier event was relegated to FIA African Rally Championship (ARC) status.
Navigator Carol Wahome also graced the competitive scene with zest and vigour from the ‘90s before hanging up her helmet.
She started as a service crew of Kimanthi Maingi, who is now the director of WRC Project. She went on to begin her rallying career alongside former African Champion Don Smith in 1996 in a Ford Escort RS 2000 then switched drivers to team up with Musa Locho in 1998.
In 1999, Carol guided Locho to victory in the Clubman Rally Championship in a Hyundai Accent.
“ In 2000, Carol and I graduated to a more superior car (Hyundai FX Coupe) and won the Formula 2 Championship, making Carol the first African lady to win a national title. In 2001, we upgraded to a Subaru Impreza and by the time we bowed out due to lack of sponsorship, we were lying second in the Group N Championship. She tried navigating a couple of other drivers, but in her own words, she admitted it wasn’t the same, so she quit rallying,” said Locho.
Hellen Shiri Kagendo aka ‘Hedgal’ became the first African woman to finish an international rally in the 2013 edition of Pearl of Africa Uganda Rally navigated by Tuta Mionki.
The WRC Safari Project secretary also became the first African woman to be appointed the Clerk-of-Course for the Rallye Sports Club (RSC) round of the KNRC in June 2018. The same year, Shiri was named the FIA Rally secretary of the year.
Last year, Shiri was elected the head of FIA Women In Motorsport Africa, globally headed by WRC legend Mouton. Shiri is also club secretary at RSC.
Tuta, who has served as a chairperson for the autocross Commission, won many titles alongside Eric Bengi including 2WD Championship in 2016. She also guided Bengi to double victories in KNRC Division 1 and Group N titles in 2018 which earned her the Kenya Motorsport Personally Award that year.
Joan Nesbitt and Tamara Jones are the famous ‘Haraka Mamas’, who piloted a 1991 model of the Tercel in the 2WD Class between 2011 and 2014.
“As a competitor, motorsport is a challenge and I love challenges. It took me out of my comfort zone and realised I was doing the unexpected. It motivated me to do better and become faster and to always be in the top rank, all the time,” says Joan.
“I also learnt more about the engine and changing a tyre in four minutes! As an official, I still get involved in rally events. I enjoy helping competitors and I ensure rules are adhered to. It is a lot of work with long hours but it's worth it! Everyone is friendly and helpful.”
“Growing up, we always savoured watching the Safari Rally and with the likes of Joginder Singh, Patrick Njiru, Shekha Mehta, Ian Duncan and the international drivers competing, it was very exciting and I believed one day I would rally. My husband and James Burke (Tamara’s husband), one day asked us if we would like to rally and we said yes, even before they finished that sentence. We went for a spin and the boys said that I was a very good and fast driver. So we used my Toyota Tercel and the rest is history,” adds Joan.
“I love rallying. It’s my passion and I love the adrenaline rush. I also love cars. Hopefully, once we get sponsorship, it would be great fun to get back.”
‘Warembo Bila Make-up’, originally made of Jedidiah Weru and Stellah Macharia and ‘Divas On Wheels’ comprising Carol Gatimu and Qui Mungai have also been awesome.
Macharia later became a driver, linking up with Shiri before the latter moved to the driving seat with ‘Amira Hedgalz' team.
Gillian Bailey, a rally navigator turned autocross driver, has also made a name in the racing scene. She won the Two-Wheel autocross Championship title in a buggy in 2017.
Others like Linet Ayuko and Wambui Kiiru have also done well with the latter having served as secretary of Rwanda Mountain Gorilla Rally.
“We had the same level of trust and respect for each other’s abilities and skills and put them to good use, bettering our finishing positions in every rally," says Ladies Lucks' Khan.
"We learnt quickly how to synchronise in the rally car and things got better from there. We had the reputation of finishing in the top eight each time and had a brilliant track record of being consistent finishers. We ventured out of Kenya and participated in the Pearl of Uganda ARC and finished fifth being the highest placed Kenyan (and Ladies) Team.
"We also competed in Tanzania Rally in Ausha, where we finished third. We managed to garner sponsors due to our performances and this enabled us to procure expensive but reliable racing mechanical spare parts with which our rally car became faster and reliable," adds Khan.
"Our strength lay in the trust, synchronisation and respect, not to mention experience and skills that we honed along the way. We had to take sabbaticals from racing, once we started our families. We were driven by the utmost support, love and affection showered onto us by our numerous fans, support and service crew, friends and families."
"I had a stint in go-karting and then learnt how to navigate as I didn’t have the resources or sponsorship to drive a rally car. Michelle who had participated in a few rallies in a VW Golf decided to form an all-ladies rally team and contacted me. I quickly jumped at the opportunity as it was my ardent passion to rally. We took part in KNRC’s but the tough teaching ground was, of course, the WRC Safari Rally,” Khan recalls with nostalgia.
She made a comeback as a driver, winning the 2018 KCB Autocross 2WD Non-Turbo Championship in a Vitz.
Meanwhile, King, a longstanding sponsorship liaison at KMSF and Ann still attend virtually all KNRCs to-date. During this year’s Guru Nanak Rally, they got their mitts on Guru’s perpetual trophy for a short time in Stoni Athi moments before it was presented to winners Tundo and Jessop.
“I have learnt to appreciate the sport more as a competitor, having been a fan for many years, including what it takes to run an event as an organiser. The intensity of the sport has helped me grow as a person, while practicing competencies like attention to detail and teamwork. I have also made some very good friends along the way,” Tuta remarked.