Many have wondered who are the men behind the success of many rally drivers even as the East African Safari Classic Rally enters the penultimate stage.
Today we meet James ‘Oush’ Ouma who is the head mechanic at Carl Tundo Rally Team.
The 44-year old father of four who also doubles as the team’s manager has been the force behind Carl ‘Flash’ Tundo’s meteoric rise to continental stardom in the last 16 years.
Since joining Tundo’s stable in 2006, Ouma has helped his boss to amass numerous victories.
Through his dedicated service, Tundo won the 2015 and 2017 East African Safari Classic Rally titles.
Tundo has bagged five Safari Rallies, five Kenya National Rally Championships(KNRC), an African title among other gongs.
‘Oush’, as he is commonly referred to by his peers, did not learn the mechanic craft from any engineering college due to lack of funds.
He perfected the art of panel beating cars to shape as an apprentice in a dingy workshop along Baricho Road in Nairobi.
“As head mechanic of a prolific rally driver, I’m tasked with a lot of responsibilities. I ensure the car is prepared well before any competition.This starts from the garage to the flag-off,” he said.
“I ensure the crew under me is well taken care of. The service team must be up to the task with their delegated jobs.”
Through his hustle, Ouma has become a global trotter as his work demands that he accompanies his boss to the local and international championships.
“I was part of Tundo’s African Rally Championships (ARC) team that clinched the continental title last year.
“I travelled with my boss to the ARC Equator Rally in Naivasha, Tanzania, Rwanda and Zambia among other nations.
He says he was happy to have had an opportunity to travel far and wide to know the world.
Ouma says handling a top rally driver like Tundo comes with its fair share of pressure, especially during premium championships like the KNRC, ARC and the WRC Safari Rally where points and rankings are key.
“Yes, there is always pressure to perform.nThis is because top drivers like Tundo are expected to win and be on the lead throughout the championships.
“As his chief mechanic, I have to be swift on my feet in combating any mechanical gremlins, because time is of essence in any competition.
“It’s sweet when we win, but it’s tough to get that victory. We have to be on our toes throughout the rally, and that pressure is always on me. I have to ensure the machine is functioning properly,” he says.
On any typical racing day, Ouma has his check list to ensure the car is in perfect condition before it’s taken to the parking lot.
“We have to check the gear box, axles, oil, tyres among others, if they are not in good condition. We have to service them,” he says.
Ouma has also advised young people not to look down upon mechanics as the job is rewarding.
“Don’t judge us when you see us in dirty overalls. Some of us have ‘omokad’ (become millionaires) through this hustle.”
About this years’ Classic Rally, Ouma says it’s not been tasking as the last two editions he attended.
“Apart from our engine that blew up on the second day that forced us out of the event, we have not encountered any major mechanical problems.
“The 2017 edition was crazy because we were constantly changing the gearboxes, the axles and the chassis that was cracking.
“At least this time round all those are holding; from the body to suspension,” he says.Ask what he thinks of his boss, Ouma says Tundo and his father Frank are lovely and nice people who are always ready to listen and help out.
“The duo is passionate about rallying. They are in the game because they love the sport, you can see Carl is still competing in the ongoing EASCR even though we are already out of classification.
“This gives the team and the service crew the motivation to keep on going.”
Ouma says the reason he has served the Tundos well for over a decade and a half is due to the mutual friendship that exists in their relationship.