Traditionally, motorsport is considered a macho, male-dominated sport. But in the horizon, a new dawn is beckoning as women come in the forefront to offer a new purpose in Africa.
One such person is Helen Shiri, a Kenyan driver, navigator, technical official and role model of the sport.
Better still, Shiri is the Event Secretary of the World Rally Championship Safari Rally Project whose mandate is to return the Safari Rally and Africa back onto the high profile FIA World Rally Championship series by 2020.
Shiri is a pragmatic person whose vision is to encourage, support and promote women in all aspects of the motor sport discipline.
Her tenacity finally attracted the attention of the International Automobile Federation (FIA), who awarded her the global “Top Secretary of Rallying” award, a first by a female and an African.
Global sports awards for non-competitors are rare in the world, and Kenya in particular.
In 2012, Kenyan journalist Elias Makori received the first IAAF World Journalist of the Year award for his contribution to the sport of athletics.
Shiri’s involvement in rallying has been worth it.
She is the chairperson and founder of Women in Motorsport Association in Kenya which runs under the Kenya Motor Sport Federation with a membership of 32.
Members include drivers, navigators, mechanics, media and organisers in all aspects of rallying.
Shiri is an accomplished administrator. In 2018, she attended training for officials in Kigali and at the FIA Geneva headquarters, and went on job orientation at the WRC Rally of Australia.
She started rallying in 2011 and made her debut in KCB Safari Rally, navigating Stella Macharia, and is a veteran of 16 rallies to date.
She credits her success to veteran navigators George Mwangi, Dave Macharia and Abdul Sidi.
Energetic and young at heart with a great passion for rallying, Shiri is also the Secretary of Rallye Sports Club. “We feel privileged that we are fulfilling our dream of being an all-ladies team many years later and compete with the already existing male teams,” she said. “We truly feel blessed.”
As it goes, rallying requires input from a wide array of sources all forming a cohesive team to produce results.
“Rallying will give women the exposures it gives be able to bring awareness to women of how they can be empowered,” she says, adding that her goal in the next five years is to be the model as a top lady rally driver, motorsport organizer and venture internationally.
“This is in line of giving back to society by nurturing young talent especially women in the sport with the knowledge,” says Shiri, who is married with children.