How State sponsorship is changing fortunes for women in motorsport

By Samson Ateka

Motorsports have traditionally been a male-dominated field, but since the return of the WRC Safari Rally to the global calendar, more and more women are participating.

For a long time, there was little support from within the organizations for women in motorsport. However, in 2023, the Government through the Ministry of Sports launched an exciting initiative at supporting women in motor sports.

In June 2022, Safari Rally star Maxine Wahome made history after winning the WRC3 Category in Naivasha, making her the first Kenyan woman to win a WRC support category. The win earned her world recognition and accolades from world champions, including Formula 1 legend Lewis Hamilton.

The 2023 Safari Rally featured a four all-women crew team sponsored by the Government of Kenya through Talanta Hela, and it was the first time in many years that more women have savored the opportunity to showcase their skills in the top-flight motorsport world.

And for the first time ever in the history of Safari, the sport featured a mother and daughter crew of Caroline and Tinashe Gatimu behind the wheel of a Mitsubishi Lancer.

Other all-women’s crews who participated in this year’s Safari Rally include tarmac racer Jennifer Ayetsa/Wangui Mungai (aka Kui Qui), Pauline Sheghu/Linet Ayuko and former KNRC Division 3 Champions Natasha Tundo and Chantal Young in a Subaru.

Of the four Safari drivers, Natasha is the most experienced. The daughter of Frank Tundo and sister to Carl Tundo became the second-ever woman navigator after Sylvia King to win a round of the KNRC on Guru Nanak Rally when she guided her brother to victory.

Asked what keeps her going, Natasha explained, “I think the love of the sport, and I love the fact that I have a lady next to me. And this year there are eight of us competing in the Safari, which is really exciting; the government put their initiative together, and it’s awesome we have a team of eight girls. And for some, it’s a first-time experience, and they are doing really well; I mean, it’s hard running behind the big boys.”

Natasha went on: “The camaraderie we have, we all have each other’s backs. It is a male-dominated sport. And the more women we can get, the better. It’s amazing to see a mother and daughter entry. This is Tinashe’s first long rally, and she’s keeping up. We thank Talanta Hela for this amazing initiative of bringing us ladies in.”

For Caroline, the experience of swapping seats and indeed calling pace-notes for her daughter Tinashe has been awesome.

Caroline said, “It’s pretty interesting reading notes for the first time knowing that one wrong note and you are out of the running. Tinashe is not faster than me but faster than I expected, and being her first time to drive, we were cautious on corners; the idea was just to take the car home.”

Tinashe started following her rally-crazy parents since childhood. At age of 16, she got into autocross. A year later, she graduated to a 2WD Toyota Levin.

“So now with the chance that we have gotten to drive in the Safari Rally, we just agreed amongst ourselves that let’s drive for visibility and seat time,” Caroline remarked, adding: “For the future, in a year or two, when she is done with school, we would like her (Tinashe) to at least see her do the WRC3.”

For Tinashe, it’s a critical balancing act between academics and racing: “When it’s time for school, it’s time for school, and when it’s rallying, it’s rallying. Hopefully, I will be able to join the Junior WRC in the future and maybe move on to the WRC Rally 1 hybrid cars.”

Tarmac racer turned gravel driver Ayietsa says the WRC rally was a learning moment.

Ayiesta said, “We did well; we tried. Safari Rally is challenging, but I also do the RX Rallycross which has really helped my driving skills. For tarmac, it’s a totally different ball game. It is flat out, but in rallying, there are so many corners.”

Ateka is the Kenya Motor Sports Federation media liaisons officer

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