•KNRC Div 3 champion Chandrakant Devji Chhabhadia (Chandu) is following in the footsteps of Kisumu-based motorsport greats.
•The former mechanical engineering student has always been a fan of motorsport and is always keen on upgrading his skills and knowledge.
•Chandu has benefitted from strong family support and financial backing from Shajanand Holdings and Service Crew.
In its over a century existence, Kisumu City has produced some of the best national rally drivers — the most prominent being the 2015 Africa and Kenyan champion Jassi Chatte.
Others include Bimal Shah — of the famous Swan rally dynasty — Noreez Abass and Jitendra Davda.
Kenya National Rallying Championship Division 3 Champion Chandrakant Devji Chhabhadia, better known as Chandu, wants to follow in the footsteps of these legends by amassing more victories locally and internationally.
In addition to the KNRC title, Chandu — who joined the sport seven years ago — has won the Formula Club Series (FCS) (2015) and the Kisumu Training Rally (2014).
His Kisumu Training rally win — in a GC8 Subaru — was a precursor to his ascent to the KCB KNRC Division 3 throne, a feat he achieved with Julius Mwachuya on the adjacent co-drivers seat.
Chandu reveals there is more to come from him as he looks to the lakeside city's motorsports greats for inspiration.
"Jassi (Chatte) was the biggest Kisumu star in history — bigger than the likes of Bimal. Chatthe became the first Kenyan driver to seal the National and FIA African Rally Championship double in 2015. He's cool and calm outside the cockpit and literally explosive on the bucket seat of his Evolution X car," Chandu narrates.
His relationship with motorsport is a romantic one, to which he has dedicated his skills and knowledge acquired from university.
“I joined rallying because it’s been a great hobby. I was then a mechanical engineering student and after studying, I decided to pimp my GC8 car. The vehicle was powerful and good on the roads," he says.
"It was also stable and gave us one the best feeling while driving. You can navigate and drive it in terrains, be it slippery, muddy or sandy without fear because of its performance."
Chandu's forays into the world of motorsport began with navigator Jonathan Kosgey before swapping him with Julius Mwachuya from Nairobi.
However, his rise to the top of his Division didn't just come on a silver platter. Chandu's debut at the KNRC KCB Kiambu Rally in February 2014 was distracted by reliability gremlins.
Even though he and Kosgey kissed the Kiambu outing goodbye, they learned valuable lessons.
"You never stop learning in this sport. When you retire it's an opportunity to keep fine-tuning the car. My preparations for a race begins as soon as the dust settles on one," Chandu adds.
In his next race, Nanyuki KNRC round 5 in 2014, Chandu finished sixth overall in Class 'S' and 22nd overall in the main rally.
This performance elated and provided him with the momentum heading into the Kisumu KNRC outing.
Chandu knew home advantage counted for nothing as the championship featured the who-is-who in Kenyan motorsports, most of who were well-endowed financially and with better equipment.
"At the Kisumu KNRC outing, I managed 15 overall after clocking 1:58.27 in the GC8 and second overall in class. It wasn't easy considering most drivers had better machines. But you never stop learning in this game of man and machine," he explains.
However, he upset the odds to emerge second in Class 'S' of the competition and — more importantly — distinguished himself as the only lakeside native to achieve a podium finish at the circuit.
"For us, that was a great achievement. I had been looking forward to emerging the winner but achieving a podium finish was not that bad," he recalls.
After winning the KNRC 'S' Class Championship in 2015, Chandu competed in seven more rallies in the 2016 season, retiring in three — Wundanyi, Guru Nanak and Kisumu.
In Eldoret in 2016, he finished 21 overall and second in 'S' Class. The same year he won the 'S' Class at the Kajiado Rally.
He also did three rallies in 2017 in his GC8 Subaru and rallied once in 2018 during which he retired with engine gremlins during the Eldoret Rally.
He will forever savour his win in the fourth round of the Formula Club Series (FCS) at Kibos Sugar Yard in 2014 where he cleared 67.24km of competitive driving in 57.16 minutes thanks to his traditional Subaru GC8 (in 2014).
The rally, introduced by Kenya Motor Sports Federation in 2014 to give upcoming rally drivers a chance to showcase their talents, featured two repeated loops of 33km each and a total distance of 104.72km.
Chandu beat Kericho-based Raju Sagoo (Toyota Ceres) while Amaanraj Raji wrapped up the podium dash in a VW Golf GTI after clocking 1:05.43.
“I was just testing my car to check on my new shock absorbers. Even though the car was stubborn due to the new suspension system, I still emerged number one and now I’m confident heading to Uganda. I was testing for the Pearl of Africa Uganda Rally which was the sixth round of the FIA African Rally Championship in 2014,” Chandu says.
Strong social support around him also proved crucial as he rallied (pun intended) to collect his maiden win.
"I am happy that my family and friends came out in their large numbers to cheer me on to the very last control. I thank God for the good performance and attribute this great outing to the support from the fans and sponsor Shajanand Holdings and Service Crew,” Chandu narrates.
The Formula series event also featured top ARC driver Jassi Chatthe in an EvoX although he was not classified due to his then KNRC Division 1 driver status.
Prayer for Kisumu
Apart from social support from family and friends, Chandu has also benefitted from strong financial backing from Shajanand Holdings and Service Crew.
"When our team (Shajanand) registered for the Kiambu Rally in car number 80, everyone was overly excited. It is always good news for Kisumu residents when one of their own throws the hat in the ring," he says.
His prayer for Kisumu is for the city to continue churning out talented drivers to rule the national motorsport scene, just as Chatte and Co.
The sky is the limit for Chandu who is always looking to break new ground in his rallying knowledge and skills.
After his FCS win in Kisumu, for instance, there was no time for rest as he set his eyes on Uganda.
"After the win in Kisumu, we went to Uganda to see how much we could push the car. The Pearl of Africa Uganda Rally was an awesome experience. It is such a good feeling when you realise that you can keep improving on my driving lines," he says.
With such a passionate attitude and willingness to learn, Chandu is on the same path charted by previous motorsport greats from the lakeside city as he hopes to make a comeback soon after acquiring a new car.
He will surely cement his place in Kenya's motorsports history so long as he does not veer to the left or the right on this race to greatness.
Chandrakant Devji Chhabhadiya (Chandu)
Sponsors: Friends and family
Car: Subaru GC8
Family: Married to Kalpana Chandu
DOB: January 21, 1980
Place of work: Shajanand Group
Occupation: Financial Director
First Road Car: Land Rover
First Rally Car: Subaru
First Event and Result: KCB Kiambu Rally 2014 / DNF
Favourite All-time Rally Driver: Bjorn Waldegard
Current Navigator: Julius Mwachuya
Previous Navigator: Jonathan Kosgey
1. Winner, FCS Kisumu Rally 2014
2. Finisher, KCB Eldama Ravine Rally
3. 2015 KNRC S Class Champion