Second generation driver Rio spoiling for a fight in Nanyuki

Rally driver Rio Smith (left).and Riyaz Ismail during the WRC Safari Rally Kenya in Naivasha in 2022. [Courtesy]

Kenya National Rally Championship (KNRC) has a rich history of ‘like father, like son’ stories. 

From Sarbi and Rajbir Rai, John and Lee Rose, Asad and Hamza Anwar, Azar and Shazam Anwar  Jimmy and Maxine Wahome, Frank and Carl Tundo to Charan and Rajveer Thethy, many young racers have risen from obscurity to ruffle feathers at the pinnacle of motorsport.

One of the newest KNRC second-generation stars following in the father’s footsteps in a slightly different fashion, though is Rio Smith.

The son of 2016 FIA Africa Rally Champion Don Smith will be the youngest driver in the sixth round of the White Cap-sponsored KNRC which heads to Mlima Hema, Greystones and Ole Naishu on the race weekend of September 2-3.

Rio, who turned 20 in July, will alongside Rajveer Thethy be the youngest drivers in the Nanyuki Rally Group (NRG) round of the national series.

Rajveer, son of former Kenya Two Wheel Drive champion, also turned 20 in March and will be among the youngsters to watch in the six stage Nanyuki Rally which will start with reconnaissance and scrutineering on September 2 and competition the following day.

Rio will be on his fourth outing behind the wheel of a Two Wheel Drive Ford Fiesta Rally4. He will fight for Two Wheel Drive honours against leader Leo Varese (Toyota Auris) and Sameer Nanji (VW Golf MK2).

After racing buggies in the National Autocross Championship, Rio joined rallying in the 2021 edition of WRC Safari Rally and finished 26th overall.

In 2002, he finished 10th overall in the FIA African Rally Championship Equator Rally but retired in the WRC Safari Rally. 

Rio says he's feeling good and more confident with the car on his fourth outing.

"I have no major expectations really going into Nanyuki, just ready to face the challenges ahead and try get the best result we can with the circumstances that are provided by organisers."

But Rio candidly admits he is yet to come to grips with the Ford Fiesta categorized as Rally4 in the new FIA Rally Pyramid.

"I have not completely come to grips with the car. However, I have learnt a great deal about it and started adjusting well. The sport is very addictive especially when recent events end up in failure so it’s irresistable trying to come back and getting the result you want," he said.

Rio has yet to tackle the demanding Nanyuki terrain, but from the stories he has gathered from his dad Don, his confidence levels are now undeterred.

"Compared to Naivasha where I have done all my rallies,  I think the terrain in Nanyuki is a lot better especially with a 2WD and hopefully it’s nice and smooth so we can push and have a fast rally."

Rio believes the second generation facet will play out in Nanyuki for many drivers but alludes it has its own advantages and disadvantages.

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