Vrrrooom! Off to success

Photo credit: Pool

What you need to know:

  • Jeremiah Wahome started doing motorsport at the age of seven.

  • Jeremiah competed in Formula racing in 2016, 2017 and 2018. He raced in Formula Three, which is the third tier of Formula racing, which is below Formula One and Formula Two. 

  • He left Formula racing when doors opened in car racing in 2021 through the International Automobile Federation (FIA) Rally Star programme. 

Rally driver Jeremiah Wahome began competing in motorsport at the age of seven. He started kart racing just for fun at Carnivore in Nairobi.The former swimmer, who is also into golf, has featured in 12 rallies since he joined car racing in 2021.

“I grew up watching and admiring British Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton. That was around 2007 when he had just come into Formula One and was gunning for the championship.

Hamilton lost by one point in his first year and won it by one point in his second. The more I got to watch him race, the more I loved the sport. I particularly admired how he overtook other drivers, and how tactical and calculated he was in his moves. I really wanted to be like him.

That’s how I chose to start competing at Formula Three level. The experience is completely different from the rally racing I’m doing now because Formula racing is staged exclusively on tarmac. The cars are very different in that they are more powerful, and half the weight of a rally car. Where a Formula E car weighs 400-500 kilograms, a rally car weighs 1,200 kilos, so the Formula car is half the weight, with the same amount of power, meaning they are much faster.

Also, Formula drivers get to race against other drivers on the same track, so the dynamics are very different from rallying, which I enjoyed. It felt very nice to overtake and defend while on the racing track.

Initially, my goal was to get to Formula One. Now, that ambition has shifted slightly. The opportunity to be part of the FIA Rally Star programme came by and I did not feel like it was an opportunity to pass. Rally racing is what I have decided to focus on now. 

For inspiration, I look up to Kalle Rovanpera. He came to the World Rally Championship just a few years ago yet he is handling the pressure really well. At 22, he has already won a championship. He is so quick on every surface and good at overcoming obstacles. He challenges me to be faster, braver and more aggressive as a young champion.

Everywhere I go, young people ask me whether I make money out of this sport. The answer is that most rally drivers are not making a lot of money, they just get funding from sponsors.  

Luckily, the rally space is quite big, so there are a lot of opportunities. There are the obvious jobs like mechanics and engineering, but you can also own a team or a service centre, or become part of the service crew, media, social media and live streaming team. 

Drivers don’t earn a salary from the sponsors so there’s not much they take home unless it is a prize package which is quite rare in Kenya. And most of that money goes into servicing and maintaining the car anyway. 

We just have to find ways of attracting investors into the sport. If you look at who is left in the sport, it’s either those who have managed to secure a big sponsor or those who can afford to sponsor themselves. And not every driver can afford that.
Another big problem is lack of awareness. When there is no coverage and people don’t follow and watch the races, sponsors shy away. They don’t want to be involved in something that nobody is paying attention to. It will become a lucrative business if there are more eyeballs following. 

My lowest moment so far was during the Ugandan leg of the ARC last year. I made a mistake by hitting the brakes too late over the mud and I slid off and retired from the rally. But I don’t really consider it my worst moment because I learnt my lessons. In 2021 I had an accident in Mombasa during KCB Ramisi Rally. It was quite big and it was also my first time to roll over. We rolled a few times and hit a house. It was a demonstration of God’s mercy and goodness. He kept me and my co-driver, Victor Okundi, safe. We are so grateful for how that moment played out. We walked away without a scratch.

My best moment came during the WRC Safari Rally in 2022. I retired from the race on Friday, so on Saturday, I really did not have much to lose. I was just charging, but I wasn’t taking risks. I didn’t have to be too careful. I just enjoyed myself. I also really enjoyed the Mountain Gorilla Rally in Rwanda in September last year because it is a very challenging course, unlike any I had done before. On day two, I was really struggling with the car and confidence but by the third day, I was able to push the car a lot more. I am having so much fun and enjoying my time. I have grown so much within such a short time, which is encouraging.

My dream now is to win the 2023 Equator Rally. Last year I did not finish after my car developed mechanical failure in the second last stage. I also want to keep winning for the rest of the season. I haven’t thought too much about my long term goal. I just want to take each day at a time. I will keep looking for more competitions in Kenya, Africa, Europe or wherever. I don’t want to be so obsessed with competing, I want to just enjoy every rally I get to compete in.

There are not many people advising aspiring rally drivers, so I would tell any young driver that there are many ways to get into this field, whether it’s attending the rallies, working closely with the team or doing apprenticeship as a mechanic or volunteer. There are a lot of ways to get involved. There’s autocross and smaller championships that people can attend to perfect their skills. The more you get involved, the more familiar racing gets. Just polish your skills with what you have in your hands at the moment, and the opportunities will keep coming.