What you need to know:
- A lover of cars, Pauline, who is well-known in the media circles, ventured into motorsports in 2006 and has not engaged the reverse gear yet. She, however, took a break and returned last year to shift a gear higher from where she left. Where is her drive likely to lead her?
“My daughter, go and do your best and do not be intimidated. I know they are men but, the cars do not know that. Cars only know the driver.”
Pauline Sheghu clearly remembers these words from her late father as if it were just yesterday, when she told him about her intention to become a rally driver. The mother of one ventured into motorsport over two decades ago and has never looked back.
A “she of all trades” as she likes to describe herself, Pauline is not only a motor rally driver but is also a communication expert with more than 10 years of experience, a news anchor, a mentor and a navigator.
She is the co-founder of Chui Racing Team and one of the most sought-after female motorsport drivers in Kenya.
Pauline made a magnificent debut when she participated in 2011 and became the only female driver to complete the whole course in a Kenya National Rally Championship competition.
She draws her inspiration from Orie Rogo Manduli, a pioneer who participated in the East African Safari Rally in 1974. Manduli, a colourful politician who died last year, was a gutsy pioneering Kenyan female rally driver.
“If there is one person I sincerely appreciate to date is Manduli. She really inspired me in this sport. She is the one who flagged me off during my take-off at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre podium and told me to make sure I complete the race and make Kenya and indeed African women proud,” she reminisces.
Her adventurous voyage into the uncharted waters of the male-dominated arena began way back in 2004 with GP-Karting.
Two years later in 2006, she graduated into motorsports and participated in many motorsport races for six years. She later went on a sabbatical leave until 2021 and only returned recently to continue doing what she loves best.
Just looking at her, meticulously donned in her motorsports gear and covered from head to toe, it is evident that there is no other place that she would rather be.
She exudes the confidence and demeanour of a sports lady who is fascinated by lightning speed, acceleration and the bellowing of the engine when a car springs to life.
“Yes, rallying is my passion. For me, I look beyond money. I enjoy it when I am behind the wheel. It makes me happy,” she quips with a delightful smile.
“If I am not driving, I navigate my partner in the Chui Racing Team, Lisa Christofferesen. Those are just a few of what I do,” she says.
With her sheer ebullience when she speaks about motor racing, one would be forgiven to think that this is all she ever wanted to do from a young age. Nothing could be further from the truth. It was purely by chance, as she fills us in.
“Did I ever dream of becoming a rally driver? No. I became a rally driver by luck, or let me just say an opportunity presented itself and I said, ‘Pauline, you can try this out! You got this,’” she says.
The second born among nine children was fortunate to have supportive parents, especially her late father who cheered her on.
“I was lucky to have the most supportive parents who are also my number one role models. They both encouraged me 100 per cent. Perhaps they saw something in me which I never knew,” she recalls with nostalgia.
“My late dad was the one who encouraged me to accept the opportunity and take part in the inter- media rally,” she adds.
The competition was started by the late motorsports superstar Ben Muchemi fondly referred to as “Baba Shiro” by motor rally aficionados.
“He was a very supportive trainer and sponsor. He was a good friend indeed.”
As a young girl who was raised both in Nairobi and Kisumu, the master’s degree holder aspired to be a journalist, a dream which came true eventually.
“We are nine siblings: four boys and five girls. I was born in Nairobi and went to school in Kisumu. The reason is because my late dad was a government officer hence the transfers left right centre. My mother decided that we should just stay in Kisumu because of education disruptions,” she says.
“Among my siblings, I am the most adventurous and the risk-taker. I grew up knowing nothing is impossible. Growing up, I always desired to be a journalist or a broadcaster, but as fate would have it, we are here now. Doing what we love,” she remarks cheerfully.
Probably, it is her daredevil attitude and willingness to grab opportunities that unleashed her hidden prowess in motor racing, dispelling all misconceptions and stereotypes.
“I did not see any difference between driving my normal car and the rally cars, save for the speed and some other features. But generally, I did not have any hard time. I love manual cars. In fact, I can say motorsport is one of the safest sports,” she reveals.
According to Pauline, having an expert navigator with whom you blend well with is the key to success in motor rallying.
She has nothing but praise for her navigator, Kimaru Kipchilat.
“I have the best navigator. We clicked instantly. In motor rally sport, the two of you must have a good professional chemistry. Otherwise you will end up fighting and insulting each other in the car because he or she did not do the right thing. Nevertheless, it is a fun and enjoyable sport,” she offers.
Contrary to the widespread notion that motor rallying is a risky sport and a preserve for men, she is persuaded otherwise, rebuffing it as lack of exposure.
“People consider this as a male dominated sport but I think they have not seen or heard of what women are doing out there. We have ladies participating in motor sport rallying, Formula 1, to mention but a few. I think it is only here where we have termed motor racing as a male sport,” she says.
Pauline is, however, full of optimism and elated that such misconceptions are steadily waning and women are increasingly embracing the sport.
Further, she disputes the impression that men and women have to be bitter rivals while competing or working together in sectors indigenously taken as men’s haven.
“Remember, we drive for change and I would love to see more women taking part in the motorsport world. I enjoy the team spirit and support from the men also in the motor sport. Without them, I would not be rallying. So, I salute them,” she says.
She mentions Lisa Christoffersen, the founder of the Lioness Rally team, which participated in this year’s Safari Rally in June, as one of the notable game changers in the female motor rally drivers in Kenya.
The seasoned motorsports driver gives tribute to Lisa for pioneering the All-Women Rally Competition, a move that played a major role in breaking the bias.
The one-of-a-kind event which took place at the Kasarani stadium saw hundreds of spectators throng the facility to watch women showcase their expertise behind the wheel.
“I am glad that a number of ladies are coming out to join in this sport; the likes of Lisa who is currently rallying under the Chui racing team. This lovely lady changed the game by creating a platform where women can come and participate in motor racing,” she says.
Despite her enviable accomplishments, Pauline’s journey has not been without hitches.
While admitting that motor racing can actually be a risky sport, she notes that the need to have appropriate and adequate safety measures cannot be overemphasised.
“It is a risky sport, yes, but we have safety measures. Most of the risks are always curbed by the measures we take as drivers. The cars also undergo scrutineering checks as a safety measure,” she says.
Another obstacle – and probably the greatest – is finances. She says motorsport is an extremely expensive affair which requires a substantial amount of financial investment.
“There are many challenges, sometimes financial. As you know, rallying requires money. Sometimes we lack funds to pay for different rallying competitions and this sometimes limits us from participating and building our rallying skills,” she says.
“Another challenge is that I belong to the Chui Racing Team as one of the founders. We do not have cars of our own and therefore we have to rely on sponsors to fund us. We have to hire some of the rally cars and other expenses to enable us to compete effectively, which is extremely expensive,” adds Pauline.
Always one who prefers to focus on the silver lining, she is full of gratitude to those, be it in individual capacity or corporates, who have facilitated their strides so far.
She passionately appeals to sponsors to “have faith in women in the motorsports field”.
“But with all these challenges, we have managed to participate in many competitions, thanks to our sponsors who have always supported us. We use the funds to facilitate our participation to cater for car hire, car service and crew, fuelling, accommodation, among others. Without these sponsors, we would not be where we are. Honestly, motor rally sports are extremely expensive. My request to sponsors is to believe in women in the field.”
She readily mentions her family and friends as her greatest support system who inspire her to aim for even greater heights.
“My child likes what I do. He is my number one supporter. Sometimes when I participate in some competitions, I tag him along to see what mama does. He enjoys it a lot. On whether I would like him to follow my steps, it all depends on if that is what he likes. He has my support 24/7. As for my family and friends they are very supportive and for that I am grateful,” she says.
For a person who has several tasking responsibilities which all require her maximum attention, Pauline has mastered the art of managing her time including having adequate personal time.
Even more intriguing, she has leant to separate her personal life, professional life and extra activities to ensure that no part is neglected.
“I have time for everything and for everyone in my life. I know when I should be working, when to be rallying, when to rest and meditate and when to perform my role as a mother, a sibling and a friend. Generally, I can say, my life is well-balanced. I respect my time and make sure I spend it wisely,” she offers.
While she urges more women to join motorsport, Pauline reiterates the importance of being resolute and having strategic goals for women who would like to venture into motorsport or any other profession.
“What keeps me going? I have goals to achieve. I have paces to set and standards to set. I am motivated by my desire to be the best version of myself each day. To inspire others and impact positively others,” she offers.
She adds: “My advice to women is go do it! Nothing is impossible. Jim Rohn once said: ‘If you are not willing to risk the unusual, you will settle for the ordinary.’”
According to Pauline, the major obstacle remains lack of sponsorship despite having many qualified professional female motor rally drivers.
This is aggravated by the fact that most local investors are still reluctant to vouch for women in the sport largely considered to be a male domain.
“The government should support women in motorsport. We have platforms but no sponsors. As I have said, rally sport is expensive, but if we have full support from the government, I am sure many women will come out and join us,” says Pauline. “What a man can do, a woman can do better. Believe in us. We do not disappoint.”
“We have qualified women ready to participate in these rallies, very passionate about it too. But one key problem is sponsorship and support. I call upon able sponsors – that is government, private sectors and corporates – to please come support us. You can reach us through the Chui Racing Team for more information on sponsorship requests. We are members of the Kenya Racing Team Club. Please, we need your support to help women in motorsport,” adds Pauline.