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Motorsport musings

October 2013 Volume 2 - Rally Queens get a "Porsche" upgrade!

(If you read the title above in an upper class accent it will read Rally Queens get a posh upgrade!!!)

kisumu rallyI've been working with Samira Khan ever since her first ever rally as a driver, the Kisumu Rally of 2011. "Who is Samira" you might ask? She's the niece of Aslam and Ashad Khan, CEO's of top Kenyan aviation company ALS. Samira is also a pretty talented pilot in her own right, working the long haul routes as a First Officer on a Boeing 767 for Kenya Airways, the Pride of Africa! Whilst Samira might spend her work days with her head in the clouds, in her spare time this young lady loves nothing better than traversing the African countryside as fast as possible in a rally car!

Yvonne MehtaWhen we first met Samira had just taken on the daunting (and some said insane) challenge of competing on the world famous East African Classic Safari Rally. The reason this adventure seemed to border on insanity was that, with only three months to go, she had never even driven a rally car! Sure Samira had codriven Aslam a few times but that had been on relatively short one day events. Now she was gearing up for a nine day marathon and had twelve weeks to learn to drive the car, find a codriver and team and then, as if all of that wasn't difficult enough for someone with a full time job, she also had the seemingly impossible task of finding the US$40 000,00 necessary to finance the project!

2011 ClassicThis is where I came in to help. Samira had done her first rally with a lot of help from ALS but from here on she was on her own. I helped her find a team, MMSport, who had experience of running classic cars, and then roped in a friend, Anita Irwin, to codrive. The pair did well on their first rally together, the Guru Nanak Rally, and scored a podium finish despite only one day of testing before! MMport then stripped the ex Michele Mouton Ford Escort Mk1 and totally rebuilt it for the Classic Safari. Just weeks before the rally Samira secured title sponsorship from Kenya Airways who, as well as being her pay masters, were also the title sponsor for the rally!

Two weeks later we were in Mombasa for the start of the 2011 East African Classic Safari Rally. Recognized as the toughest rally in the world the 2011 edition was arguably one of the toughest ever, with torrential rain besieging the whole route and a number of stages having to be shortened or cancelled due to flooding! (Samira's cousin, Imran, also a codriver, nearly drowned trying to cross a swollen river crossing mid way through the rally!)

2011 ClassicThrough all of this the least experienced crew in the whole rally fought on. Such was their inexperience that by the end of day one the two girls had DOUBLED their entire rally mileage ever competed! With this in mind the girls in the pink Escort could have been forgiven for being last but nope, they impressed mightily.

2011 ClassicNine days and 4500 kilometres later, with only one clutch change to the car, the pair arrived triumphantly at the finish in a highly respectable 29th position overall! In doing so Samira and Anita made history in becoming only the second all ladies crew to finish the rally, after Michele Mouton and Fabrizia Pons!

Samira and ChantalAlthough Anita had had a lot of fun in the rally car she had a desire to go travelling in 2012 and so Samira gave me a new challenge. Find and train a new codriver. Along came 20 year old Chantal Young. I chose Chantal because of her experience in long distance off road racing on a Quad Bike. Relaxed and almost totally unflappable and with a rally mad family supporting her, Chantal settled in quickly with Samira. Second overall in the Classic Cup on their first ever rally together was a great start to the relationship. By the end of the year Samira had finished second overall in the championship and Chantal was the codriving champion!

Kenya Airways2013 has by far and away been their most challenging year yet. A potential sponsor dropped out right at the beginning of the year and combined work commitments mean that the girls were not able to defend their 2012 titles and so, by mid-season the championship was aborted and all efforts diverted towards the Classic Safari. After some extensive negotiations we re-signed Kenya Airways as the title sponsor and then, with the entry confirmed, the team began making up a list of spares needed for the plucky Ford. This presented a small problem as most companies involved in stocking spares or manufacturing parts for classic Fords were already pretty busy with other Ford customers getting ready for the rally. This looked like it could derail the whole project…

PorscheAnd then Aslam and Arshad Khan threw the girls a massive life line. Aslam had been campaigning a Tuthill Porsche for the past two seasons and was the reigning Classic Cup Champion. Their ALS team had been building up a second Porsche shell and decided that it made more sense for Samira and Chantal to be in the same specification of car so that both teams could utilize the same parts and help reduce the running costs of both teams! And so suddenly, just five weeks before the rally, Samira was handed the keys to a Porsche 911 built to exactly the same specification as that used by Bjorn Waldegaard, the former world rally champion and the winner in 2011!

We now have a busy period ahead of us. Both Samira and Chantal need to get some mileage under their belts in the Porsche and learn the basic mechanicals of this very different car. This, as well as the never ending task of securing the rest of the budget, mean the girls, the team, and myself have a busy few weeks ahead!

Porsche 911But it's worth it. That two weeks of the East African Safari Classic Rally is amongst the most amazing experiences ever. As well as looking after the Rally Queens media affairs and acting as Samiras personal assistant I'll also be co-ordinating my band of Mayes Media photographers and smoozing up to other competitors to persuade them to buy photos from us… and there is even the off chance of the world hearing my voice every day if a deal can be done to do end of day live reports on Rally Radio! Stay tuned and let the adventure begin….