•The Mirza family has over the years produced rally drivers who have left an impression in the Coast region
•The family runs under the Coast Pekee Rally team, which is sponsored by transport company, Coast Bus
•Izhar and Adil Mirza are currently the highest ranked members of the team
Coast region has over the years produced drivers of national repute.
Anyone who followed rallying in the 1980s and 90s will probably remember the 'speed merchants' from the Coast.
Safari Rally stalwart Mike Kirkland, former African champion David Horsey and 1994 WRC Safari winning navigator Dave Williamson are among the prominent sons from the coast who have put the region on the rallying map.
One driver following in their footsteps and determined to build an enduring dynasty for his family in the rallying scene is Izhar Mirza aka Izzy.
He is the lead driver for Coast Pekee Rally Team, which is composed of the Mirza family who has been a mainstay in the Kenya National Rally Championship.
Alongside his younger brother Adil Mirza, Izhar is the highest-ranked driver in the family rally team, which is sponsored by transport company, Coast Bus.
He was the top-ranked Mombasa driver in the KNRC Premier Class 2019 but was, unfortunately, relegated to the Division One.
Nonetheless, his enthusiasm for the sport remains and is preparing an assault on the KNRC Division One title when the new season resumes.
“I just can’t wait to do my next rally. I am really excited about competing in my car and just want to get out there and do some good driving," Izhar says.
Izhar, who will team up with Kavit Dave, is currently dusting the cobwebs off his Mitsubishi Lancer EvolutionX in readiness for this mission.
“We had done very little to the car since pandemic restrictions set in because the situation wasn't that conducive. But what I can assure my fans is that we will be on the cockpit when racing returns, so let's see each other at the start," he says.
Over the years, Izzy has developed a penchant for speeding, something only a handful of other current drivers in his hometown of Mombasa have been able to achieve.
Izhar has posted several top 10 positions, including his fearless and flat-out run at the 2009 Pearl of Africa Uganda Rally — a round of the African Rally Championship — where he managed eighth place alongside veteran Arshad Khan.
A year later, navigated by Farhaaz Khan of ALS Team, he whizzed to second place at the Tanga Rally in Tanzania.
Mirza, then a KNRC Division Two driver, gave eventual winner Randeep Singh Birdi all that he could handle before settling for second place.
"The second place was a relief after the numerous mechanical problems in the KCB KNRC 2010, including the high-speed roll at Meru ASK Showground," he recalls.
Last year, during the Mombasa leg of the KNRC rally, he racked up a career-best third place at the national level navigated by Kavit.
In the same year, Izhar and Kavit have crowned the Coast Club champs in the KNRC category upon winning the last Clubman event in December.
Izzy entered the season opener on KCB Guru Nanak Rally but retired with mechanical gremlins.
He skipped the RVMSC organised event in Nyahururu last year after which the preceding home event was called off due to the global outbreak of the novel coronavirus.
He has teamed up with several leading co-drivers including Zahir Shah, Kashif Sheikh and Khan.
Family of racers
Izhar's story as a rally driver is incomplete without mentioning his family history in the motorsport scene.
His father, Ajaz Mirza, was a former rally driver who participated in various KNRC events before he hang up to focus on managing his sons' careers as the team principal for the Coast Pekee Rally team.
“I would do anything to go back to those rallying days, but it's important to also groom the younger generation of racing. I miss many aspects of it, but one of the biggest things is the fear of not being fast enough, which really fuels my adrenaline," Ajaz says.
Nonetheless, he has not ruled out the possibility of shock comeback to the road to compete against some of the most seasoned drivers.
“Taking part in national events has really given us the rallying bug over the years and the plan is for the team to carry on and do more events. I don’t think you ever lose the skills, but it does take time to get your eye back in,” Ajaz narrates.
His wife, Ruhi Mirza, also had a go in circuit racing and competed in the Autocross Series Championship.
In 2005, she was one of the leading lady drivers in Autocross with an Attacker Buggy.
Ruhi was the first winner of the Best Lady Driver of the Year award in the Kenya Motor Sports Federation gala.
Adil Mirza is a KNRC Division One driver. His started his racing career as a driver when he navigated his dad Ajaz on a KMSC KNRC rally a few years back.
Ali Mirza is the youngest driver in the family who has also built up an erstwhile profile for himself in motorsport.
Ali started his racing career around 2006 with go-karts at Mombasa GP Karting and Solai Racetrack in Nakuru.
On his debut, he drove his dad’s Subaru GC8, which has over the years been synonymous with the Mirzas.
"I used to go spectate and hang around the pits to support my family team members in various disciplines of motorsports. At the time I was too young to participate in either of the disciplines but later on when go-karting became another emerging form of motorsport in the country, I was among the top young drivers. We drove with the likes Tejas Hirani who later became a global star," Ali narrates.
Ali left the country for further studies in the UK and the United States.
Despite the sabbatical leave, he continues to dabble in the sport from time to time.
"I did a couple of autocross events during holidays when I would come back to Kenya and did some Club rallies organised by Mombasa Motor Club. My journey has been an inspiration having had a go at various forms of the sport and getting priceless support from my seniors in the family," he says.
According to Ajaz, the family entanglement with motorsport is not about to end soon.
“After almost 40 years of racing in the family, motorsport is a way of life for us.It’s great to be involved with such a range of motorized vehicles. Our core business which is long distance public bus service has over the years given us the reason to incessantly perform systematic service which also applies to our motor racing affiliation," Ajaz says.
The successes of Izhar this year will undoubtedly rub off on the other members of the family who will be determined to match these achievements.
With this attitude spurring their ambitions, it should not be surprising to hear of the Mirza dynasty when the history of Kenya motorsports is documented.