McRae Kimathi prepares to hit the snow in Rally Sweden

2 months ago 366
McRae KimathiMcRae Kimathi competed in the Safari Rally last year

When McRae Kimathi finally had the chance to fulfil a dream and compete in a World Championship rally, the snow and ice of Sweden probably wasn't what he had in mind.

That is because Kimathi is from Kenya, and had never previously touched snow in his life.

This weekend, the 27-year-old is racing on it - in the junior World Rally Championship category at Rally Sweden.

"They told me how to make - what do you call it? - a snowball?" says Kimathi quizzically. "Yeah, that. And then we had this game where, like, you have you make a ball with snow and then you try to hit each other.

"It didn't really make sense to me."

This weekend's Rally Sweden is a great chance for three British drivers - Elfyn Evans of Toyota and Craig Breen and Gus Greensmith, both of M-sport Ford - to try to make an impact on the title race in the Rally1 category.

But Kimathi, in his Ford Fiesta, will attract just as much attention as he gets used to studded tyres and snowbanks in -20C temperatures near remote Umea.

"It's the first time seeing snow in my life," he says. "But I quite enjoyed driving on it with studded tires because there's so much grip compared to on a normal gravel rally."

Kimathi is the only black driver competing in the race, and indeed in the full junior WRC season.

His presence at the event has attracted racist comments online, leading to condemnation from motorsport's governing body the FIA, which said: "There is no place for it in our sport, or society."

A belonging in the sport

Kimathi's background practising on the vast sandscapes in Kenya might seem a far cry from rallying's European heartland, but Kenya's Safari Rally is considered a classic event in world rallying, and returned to the calendar in 2021 after a 19-year absence.

"There's so much space [in Kenya] that you can actually take out your rally car one weekend, have fun, go to the the high lands and just enjoy yourself," he says.

"There's fantastic roads there, so you can play around with your car and perfect your trade."

Kimathi has carried the presence of the sport his whole life - he is named after British rally legend Colin McRae, the 1995 world champion.

"I was just born shortly after he won the '94 Network Q RAC Rally - winning his home rally for the first time," he says.

"So I think my dad decided 'OK, this is gonna be the hotshot' so decided to name me McRae.

"What really sticks out about Colin McRae was his commitment. He had massive commitment that I didn't see from any other driver, and sometimes with it he had a massive accident. It was just a win-or-bust approach."

Kimathi wants his approach to be a little more measured, like his other idol - nine-time champion Sebastien Loeb, and he intends to reflect that by simply getting to the end in Sweden.

"Of course, it would be really nice to to go for it, but also I have to be realistic and give myself time to to actually grow," he says.

"The roads are so fast compared to what I experienced in the Safari, where rallies are mainly just surviving. So it's something new to me to get my pace up because the roads allow you to drive that fast, while in Kenya it's a demolition rally. So I need to shift my mindset."

And with good backing, when Kimathi finds more of that speed he could be one of the first black drivers to win a top-level WRC event outside of the Safari rally.

"That is why I'm actually here," he says. "I want [rallying] to be a full-time career.

"I know it's going to be very difficult because of where I come from - it's why I need to learn a lot."

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