Women in Motorsport: Safina Khan leads by example

Motorsport has for long been a male dominated sport. Rally driver Safina Khan has battled critics to ensure women are represented and leads by example.

Safina Khan was introduced to Motorsport as a young girl. She did not need to look far for inspiration.

"It's quite interesting Simon, I actually got into it because of my dad. My father was actually one of the people who was the top most mechanic in the Nissan rally team that time which used to come from Japan to Kenya just to participate in our Safari Rally. so I used to follow him around, he used to take me around on his servicing, when the cars used to come, when they used to go testing, so that is I think when the first bug bit me," says Safina Khan, rally driver.

Safina was totally hooked to the "dangerous sport" when she saw an all female crew take part in the iconic Safari Rally.

"The person who actually sealed the deal for me was when I saw Michelle Mouton and Fabrizia Pons participating in the Safari Rally and I said to myself hey if these ladies can take part in such a powerful machine they were driving an Audi, and a Lancia, Why can't I be part of this one day and the thing which helped me was the fact that I was interested in mechanics so I used to help my dad building the engines doing the servicing and stuff like that at a very young age so I said to myself all I have to do is just follow my passion and that is what I did."

Sadly, her chosen career in rallying exposed Safina to ridicule and criticism in a male-dominated sport.

"But it was a very hard journey I had a lot of naysayers they turned round and said you are going to go and die these cars are going to roll, you will be nowhere to be seen and a woman your place is in the kitchen what are you doing out there that is a man's sport and I said to them no you know what, what the man can do we can do because in the long run we are all humans," Safina submits.

Determined to beat all odds and gender discrimination, Safina literary forced her way into the sport.

"I actually stowed away in one of an auto-cross car that my dad was participating in, in Solai track in Nakuru, I hid the organizers did not see me and when they discovered I was already in the car and we are already on the circuit well its another thing that they had to stop the race just to tell my dad to get me out of the car but then like I said that time I was bitten. From that event I basically continued with school because my father put his foot down and said education first so i had to get back into school and do what I had to do."

Upon finishing, school a call came through that changed her life.

"Then one day I got a call out of the blues from a lady called Michelle, she is also a Kenyan and she asked me whether I was interested in rallying. An our first car was actually a Subaru GC8 we formed a team called ladies luck rally team and we were both Kenyans participating in the circuit in  a subaru Imprezza we did our first rally .... in 1998 that's when we did our first Safari it was very hard. In those day's it was actually a 3,000km event.

Since then, Safina has gone on to win 5 coupe de dames trophies in the Safari rally, an Award given for the highest finishing all female crew.

She was also crowned as the Kenya Autocross champion in 2018. But her golden moment came when she heard the Kenyan anthem played in Uganda after a stunning performance from her team ladies luck.

"It was a very important race for us, we started off in the 30's and we actually finished in the top 5 among the top end cars, just me and my driver Michelle, we were the top placed Kenyans. you can imagine the feeling we had when we had our flag across our bonnet, the bonnet of our car, we were taken to the ramp and they played for us our national anthem we actually cried we had tears in our eyes. you know you feel so proud to be Kenyan and to be bringing home the trophies in an alien country or in another country. It's a feeling unknown. when you just hear the national anthem you feel nostalgic."

For Safina, the return of the Safari Rally to the World Rally Championship renews hope for more sponsors to get involved in the sport as she eyes the Kenyan title in future.