Jonathan Toroitich: Humble rally hero who captured the imagination of an excited nation

Jonathan Moi (right) and Ibrahim Choge celebrate after they finished eighth during the 555 Safari Rally at KICC on September 29, 1997. [File, Standard]
Growing up in privilege that comes with being a son of the Head of State, few expected Jonathan Toroitich to get literally stuck in the mud to thrill millions of Kenyans as a rally driver.

When the devastating news that Toroitich had rested in Nakuru broke yesterday morning, a whole country was united in grief with former President Moi’s family, as it paid homage to the self-effacing sporting hero who captured the hearts of many Kenyans.

It was not lost on most that the man, famously known as JT, died over Easter, a period when Kenya would stand by him as he flew the country’s flag in the Safari Rally when it was part of the World Rally Championships.

Navigated by his trusted co-driver, the late Ibrahim Choge, the fallen sporting icon was part of the legendary trio of Patrick Njiru and Phineas Kimathi that carried the torch of indigenous Kenyans at the premier event dominated by expensively assembled works team with their top foreign drivers during the Safari heyday in the 1990s.

“Jonathan will be remembered as a very humble person. Coming from the President’s family, you could not tell he was from that level of a family.

“He was a true sportsman and competed with everybody at the same level. He will be remembered as a national rally champion in 1997, the year I was the Formula 2 champion,” Kimathi, who now heads the Kenya Motor Sport Federation, told the Sunday Standard.

Kenyans took to social media to eulogise the fallen hero who did his utmost to light up the Easter holidays.

“I remember when I was a kid he was really good in Safari Rally. The only Kenyans who were doing well, Jonathan Toroitich and Patrick Njiru,” popular gospel artiste Daddy Owen wrote in celebrating the departed rally ace.

“On Easter weekend, when we’d usually enjoy Safari Rally when it was part of the World Rally Championships, Kenya mourns the death of one of the drivers from that era, Jonathan Moi. RIP,” former KTN reporter, Celestine Karoney, posted on Twitter.

Rally enthusiast Ubermensch said: “Easter holidays meant one thing, the Safari Rally. Ian Duncan was also super quick, schooling the WRC drivers, Patrick Njiru, the local hero and Jonathan Toroitich, the most consistent privateer.”

“When I was young, Easter season was also Safari Rally thrilling season. How we cheered our Kenyan drivers Patrick Njiru, Joginder Singh, Shekhar Mehta and Jonathan Toroitich Moi was such an epic experience. This year’s Easter Jonathan takes a bow. RIP Toroitich (I’ll never forget),” Sam Wairati mourned.

According to the WRC website, JT was credited with 12 starts in major rallies, four retirements and one victory in a racing career that spanned from 1989 to 1999.

He hit his apex in 1997 when driving a works Toyota Celica Turbo 4WD, Toroitich finished fifth in the Safari Rally and third in the Equator Rally on his way to being crowned the national champion.

JT started rallying in 1989 and was an instant hit. He sampled factory-prepared Toyota cars, always performing well. He never invoked the name of his father, never complained or courted undue publicity. In Kimathi’s words, he was at the same level with everybody.

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Jonathan ToroitichPresident MoiDaniel MoiJTSafari Rally