Rai investments in Kenyan motorsports paying off dividends

Onkar Rai, navigated by Stuart Loudon, races his Volkswagen Polo through a dusty patch in Kajiado during the KCB Guru Nanak Rally on February 9, 2020.

Photo credit: Sila Kiplagat | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • The Rai team appreciates the power of advertising in a highly competitive sport, with other strong motorsports supporters including Multiple Hauliers who sponsor multiple Africa champion Manvir Baryan.
  • Unfortunately, other drivers survive on a shoe-string budgets, although this could change soon with corporates expected to loosen their purse strings following the return of the Safari Rally to the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) next year.

Eldoret is fondly known as the “City of Champions,” largely due to the collection of world-conquering track and field athletes living therein.

From 1968 Mexico Olympics 1,500 metres gold medallist Kipchoge Keino to 2019 World Championships’ steeplechase gold medallist Conseslus Kipruto, many Kenya’s world beaters call Eldoret home.

But away from athletics, motorsport has always had a strong presence in Eldoret since the Rai family established a paper factory, Raiply, in town over five decades ago.

Today, the Rai family continues its love affair with motorsport through normal calendar events and the classic rally, thanks to the magnanimity of Jassy Rai who fields a five-car team with a budget of over Sh200 million annually.

The team leader is former national champion Baldev Chager, who has consistently flown the Kabras Sugar livery.

His other team mates are Rai’s siblings - Onkar and Tajveer.

National Champion Carl Tundo is sponsored by another Rai concern, the Nakuru-based Top Fry of Menengai Oil, while leading top Africa driver Eric Benji is supported by Menengai Creams, yet another Rai product.

The Kabras team had lent credence to the national championship which has been affected by the economic downturn following the departure of top corporate sponsors over two decades ago.

The Kabras team means business with a fully-fledged workshop in Nakuru with drivers encouraged to freely compete against each other.

They have in the past been coached by a top professional from Europe and in return for their investment, the national and East Africa Classic Safari Rally have become their preserve.

The journey of the Rais started in 1980 when Iqbal Rai, navigated by R.S. Lochab, yet another Eldoret product, finished 21st in the 1980 Marlboro Safari Rally aboard a Porsche 911 SC.

The pair repeated driving a Datsun 710 Violet, finishing in the same position two years later. Soon Sarbi Rai came of age and is revered as a sporting icon in Eldoret, having sampled the best cars of the 80s through the 90s, like the Opel Ascona and Toyota Celica, then navigated mainly by Supi Soin.

The Kabras team is now looking forward to measuring itself against the best in the world in the World Rally Championship’s Formula Two category, since the top teams don’t sell their world rally cars to allow the Kenyan outfit take them head-on.

The Rai team appreciates the power of advertising in a highly competitive sport, with other strong motorsports supporters including Multiple Hauliers who sponsor multiple Africa champion Manvir Baryan.

Unfortunately, other drivers survive on a shoe-string budgets, although this could change soon with corporates expected to loosen their purse strings following the return of the Safari Rally to the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) next year.

Meanwhile, the WRC action is in Turkey this weekend in conditions similar to the revered Kenyan Safari Rally.
Estonia a week ago saw world champion Ott Tanak give Hyundai i20 valuable WRC points.  

In Turkey, tyres will play an important role on the rough roads and the rocky sections test suspensions to the limit.

Temperatures are estimated to rise to over 30 degrees Celcius.

Multiple world champion Sebastien Loeb was the first to try the i20 World Rally Car on Monday.

He was followed by Thierry Neuville and Ott Tanak in an all-out war to consolidate the drivers’ title and close the five-points gap on Toyota.

All three drivers completed their pre-event tests in a car which has evolved considerably since its last rough outing in Mexico in March.

Toyota Gazoo Racing completed its preparations early this week ahead of the shakedown today while M-Sport Ford decided to skip testing altogether.

The WRC resumed this month in a season which has forced many countries, including Kenya, to cancel or postpone their events.

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