Growing involvement of women in motorsport welcome

Kenya Motor Sports Federation chairman Phones Kimathi (left) with International Automobile Federation official and former World Rally Championships driver Michelle Mouton at the at Hell's Gate National Park during Mouton’s recent visit to Kenya.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Their target is to reach out for the emerging middle class of woman car owners, recently a constant feature in motorsport-related social functions.
  • They want to convert them into faithful racing enthusiasts. A little help for the Kenyan woman can certainly change the motorsport matrix for the better.

African women have come a long way since Orie Rogo Manduli (then Mary Ondieki) and Sylvia Omino dared men in the 1974 East African Safari in a Colt Lancer as the first African women to attempt the gruelling marathon.

A decade later, Frenchwoman Michelle Mouton left a Kenya Broadcasting Corporation journalist tongue-tied when she answered to his question, live on TV, with a question.

"How does it feel to be a woman in the Safari?" the journalist asked. "How does it feel to be a man?" she responded. Kenyans were amazed, and Mouton became an overnight sensation.

Mouton had taken the world of rallying by storm and, here in Kenya, demonstrated her depth of talent and speed to finish third overall in the all-conquering Audi Quattro behind winner Ari Vatanen (Opel Manta) and teammate Hannu Mikola in 1983. 

She was the previous year’s FIA WRC runner-up in the drivers' championship. She accepted nothing of any favour. She was simply an equal amongst equals.

It took another 10 years for Kenyan women to start appearing in rallying circuits.

Mouton was a very proud person last year when the FIA Women in Motorsport Commission celebrated its first decade of existence with a guaranteed future full of hope for continued growth of gender equality, including the novelty “Girls on Track - Rising Stars” initiative.

“Girls on Track - Rising Stars” is a global talent competition for the 14 to 16 year-olds aimed at putting girls in a Formula One car in the near future. Students from the bottom of the pyramid aim to reach the apex.

This is a dream come true for the FIA commission set up in 2011 by FIA President Jean Todt and which appointed Mouton to inspire women and offer direction for them to compete and play administrative and technical roles. The influence of Mouton continues to be felt far and wide.

But what has this impacted on Kenyans? The last 10 years saw a tremendous presence of women in rally sport either as competitors or officials. In the 70s and 80s, Anne Teith and Sylvia King gave women hope in this mixed gender sport.

In the 90s, Michelle Van Tongaren, Safina Hussein, Carol Wahome, Margaret Wangui, Gillian Web and Syan Sagoo, among others, developed the women's agenda with zeal.

As the world celebrates the first FIA Women in Motorsport Decade, it is instructional to single out several lighting figures, led by the WRC Safari Rally Event Secretary Helen Shiri who was voted the FIA Secretary of 2018.

The FIA noted Shiri's contribution to growing rallying in the last five years after being forced from competition by economic constraints.

She took up an unpaid job of serving as the secretary of Rallye Sport Club and has always volunteered for many tasks.

Shiri has been trained in Africa and Europe and given the onus of serving in the WRC Safari Rally Project Event Secretary's docket since 2017, a task she has performed with admirable zeal.

Tuta Mionki developed as a leading co-driver, guiding Eric Bengi to a career best fifth overall in the 2018 Africa Championship Safari Rally. She was justifiably voted 2018 Kenya Motorsport Personality of the year.

These ladies have strived to make Motorsport in Women (WIM) Kenya a structured institution and, despite financial challenges, or lack of support, they have together with their peers offered tremendous input to motorsport’s sustainability either as volunteer technical officials or drivers.

Their target is to reach out for the emerging middle class of woman car owners, recently a constant feature in motorsport-related social functions.

They want to convert them into faithful racing enthusiasts. A little help for the Kenyan woman can certainly change the motorsport matrix for the better.

njengap@gmail.com

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