Children are attracted to some very unique things when growing up and to some, the gradual growth propels them to career choices and even hobbies.
Such is the case with rally driver Evans Kavisi who from a very tender age wanted to get into a safari car and race.
It’s no surprise that he spent his toddler years piecing together images of cars and sticking them in his scrapbook.
“Rallying was my passion from a very young age. I spent much time daydreaming about it and cutting newspaper images to fill my scrapbook.
When I finished high school, I went around Nairobi looking for garages to join as a volunteer for a very long time. That didn’t happen until I was on campus. From then on, I was in a garage somewhere, every moment I had to spare between campus and the family business,” said Kavisi.
Kavisi adds that while volunteering in garages; he didn’t do much there since he had no real usable skill. “I just got tea for the guys working on cars and acted as a spanner boy.
The beautiful thing was that I was allowed to ask questions and be around the rally cars; that’s all I needed,” he says.
That volunteering went on for about five years. After which Kavisi had to get a bit more serious with his studies.
Having entered the workforce in 2011, Kavisi saved until 2016 when he set up his own workshop in Westlands Nairobi and bought his first rally car.
You need a competition license from Kenya Motorsport Federation (KMSF) in order to be enlisted in motorsports.
These can be applied for after joining one of the official motorsport clubs around the country.
Currently, Kavisi drives a group N car, a Mitsubishi Evolution X, which he says is a standard production car that has been slightly modified for competition.
Building a rally car
There is so much that goes into building a rally car. A while back, we used to buy a road car that had excellent road-going capabilities like a Subaru Impreza or a Mitsubishi Evolution and strip it down to the bare metal.
We could then reinforce the body or stiffen the shell and figure out ways of reducing its weight by removing all unnecessary fittings like air-conditioning units, radios, carpets etc.
We then could work on the suspension to make it withstand the punishment rally cars go through in competition and finally protect the bottom with steel plates and Kevlar reinforcement.
This still happens, but for group N cars and National competition categories because this is cheaper to own and operate.
However, today, for the higher categories of competition like R3 and R5, we buy the cars ready built from factory because they have many differences allowed on them compared to the road-going version.
Cost of buying a rally car and maintenance. Is it a mirage to many?
In Rallying, we have as few as 1000cc engines to 2000cc. In other facets of motorsports, this can go all the way to 5000cc engines.
Anyone who has tried to play with cars knows it can quickly get expensive. We say that speed costs money. Just how fast do you want to go?
However, there is no real guide to how much a rallying car costs. It can cost as little as your regular road car and no upper limit exists. It entirely depends on what level of competition you would like to participate in.
As a rule though, the higher the modification/deviation from a similar road-going version, the more expensive it is to own and operate.
To paint a picture, we generally try to make regular cars work to the limit of their built performance. That involves many modifications and will cause a lot of breakdowns/damage that needs to be repaired before the next event.
Safety then becomes vital because of the increase in performance. Many of our budgets are spent on keeping the crew safe at all costs.
A lot can go wrong in any competition, and we try to mitigate as much of that as possible. All of these would be enshrined in National Competition Regulations (NCR)s, and playing by the rules gets expensive quickly.
Maneuvering and navigating through the race track
The driver and navigator make short code notes that the navigator will read during the competition
We are allowed one or two passes on the route a few days before the event. The organizers prepare guide notes for us to use there.
I’ve heard stories of drivers getting lost and missing direction while on a track, but I have been privileged to sit all through with a navigator who is more experienced than me.
We have never gotten lost in competition, not once.
Favourite experiences on track Kavisi who has so far participated in 19 events says he has never had a preconceived way of staying focused during his driving shifts.
“It is my time alone in my mind. I just learned to clear my mind whenever we are against the clock. That’s the one thing I have never struggled with.
And after a hard day at the competition track, we get exhausted and need at least a full day of rest before resuming a regular schedule. In some events like the classic rally, maybe more.
In rallying, they say ‘the hotter the sun and outside temperature, the hotter the track will be, and the more cars racing on a track, the more heat it will get from the tires.’
Kavisi has had several good experiences while racing but his best experience he says was the East African Safari Classic Rally in February 2022.
“We drove over 4500kms and crossed half the country,” he says.
As professional rally drivers, we have the best stories from driving in tough weather conditions like rain, wind, snow, ice and others. I haven’t had a chance to drive in snow or ice, but the rest I have.
That adrenaline from the competition is therapeutic, helping clear my mind from all my life’s issues.
I also enjoy the sceneries it takes us to and friendships with the most unlikely people.
Unique scenarios Kavisi has had to deal with while racing
One time when I was on a race track, a drunk man stepped into the road in a corner while we were at a very high speed.
We successfully swerved to avoid a collision, but the car was out of control, and we ended up in the bushes.
We almost rolled, and the vehicle was heavily damaged; however, we got the car back to service, where it was repaired, and we continued racing the following day.
In another instance, I encountered wildlife on my second rally experience; it didn’t end well. Since then, my situational awareness has increased, and I have learned to pace myself around animals by being quick in my reactions and countering their movements.
Drawing strength as a rally driver Kavisi’s greatest strength as a racing driver is a quick adaptation.
“We are called to be level-headed. I adapt quickly to new things, be it cars, the environment or situations. That has helped me tremendously in racing,” he says.
Away from motorsports Kavisi loves swimming and taking long walks, especially with his kids, whom he says is still very young though one has started warming up to the driving seat.
“You might see us on the track soon. Fingers crossed,” says Kavisi.
In his racing career, Kavisi who has started 19 rallies, finished 11 and had 3 class wins says, to be a successful rally driver one must have the ability to persist through everything thrown at you.
“In this walk, there will be enough to make someone lose hope. You need to be very tough mentally to excel in this sport,” he said.