By PETER NJENGA
Nairobi, Kenya, August 18, 2018–George Mwangi did not start rallying by mistake. Rallying has been in his blood and a matter of family honour as a son of a former East African Safari Rally driver John Wairegi.
Wairegi was no ordinary man behind the wheel, having first participated in 1968 East African Safari in a Renault Roho generously sponsored by “Baraza”, the Kiswahili publication of the Standard Media Group and Kenya Rally Drivers Club (KRDC).
Africans were really organized those days. There was even Nyeri Drivers Club, Kenya Police Rally Club and Kenya Army Rally Drivers Club. Harambees were organized and sponsorship sourced based on friendships bases.
In 1969 Wairegi was navigated by John Munge in a Volvo 122S. In 1968 he had teamed up with David Ndambo, a former chairman of Safari Rally Limited. In 1969 KRDC had a team of nine drivers.
It is also the same year that Africans finally broke the jinx of conquering the Safari after Ugandan Sospeter Munyegera, navigated by Noor Mohamed in a Saab 96, became the first African to finish the Safari in 31st and last position.
George who has navigated 33 drivers in a career spanning for 26 years was first introduced to rallying by his father in 1968 aged only three years and tasted the feel of the Volvo 122S, a tough and high end machine which was the choice of the well-healed in society and top government officials.
Whereas the youth of those days dreamt of being rally drivers and built their own rally cars using wires, George lived in a rally car, a rare privilege then and even now. George has repaid his father in kind after introducing Wairegi II to Rallying, a pilot by training.
Pressure of works has kept Wairegi II from rallying since his debut in 2014 KMSC Training Rally where he navigated Andrew Muchemi, a son of the late Ben Muchemi in a Mitsubishi EVO 9.
George recalls the feeling of actually owning a rally car gave him the impetus to live his own dream in adulthood. In 1992, the beginning of the Africans renaissance in rallying, George started his navigation career by teaming up with George Muhindi in a Saab 99.
He has never looked back since achieving his childhood dream which reached the apex in 2006 when he co-drove Azar Anwar in a Mitsubishi EVO 6 to victory in the KCB Safari Rally. This is besides finishing the WRC Safari Rally in 1998 with the late Gregory Kibiti in a Hyundai Coupe and ended the year second overall in the F2 category behind Phineas Kimathi in a similar car.
In their first season George and Muhindi alternated the Saab with an ex-Jim Kahumbura’s Colt Lancer in national Clubman’s rallies, notching their first finish towards the end of the year in Guru Nanak Rally in 12th position.
George joined Waigwa Murage in a Datsun Bebe the following year in the KNRC and debuted in the World Rally Championships Safari Rally with Asad Anwar in a Daihatsu Charade but retired in Ndalani area of Wamunyu section on day one.
Kibiti and George finally won the F2 national title in 1999 in a Hyundai. The duo failed to finish the 2000 Safari and George joined Vinay Shah in a Subaru RX Turbo which is now owned by Sam Karangatha in KNRC season.
In 2001 he drove with Salim Vayani in a VW Golf and after his finest hour in 2006 George and Azar also won the KCB Eldoret after beating Lee Rose by ONE second.
George notched a fourth in 2010 KCB Meru Rally with Phineas in a Subaru Impreza after which he started paying more attention to officiating, two years after being introduced to management by former KMSF chairman Dave Macharia.
George was deputy Clerk-of-Course in the 2018 ARC Safari Rally and is a gazette members of the WRC Safari Rally Project Organising Committee as well as a senior member of the Rallye Sports Club.
His mission? “My mission is to help return the Safari back to the World Rally Championship so that the youth can enjoy what we enjoyed and rub shoulders with the big boys,” says George who had the privileged of sitting in former world champion Colin McRae’s Ford Focus just for a feel of it.