While most Kenyan children grapple with initial bicycle lessons as early as eight, a unique group of young boys and girls may well have discerningly dispensed with their two wheel contraptions and busy driving trucks at some rough terrain in the countryside. It still puzzles many why most successful rally drivers have a farming background.
Former world rally champion Petter Solberg is not the red-faced sort of farmer, the kind who angrily orders trespassers off their land in Oslo. Like his former 2001 Subaru teammate and former World Champion, the late Richard Burns, Petter started his driving career at the same age and in similar fashion, when most children were getting to terms with their first bicycles.
From eight years old he was driving cars on the fields around his parent’s farm in Spydeberg, 50 km east of Oslo. Petter’s parents were both keen rally-cross drivers, and naturally Petter and his elder brother Henning inherited their fascination with cars.
The then 11-year-old Petter helped his parents build and maintain their autocross cars. Still far too young to compete himself, Petter raced radio-controlled cars and was Norwegian Champion at 13.
Likewise in Kenya, it’s a similar success story of careers honed from a family line of exquisite rally drivers. It’s most certain that the young and perhaps the older generation of rallying and motocross aces in Kenya trace their roots from similar backgrounds.
The legendary Shekhar Mehta, winner of four WRC Safari rallies and former president of WRC Rallies Commission in the world motor sports governing body (FIA), renowned as a master of wet and slippery terrain honed his skills in the family farm fields.
Otto Ulyatte, Kenya’s 2003 African motocross champion sharpened his skills at their farm in Narok District after being inspired by his father, Robin Ulyatte who raced for Toyota works team in the Safari Rally.
Four-time Safari Rally winner Carl Tundo (current Safari Classic champion) and 2003 and 2003 Kenya champion Lee Rose (who relocated from Gicheha Farm to Nelspruit, near the South Africa-Mozambique border) have inspiring and interesting second generation farming backgrounds.
Rose’s and Tundo’s fathers, Frank Tundo and John Rose were wheat farmers in Nakuru and reputable rally drivers who had a feel of the works team cars when the country was blessed with world-beaters in the World Rally Championship Safari Rally.
In fact, Rose and Tundo senior can boast of having seen rallying technology morph through different guises. Local rally farmers sometimes fondly referred to as the “bush drivers” have dominated the local rallying scene for many years-and this goes without saying. Majority of Kenyan drivers who won the national Championship possessed some sort of bush connection.
Limuru horticultural farmer, Rory Green, won the Kenya National Rally Championship (KNRC) title twice in succession in 2001 and 2002 before Lee Rose took over the reins in 2003 and 2004.
Rory Green’s Subaru Impreza, then christened ‘The Flying Sausage’ reigned terror to local drivers. Timau-based agricultural engineer, Peirs Daykin has won the KBRC navigators’ title twice while calling the notes for Lee.
Lee Rose who leant the ropes at a tender age in Narok told us back then: “Farmers do a lot of driving on gravel roads due to the nature of their business. I started riding bikes when I was 11 and even won the national motocross championship twice in succession in the early 80s. The feat earned me the motors sportsman of the year award around the same time.”
Mehta perfected his driving skills at their family’s sugar plantation farm in Jinja, Uganda and was untouchable by the time he migrated from Uganda to Kenya in 1973. His migration was occasioned by former Ugandan dictator, the late Idi Amin’s decision to kick out all people of Asian origin out of Uganda.
But the relocation turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as he went on to win the 1973 Safari Rally, which had just been elevated to world status. Azar Anwar who has won the KNRC thrice in 1998, 2005 and 2006 also has the farm connection.
Despite being automotive engineer, Anwar was brought up in Narok where his father farmed for the better part of his schooldays. But Azar didn’t follow in his father’s footsteps.
He ended up in cars. But asked about the aspect of rallying farmers who have continued to call the shots on the local scene, Azar concurs with the fact that they have had an edge by virtue of the atmosphere they were brought up in. The bush affiliation will be an interesting feature when the KNRC begins in the home of farming champions.