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Retire? I’m too young for that, says 63-year-old rally legend Azar

Azar Anwar did his first Safari Rally in 1981 and has since graced many of these events with zest and vigor, winning the 2006 edition outright with George Mwangi and clinching the KNRC championship thrice in 1998, 2005 and 2006.

His litany of achievements was being declared the bicycle race champion in school, partaking in some marathon races and clinching the boxing featherweight title during his hey-day in university and winning the Eldoret Rally outright at the age of 57 in 2011.

His father drove in the first Safari Rally while his uncle raced on motorbikes at “Langa Langa” just before he was born. But tragedy struck Azar’s family when his uncle died due to a practice accident. In a bid to overcome the loss, his father took their family to Arusha, Tanzania and shut them off from motorsports, yet racing was flowing in his blood!

Azar attended primary education in Arusha, secondary in Nakuru and finally ended his successful academic journey at the University of Nairobi where he graduated with a Mechanical Engineering under graduate degree.

Some of the navigators who helped him succeed in his long-standing racing career were Nadir Sunderjee, Raj Burmi, Zain Essajee, Kent Singh, Hassan Sidi, Tim Davies, Farakh Yusuf, Dave Macharia, Surinder Thatthi, Shailen Shah, Jamil Khan, Ian Street, Kul Sandhu, Arshad Khan, Abdul Sidi, Tom Muriuki, Dan Maxwell, Frank Gitau, Imran Khan, Tej Sehmi, George Mwangi and Julius Ngige who is his current navigator.

Azar has always tried to promote and train everyone who joined their team or approached him for help. Some of the top technicians currently building Kenyan champions started their careers as team members of Aztek Motorsports, Azar’s brainchild.

“Jaspal Ubhi made Rory Green champion, Mike Mwangi built Lee Rose’s championship winning contraptions, Peter Mburu made Charles Hinga who he is today while Charan Thetty made Leo Varese, the double 2WD Champion,” remarked Azar.

Azar has had so many exciting and memorable seasons. In 1995, he came face to face with international fame with the unheard of Daewoo. In 1998, the never-say-never “mzee wa kazi” became first -ever winner of both KNRC and Group N in one single season.

Azar won back-to-back KNRC championships in 2005 and 2006 just when others had written him off and expected him to be retiring. We talked to the rallying legend on wide ranging motoring issues and this is what he had to say:

How have you manage to defy age against youngsters?

Age?? What age? It’s only a number. After all, I only won my first KMSC Championship recently in 1977. I love motorsport and hope that I can continue competing for many more years and inspire and help many more newcomers in the sport. When do you plan to hang up your helmet? I hope I will still be wearing it and racing till you guys finally bury me.

What’s your ultimate goal in racing?

That’s a hard one. But I must admit that God has blessed me with all my dreams already. Racing in my Mitsubishi Evolution, being champion many times, winning the Safari Rally with George Mwangi, building so many successful competition vehicles, nurturing new talent and helping so many newcomers into the sport. Also having a very supportive family. Having so many great friends, fans and supporters ……what else can I ask for?

What has kept you going all along?

I guess it’s because I made motorsport the centre of my life even when family resources were so small, it was an impossible dream yet we struggled and persevered so I learnt to make the best of what I had. My policy has been to conserve the car and try to drive better in any conditions. Also never to make excuses for mistakes or failure.

How would you describe your victory in Kipeto and the season so far?

It’s quite a good feeling considering the fact that year the Kenya National Autocross Championship has become more competitive than 2016, especially the “4wd turbo class” which allows rally cars, buggies as well as purpose built specials like Ray Racing lightweight unrestricted monster Subaru. I managed to win in Nanyuki by less than two seconds from Rehan Shah in the last heat.

My style is careful driving and conserving my rally car which is ideal for marathon events. Unfortunately, this puts me at disadvantage in autocross which requires flamboyant sprint attack to win.

Secondly, my car has been tuned for KNRC with a turbo restrictor which limits power. To be competitive, I need a budget to get new unrestricted turbo plus engine upgrade. Being unsponsored, it’s going to be difficult!

Which KNRC win would you describe as the most memorable?

Every win is special in its own way. The first one in 1998 was using an accident, write-off Legacy family car which we repaired and converted into group N. Then in 2005, there was the controversy of who won due to points going to the late Riaz Kurji. In 2006, I had no main sponsor and missed two events yet I won.

Did your victory in Eldoret a few years ago come to you as a surprise?

The KCB KNRC has become very competitive and top positions are usually separated by seconds. Rally stages and competitive distances have become short and now we are compelled to race for split seconds.

Those with superior machines, costly performance parts, special fuel etc obviously have a better chance. Therefore, we were very happy to win against faster cars in Eldoret. For Eldoret, we spent lots of money getting new rims plus tyres as well as upgrading suspensions to latest specs and I’m glad we had the last laugh.

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