•Akbar started his career as quad biker and 2WD driver in his late 50s as a member of the Mombasa Motor Club
•He credits his three 2WD titles to a supportive team that includes family, friends, navigator and stablemates at MMC
•He admits that rallying is addictive and has no plans to quit the sport anytime soon regardless of Covid-19 impacts
Lewis Hamilton would not be a seven-time Formula One champion — and one of the greatest drivers of all time — if he did not have a supportive team around him.
In as much as Formula One enthusiasts will usually sing praises of his prowess on the racetrack, Hamilton, 35, knows that his talent would amount to nothing if he did not have the right team behind him to point him in the right direction.
This is a universal rule of the thumb as far as sports is concerned: there is no 'I' in 'Team.'
Thousands of kilometres away from the United Kingdom, in Mombasa, Akbar Khan is similarly reaping the fruits of surrounding himself with a solid support system in his profession as a two-wheel driver and quad bike racer.
He drives a quad bike in autocross events and a Nissan Bluebird in the Two Wheel category.
A late bloomer in the world of auto racing, Khan, 50, is the reigning three-time Two Wheel Drive champion in the Coast region.
He won the 2wD championships in 2017, 2018 and 2019.
Nonetheless, Khan is careful not to credit himself for his successes but attributes it to his family, navigator and a group of mechanics who provide him with psychological, mechanical and technical support in his auto career.
He is also among rally drivers from Mombasa Motor Club (MMC) who participate in the Clubman events and Coast base national events.
Having dived into auto competitions in his 50s, Khan has had to rely on his stablemates at MMC for guidance on how to meander through the industry.
"It's such a great feeling everyday when your stablemates work to impart valuable racing experience in you and you feel the pressure is on you to deliver. My MMC colleagues were teaching me to keep the car straight, balanced and how to keep the tires and the brakes cool. I honestly can see some real progress in the long run and like the trajectory it has taken through and through," Akbar says.
Successfully juggling between a quad bike and an automobile is no mean feat, rather a meticulous process that requires attention to detail beginning from the preparations for a competition until its aftermath.
With the assistance of mechanics, Akbar has to ensure that his car or quad bike is in excellent condition before the competition proper.
"Preparations begin as soon as the previous rally has ended. You have to keep checking on the car every time and then organise some test drives. You must be wary of the aspect of the wear and tear," he explains.
On the racetrack, his navigator, David Kago, is his bossom buddy with who they have navigated through the bumpy and dusty road to 2wD success.
"Teamwork has been the key to success and is one facet of the sport that has helped shape my career and that of David. So many friends and family have come through and helped to make things move in the team. I'm excited by the fact that the passion and level-headedness is out of this world," he says.
Once the rally is over, Akbar and Co. will survey the car or quad bike for any renovations required.
"When the car returns to the workshop and has taken quite a beating, you will not believe how the team mechanics will move with speed. It's a bit hectic but really nice, it's a labour of love," he says.
Akbar also credits MMC for helping him horn his skills in rally driving by providing him with appropriate training facilities.
"Kudos to our club chairman and clerk of the course, Roy McKenzie, who has had the gusto to offer us a taste of the coast terrain.”We are lucky to be in a club (MMC), which conducts an elaborate training programme for drivers, including beginners and enters them for home Clubman rallies. We are also lucky as a club that Mombasa Cement has donated a large parcel of land where our club runs its training rallies," Akbar says.
These events — though a baptism of fire — have been an opportunity to collect valuable experience through interactions with fellow competitors.
"During national events, we use that opportunity to apply the knowledge gained from our training against Kenya's best. I'm glad that some drivers like Sohanjeet Singh and Ammar Haq have gone through our club training and became national champions. So it's a steep learning curve. We all started as volunteers for club events but later succumbed to the lure of the cockpit," he says.
Akbar describes quad biking as a tad exhilarating compared to driving a two-wheel drive vehicle.
" I have always wanted to explore the sport in different ways so I jumped into my quad bike to see how far I can push it against me rest of the field. This was when Mombasa Motor Club (MMC) hosted the last round of the KCB Autocross Championship at Vipingo Ridge last year. It was a whole new exciting experience for me and the team, a far cry from what we do with the rally car time and time again. I enjoyed some exhilarating sideways on the track and felt I wanted to drive it so much more. Quite a shame that I didn't have opponents from Nairobi who had withdrawn citing personal reasons," he explains.
Typically, Akbar’s driving lines were inch-perfect across the technical seafront terrain in Vipingo.
His first time on a quad bike earned him plaudits from the support team who noted that Akbar is a natural born racer.
"After the race the general impression was that the progress was slick, and very swift. The essence isn't being very close to the limit on your run. It's to drive sensibly fast to also conserve the car and bring it back in one piece," Akbar says.
Were it not for the prevailing Covid-19 situation in the country, Akbar would be now back to the racetrack in full swing.
However, Akbar admits that him and racing are joined at the hip and hence has no plans to call it a day.
"Racing is very addictive you will always want to achieve new limits. Winning the 2wD championship was quite a great feeling. It felt like I was on top of the world. So, I really want to keep it up for the rest of my life. I want to race a lot more," he says.
His exploits on the racetrack have left a mark on his children who Akbar hopes will surpass his achievements.
"Since I started racing in 2015 all my children have become very interested. They now have the bug and soon they will start racing - inshallah. Being a first generation driver I had to learn the tricks the hard way so I hope my sons will have quite a bit of an advantage as second generation drivers gain invaluable experience from the machine they see on a day to day basis in the backyard," Akbar says.
Himself an admirer of rally great, the late Joginder Singh, Akbar believes that his sons have a lot of Mombasa-based rally drivers to emulate, other than him.
'The fact that Mombasa has produced great drivers is a great motivating factor. You always feel the pressure to emulate them. The likes of late Johnny Hellier, his son Rob Hellier, former African Champ David Horsey, former multiple Kenya champion and Safari stalwart Mike Kirkland, Ian Duncan's 1994 WRC Safari winning navigator Dave Williamson are some of the legends from the coast that we have idolised from the days of yore," he says.
Name: Akbar Khan
Date of birth: 22nd January 1964.
Hometown Kinango Kwale.
Occupation: MD, Surian Enterprises Ltd.
Cars: Nissan Bluebird and quad bike
Current Navigator: David Kago
Motor Club: Mombasa Motor Club (MMC)
Best all time driver: Joginder Singh
Year Commenced racing: 2015.
1. Quad Bike class winner at the KCB Kenya National Autocross Championship 2019 at Vipingo racetrack
2. Coast Two Wheel Drive Champion 2017, 18 and 2