Sport

Like Mouton, Maxine maximising on women's rallying potential

Like Mouton, Maxine maximising on women's rallying potential

Betika’s all- female sponsored team in the World Rally Championship (WRC) Safari Rally from left; Linet Ayuko, Maxine Wahome and Chantal Young.

Photo credit: Pool

Motorsport is unique. It’s one of the rare sporting disciplines where men and women compete as equals. On the same platform.

And no one has demonstrated the inert potential of girls than Frenchwoman Michelle Mouton, the only female driver in history to have ever competed in, and won, World Rally Championship (WRC) events.

She missed the world title by a whisker in 1982 driving the most powerful rally car ever, the Audi Quattro S1 Evo 2.

Mouton, the 2021 WRC Safari Rally FIA safety delegate who also reviewed the route and recommended the inclusion of sections that defined the old-school tough sections, has been at the forefront of encouraging women to follow in her footsteps.

This with a common belief that given the same equipment, encouragement and support, a woman is not a lesser being when it comes to driving.

Mouton heads the “FIA Girls on Track” programme started in 2018, partly funded by the European Union and merged with Susie Wolff's “Dare to be Different” initiative targeting girls from as early as age 14 for all levels of the sport beyond driving.

The drive also targets environmental and safety awareness, management and the technical F1 pyramid scheme which, in the long run, will produce the cadre of tomorrow.

Mouton started early and really got her breakthrough in the early 80s when Audi changed the WRC forever by introducing four-wheel-drive technology which vanquished the two-wheel-drive forever in rallying.

Mouton, in her own words wanted to be the best, looking at a teammate in Audi - the late Hannu Mikola, the best driver of that era - as a reference point and bar to beat.

Orie Rogo Manduli

She scored four victories in 1982 to finish second in the WRC behind German Walter Rorhl in a field that brought the best drivers of that generation together.

Her fame spread like wildfire worldwide, reminding Kenyans of the exploits of the late Orie Rogo Manduli, a decade earlier.

Indeed, she captured our imagination when she arrived in Nairobi like a visiting rock star for the 1983 Safari. And boy! Did she impress!

That year's Safari brought together one of the most impressive casts of the WRC calendar from Audi to Opel, Toyota and Nissan.

Audi had teething problems right from the start which spared none, forcing Mouton, navigated by Fabrizia Pons, to carry out some roadside services including many tyre changes.

Mouton regaled the fans with her turn of speed whenever the moving smoothened in some sections like the over 100-kilometre Ole Tepesi/Ntulele section.

While coming from the Masai Mara for a deserved game drive during one of the route inspection duties in 2019, Mouton noted the route and urged her pilot, Captain Kinyanjui, to favour her by retracing this section.

"I achieved 245kph here," she reminisced calmly inside the helicopter which was averaging 150kph.

It required determination, focus, and, above all, family support to scale the pinnacle of the FIA WRC.

Crucially, Mouton did not disappear into oblivion after scaling her rallying programme in the 1985 season, although the following year, she became the first woman to win a national title in the German national championship in a Peugeot 205 Turbo.

She got involved in the sport, scaling the pyramid to the peak by being appointed the Chairperson of Women in Motorsport Commission which in 2018 recognised the WRC Safari Rally Event Secretary Hellen Shiri as the best in the world.

The Mouton dream is fast catching up with Kenyans.

One year after competing in her first Safari, two local ladies - Anne Teith and Sylvia King - did the impossible by winning the Kenya National Rally Championship title which remains the first and the last.

A handful of women such as Linda Morgan, Michelle Van Tongren, Safina Hussein, Carol Wahome and Margaret Wangui followed in their footsteps, some as navigators with a good showing.

Much, much later, Shiri, Linet Ayuko and Stella Macharia, just to mention a few, have kept the women's presence visible either as competitors or officials.

They all took part in the Safari courtesy of old-family money or their savings in barely competitive machines, all for the love of the sport.

Rallying family

But now there is a new belle in town, Maxine Wahome, 24, a young lady tinkling with machines when her agemates' best friends remain pretty party animals, or engrossed in education and career progression.

Wahome has chosen her path of rallying at the time tidings are ripening.

Like all other sporting disciplines, one has to work hard, shine and be recognised, tenets Maxine appears to have mastered, executing them with admirable efficiency.

Maxine is the daughter of veteran rally driver Jimmy and Beverly Wahome.

She grew up with cars more than dolls and fluffy teddy bears, being introduced in autocross events at a very early age.

She raised eyebrows when Betika gaming company included her, together with Shantal Young, in the four-car WRC Safari Rally Team in a Subaru Impreza N 10, pretty outdated technology but perfect for beginners.

Short on words, Maxine didn't finish the Safari, something she took positively. Nonetheless, keen observers noted her driving skills and many concluded that she has a cool head and a meticulous work ethic.

After Betika, Haco Industries became her grooming partner through Ashanti Q and Isuzu East Africa jumped in with a Sh100,000 sweetener.

After finishing the Ramisi KCB Mombasa Rally last month in a career-best seventh overall, the East African Classic Safari Rally announced an all-inclusive comprehensive sponsorship package in the Mini Classic next month.

Safaricom loves good things and immediately signed her on for Sh2 million for the remaining three KNRC rounds.

Surprisingly, Maxine finished ninth in the Nanyuki rounds and won a silver in the Division II last weekend.

Maxine appears to have struck the right cord at the right time especially with sponsors who have given rallying a wide berth for the last two decades.

With proper direction, Maxine certainly is the right person to promote sports and offer a lesson to our world beating athletes who are immensely talented but short in packaging themselves are a brand to sell products, earning much more than slogging all day long on the road or track.

We all wish Maxine and Ayuko as they continue with this journey to demonstrate that cars are no longer for boys nor rallying for boys.