Why Rio Smith draws inspiration from WRC legend Sebastien Loeb

ARC youngest driver Rio Smith with his Ford Fiesta R2 machine at the KWSTI Service Park in Naivasha on April 1,2022. [Ochieng Oyugi, Standard]

At 19, Fly540 Racing Team driver Rio Smith is the youngest speedster at the ongoing 2022 African Rally Championships (ARC) in Naivasha.

Smith, whose pace notes were called out by Standard Group PLC Chief Of Staff Laban Cliff Onserio at the WRC Safari Rally last season, is targeting a top seven finish in the adrenaline-filled race that is traversing the rough terrains of the lakeside town.

Below, Standard Sports caught up with the future star in the making and brings you 15 things you didn't know about this promising driver.

1. He comes from a rally mad family 

Smith is the second born in a family of two. Only 11 months separates him from his elder brother. His family members are rally heads.

"We are very tight and close, we've been racing for a very long time; from my parents to now me. So, I'm taking over from my father, which is a big task to take on but I think I'll do well," he says.

2. He's a former autocross champion

Smith started racing at a very tender age. He won 90 per cent of his autocross contests, especially in the 1600 cc category, with muggy buggs and Toyota Vitz before scaling up to GP Karting and now rallying.

3. He's a student at Brunel University in London

Smith went to Hillcrest and Kenton schools in Kenya for his IGCSE exams. He's currently studying business and accounting in the United Kingdom. 

4. His father is a hero

Smith's father, Don, is among the five drivers who have given Kenya six ARC titles in a row.

Don bagged the coveted crown in 2016. Others are reigning champion Carl 'Flash' Tundo, Manvir Baryan (2017, 2018, 2019), Jaspreet Chatthe (2015) and David Horsey (1984).

5. He's in love

Smith is dating a pretty nice thing!

"I'm not married yet, but I have a girlfriend. I'm still 19 so I'll wait for a couple of years before I settle down," he says.

6. Hates London life

Smith has been based in the United Kingdom city for one year now but he hates the fast-paced life there.

"Give me Kenya any day and I'll choose it. Home is home. Kenya is better everyday; I miss the people, the food and the weather. I literally miss everything when in London," he says.

"Kenya is a very lovely country, my spirit is always high when I'm home in Kenya."

7. Admits fitting into his father's shoe is a toll order

Smith is the next in line after his father when it comes to rallying in his family.

Just like his father, Don, he wants to win the ARC in the next five years and have a stint in the Junior WRC series.

But he's quick to admit that replacing his father in the Kenyan rally scene is proving a gigantic task but nonetheless he's determined to do it well. 

8. Works at Fly540 for free

Smith does free work at the local airline offices whenever he's in Kenya for school breaks.

This is meant to return the kind favour from the local carrier that sponsors his rallying.

He offers his free services in the advertising department.

9. Does practices and test drives in Ngong Hills

Before any major championships, Smith prepares his Ford Fiesta R2 machine to perfection.

He then proceeds for practices in either Ngong Hills or Athir River to up his game.

"Currently, my team is looking for new test tracks in Naivasha ahead of the WRC Safari Rally which I'll take part in June," he says.

10. He's a globetrotter

Because of his parents, Smith has cruised the world over for exotic holidays.

He can't even remember all the countries he's travelled to but among his favourite stay were France and Indonesia.

11. Doesn't believe in employment

Most students after finishing university will opt to look for work to be employed.

But this is not so with Smith whose mind is already made up.

Smith wants to venture into family business after university.

"Family comes first before rallying. The two are my passion," he reiterates.

Rio Smith navigated by Riyaz Ismail driving Ford Fiesta cruises through the Loldia Shakedown stage during their ARC Equator Rally Kenya qualifying stage in naivasha on April 01, 2022. [photo courtesy]

12. He has no car

Despite coming from a stable family, Smith doesn't 'own' any of his parents properties.

He's looking for that day he will get his money to buy his own toys.

"All the cars I drive belongs to my parents, I'm really grateful for their support. I hope to work hard and buy mine some day," he says.

13. Chicken Chooza his favourite meal

Smith loves this spicy tender whole spring chicken marinated in yoghurt with various spices to death. 

Give it to him any day and you complete his day.

14. Practices rally ritual 

Smith prays to guard himself from any harm before any contest. He checks and double checks his Ford Fiesta R2 machine to ensure all parts are okay.

He hydrates and prays again before he zooms off with the car.

15. Sebastien Loeb his role model

Smith doesn't look up to the reigning WRC champion Sebastien Ogier for inspiration but draws his motivation from Ogier's compatriot Sebastien Loeb. Loeb is a nine time world champion.

"Loeb has game. He has good driving style which also has flare," he says.

 

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