Safari Rally fan who became speed queen

Tuesday, September 8th, 2020 00:00 |
Stella Mutahi has been practising horticulture farming after taking a sabbatical leave from rallying. Photo/PD/WANGARI NJUGUNA

If there is any single event, which fired the imagination of Kenyans and became the most talked, most liked and enjoyed event, then Safari Rally has no equal.

It is one of motorsport’s most iconic events—world beaters would converge in Kenya for what was the world’s toughest rally.

And Kenyans of all walks of life, young and old, men and women would turn out in large numbers by the roadsides for the thrill of high speed on the road.

From her childhood, Stella Mutahi used to get excited whenever she saw these Safari rally cars wading their way through the dusty or muddy roads during Easter holidays.

She was a big fan of this sport, and she had an urge of becoming a rally driver when she grew up.

Back in the 80’s and 90’s when the sport was popular in the country, Stella would not miss to stand by the roadside and cheer the participants.

When she got of age, she decided to pursue her dream of joining the motor sports field, mainly dominated by men.

Stella in action. She started rallying in 2010, driving her Subaru Impreza.

At first, her family, especially her mother, was apprehensive about her idea of becoming a safari rally driver.

She deemed this as a dangerous sport terming it suicidal because of the speed aspect.

“I had to convince her that this was a sport like any other, but made a promise to always stay safe,” she said.

In 2009, she joined San Valencia Motor Sports Academy in Athi River, where she underwent a three months training.

Here she was not only taught driving and the basic techniques to manoeuvre tough terrains, but also safety measures, timing during competition among others. She then became a navigator (co driver) to rally driver John Muigai.

Together they took part in a number of competitions, which made her gain the much-needed experience.

However, the urge to take on the wheel was burning inside her and she had to get a way of taking the driver’s seat.

“Being a navigator makes you more of a passive participant. But I wanted to be on the wheel and compete with men,” she says.

In 2010, Stella bought a Subaru Impreza, which she used in taking part in various rallies organised in the country with Hellen Shiri being her co-driver. Her first sponsor was Gulf Energy. 

Their first competition was Guru Nanak Rally held in Kajiado in 2010. Here, she got an award for being the only female team participating.

“Rally drivers don’t get the chance to drive lap after lap to learn tracks and conditions. Instead, you’ll pretty much have to learn on the job.

So whenever you get the opportunity to drive any car, anywhere, at any time, do it,” she says.

She is pictured with her navigator Hellen Shiri, they participated in rallying activities for four years. Photo/PD/COURTESY

The 2010 premium Safari Rally sponsored by KCB remains to be the most memorable event where she took part in and she was also the only female driver.

“When I crossed the finish line, I felt that was the biggest accomplishment ever having raced all through with men.

During this event, I celebrate winning ‘Coup de dame award for finishing the toughest Safari Rally being a woman,” she says. 

Stella says renowned rally driver Patrick Njiru is her role model. “As drivers, we interacted in the field. I learnt few tips just by watching him rallying,” she adds.

Sabbatical leave

During the various events, she met other women who were interested in motor sporting and together, they formed a group dubbed Warembo bila make-up.

Through this group, they were able to motivate each other hence took part in more competitions.

“We were able to establish ourselves and every time there was a rally competition, people were always looking out for us because we stood out from our male counterparts,” she recalls.

In 2014, however she took a sabbatical leave after her sponsors withdrew their support. She had participated in more than 40 rallies.

Motor sports, she says, is an expensive affair and she could not manage to fund herself from her pocket.

To participate in a premium competition one would require to have between Sh5 million to Sh8 million.

This is to cater for the safety gears for the driver and the co-driver, the mechanics back up team, the spare parts for the vehicle and a chase car among other things.

“Very few people would afford such a huge amount of money,” she says.

Though she is not actively involved in the sport, she closely follows matters related to the Safari Rally and she also sits at the national secretariat in motor sports.

The mother of four, who is a marketer by profession says she plans for a comeback once she gets sponsors.

Her dream is to drive the 10th and final generation of the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution Evo X, which she says is one of the best sports car in the market.

Currently, Stella is a horticulture farmer after quitting her job from one of the communication companies towards the end of last year.

According to Stella, rallying helps in inculcating discipline and requires one to be physically and mentally fit.

She, however, says it is exciting and adventurous, a venture women should consider joining as it opens up a lot of opportunities for networking.

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