The unsung participants at the 2024 World Rally Championship Safari Rally Kenya

Mwarv Kirubi, bird story agency…..

When Kalle Rovanpera and Jonne Halttunen emerged as top finishers at the 2024 World Rally Championship (WRC) Safari Rally Kenya and stepped onto the podium at Hell’s Gate National Park to freely spray champagne over colleagues and rally officials, one might have been forgiven for presuming that this was an all-men’s’ event. One would have presumed wrong. Apart from four all-women’s’ teams participating in the race, four Kenyan women made crucial contributions to the event.

Here, bird story agency sheds light on these four women.

**Charlene Tuja, Rally Photographer**
In the male-dominated field of rally photography, Charlene Tuja stands out as the only Kenyan woman accredited to shoot at the 2024 WRC Safari Rally Kenya. The presence of so many male photographers, some lugging longer lenses than she herself did not intimidate her a bit. As a Pool Photographer, Tuja shot, edited and uploaded images on the go, ensuring the media was provided with timely, appropriate and quality images to go with stories and updates in real-time.

Charlene Tuja at the Kasarani Spectator Stage of the 2024 WRC Safari Rally Kenya on 28th March 2024. Charlene was the only Kenyan female photographer accredited to shoot at the rally. Photo: Mwangi Kirubi, bird story agency

Tuja’s journey into photography started more than a decade ago, when she started taking photos with a family member’s film camera. By the time the WRC made a comeback to Kenya in 2021 after a 19-year hiatus, Tuja was working for a firm assisting in the Rally’s event communications. She felt it would be more exciting to have a front-row seat in the action, however, so he applied and became accredited as a Safari Rally photographer in 2022. She did so again in 2023 and in 2024.

She said the adrenaline, speed, sound, fans and atmosphere made the early mornings, late nights, getting covered in dust and general physical torture well worth it. She also encourages other women to join motorsports photography.

“Women are naturally drawn to remembering things. Capturing it on camera and having evidence makes… you see things from a different point of view and challenge yourself to look for different perspectives other than your own, so you get to learn more. Motorsports is very exciting.”

**Edna Owuor Otieno and Sharon Chepng’etich, Timekeepers**
Rallying is racing against the clock. Points are awarded or lost depending on how long a driver takes to complete each stage of the race. With this in mind, it is clear that timekeepers are some of the most important officials in any rally. Each rally stage has several timekeepers working at the start and finish of the stage. We caught up with Edna Owuor Otieno and Sharon Chepng’etich who were stationed at the start of the Wolf Power Stage, the last competitive section of the 2024 WRC Safari Rally Kenya.

Sharon Chepng’etich, a Time Controller, at WRC Safari Rally Kenya 2024. Photo: Mwangi Kirubi, bird story agency

According to Otieno, who has been a fan of cars and motor-racing for much of her life, “a time controller makes sure the drivers are allocated the correct time in the race and makes sure the winner is correctly picked.”

Participating in this year’s rally gave her a joy that she finds hard to describe. Contributing to the correct awarding of the rally winner is an unquantifiable joy, she said. And being a woman in a male-dominated space, made her particularly proud. She was also thrilled that four all-women teams competed in 2024, compared to two in 2023.

It is hard to separate Chepng’etich from her love for speed. The excitement of the cars revving, the skid starts and the flying gravel particles fills her veins with adrenaline, she explained. She also enjoys that she gets a front-row seat at the only World Rally Championship event run on African soil.

Otieno, Chepng’etich and other timekeepers use GPS Clocks connected to specially-developed apps running on customised tablets to inform each driver when they should start the stage, and to record the time the driver takes to complete the stage. They both wish that more women would participate as timekeepers so they can share the excitement of the experience more widely.

**Sylvia Karimi, Super Fan**
It’s a few minutes after sun-up at the start of Soysambu Stage and already there are fans and spectators here, two hours before the first rally car comes through. They do not want to miss the action so everyone is angling for the best vantage of rally cars being flagged off to tackle the 29km stage.

Two fans, Sylvia Karimi and her son Zane, have made the 1-hour journey from Nakuru City – northwest of Nairobi – to be here. They had to wake up while it was still dark to make sure they had a good view of the action. For Sylvia, seeing Zane’s eyes light up and hearing the excitement in his voice whenever a rally car passed them made the sacrifice of sleep on a Saturday morning well worth it.

Karimi feels there are many women viewers, supporters, fans and would-be participants in motorsports but they are underrated, restricted to urban driving and do not show themselves.

“More women should show up and shine out, just like in biking,” she said.

Karan Patel and Tauseef Khan in a Škoda Fabia R5 competing in the 2024 WRC Safari Rally Kenya, Kedong Stage, on 29th March 2024. Photo : Mwangi Kirubi, bird story agency

**Past strides in women’s participation**
Several past Safari Rally events have seen major wins for women. In 2022, Maxine Wahome, then aged 26, made history by becoming the first Kenyan woman in the rally’s long (60+ years) history to win the race’s WRC3 category.

Wahome’s win came almost five decades after Orie Rogo Manduli and co-driver Sylvia Omino made history by becoming the first black African women’s team to grace the Safari when they entered the 1974 edition.

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