RALLY IS THE LOVE OF MY LIFE

Sachania puts spine injury behind to chase WRC Safari Rally

He will be lining up alongside his partner Deep Patel as he looks to write yet another incredible story.

In Summary

•The Kenya Motorsport Personality of the year 2014 is now a beneficiary of the FIA Disability and Accessibility Commission grant and KCB Bank’s commitment to championing inclusivity in sports.

•Nikhil and his able-bodied partner Deep Patel will form part of the KCB drivers’ lineup Mitsubishi EvoX two-car for the upcoming WRC Safari Rally Kenya alongside Evans Kavisi and Absalom Aswani.

Nikhil Sachania (right) and navigator Deep Patel pose for a photo during the sponsorship launch.
Nikhil Sachania (right) and navigator Deep Patel pose for a photo during the sponsorship launch.
Image: HANDOUT

September 2011 will forever remain etched in Nikhil Sachania’s mind. 

Sachania was testing his new quad bike in Athi River, trying to get ready for his would-be first national event when the unexpected happened.

He hit a rock at high speed and landed head first. The impact shattered his spine!

Fast forward to 2022, Sachania has put the injury behind him to live his dreams at the World Rally Championship Safari Rally this weekend.

He will be lining up alongside his partner Deep Patel as he looks to write yet another incredible story.

“My rallying career only started in 2014; the accident had happened but I had been involved in motorsport for a number of years. My dad used to be a rally driver, so from a young age... I have had exposure to rallying and vehicles of the sort,” he says.

“I started doing a lot of RC racing in the school of go-karting. When I came back from university, I did a lot of 4x4 challenges before stepping into quad bike racing. Unfortunately, during a training rally, I had an accident which left me confined to a wheelchair — after I broke my spine.”

You would wonder what brought Sachania back to a sport that almost claimed his life.

“I don’t know, that’s a crazy question,” he jokingly answers amid a chuckle.

KCB Group CEO Paul Russo officially unveils paraplegic driver Nikhil Sachania into the bank's racing stable.
KCB Group CEO Paul Russo officially unveils paraplegic driver Nikhil Sachania into the bank's racing stable.
Image: HANDOUT

“I have always wanted to be a rally driver and I didn't want the accident to end my dreams. After the accident, I did some real soul-searching and discovered that my heart lies in rallying. I found several people who’ve done rallying and that encouraged me to get into a rally car and drive. I’ve proved that now and again,” he says.

“I managed to search a lot of stuff on the internet, looking for people in my condition who are able to race, let alone rallying. So, with that inspiration and motivation, I managed to convince my family to put me back in a race car.”

“The first three months were the hardest since I had also broken my left hand. Getting around was very tough and frustrating. But once I got back, everything was back to normal — working the next day and partying over the weekends!”

The 2014 Motorsport Personality of the Year is now a beneficiary of the FIA Disability and Accessibility Commission grant and KCB Bank’s commitment to championing inclusivity in sports.

Nikhil Sachania during a past event
Nikhil Sachania during a past event
Image: REUTERS

“The disability and accessibility commission approached me in 2021. I wanted to get behind control validated by the FIA to make sure they are safe enough to be used in an FIA-sanctioned event," he says.

"They flew to Kenya and gave me a grant based on the car that we have and what we are trying to achieve. They gave me a racing fuel tank, fire suppression kit and overalls to make sure we are able to enter the event safely.”

Nikhil and his able-bodied partner, Patel, form part of the KCB drivers’ two-car Mitsubishi EvoX lineup for the ongoing WRC Safari Rally Kenya alongside Evans Kavisi and Absalom Aswani.

“Obviously for the WRC, we hope to finish the race, maybe inside top 20 and mainly... to enjoy ourselves. We are very grateful to KCB for this sponsorship. In the upcoming events for the national rounds, we’ll do a few selected races depending on how we perform at the WRC and then maybe we do a few international events in the form of the African championship.

On how he manages to drive a rallying car despite his condition, the 2014/2015 Motorsports Personality of the Year says: “I do get a slight disadvantage, especially in sharp corners like the one in Karen that’s very narrow and tight. In those parts of the stages, I might be slightly slower than your average driver because there’s a lot of strain on the wheel because I’m pressing the accelerator and pressing the brake hole at the same time.”

“My arms get strained a bit but that’s part of the training. I have to make sure that I am working out, eating right and making sure my mind is clear. I also have to listen to the navigator to make sure I know what he is saying and what’s coming up.”

Rally driver Nikhil Sachania
Rally driver Nikhil Sachania
Image: FILE

Nikhil’s first race car (a Mitsubishi Challenger 3ltr V6) was acquired locally and built by his first co-driver Charan Singh.

The return of the WRC Safari Rally came as good news to the 2014 KNRC SPV Champion, who made his debut at Eldama Ravine Rally 2014.

“I was very excited to learn that the Safari Rally is coming back. It’s a dream to do a world-renowned event, especially in Kenya. We know the name Safari has a different charm. When it was announced, I was very excited and I made sure my car was adhering to all the regulations required to race,” he reveals.

Sachania, whose cars are hand-controlled with a simple push and pull lever mechanism, encourages those in his condition not to give up, but rather pursue their rallying dreams.

“We have a big facility here right now with the WRC offices here. The FIA offices are also here so it’s a matter of approaching them and I’m sure they are able to guide as they guided me on how to make sure that the car is ready to race," he offers.

"There are procedures you need to follow to make sure that the car is ready to go or even if you want to go go-karting it’s all through the Kenya Motorsport Federation,” concluded Sachania.

Disability is not inability and indeed Sachania is a living embodiment of the incredible spirit of motorsport.