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Tuta Mionki and Eric Bengi finished fifth, the highest by an all-Africa crew in the Safari since 1997 in last month’s ARC Safari Rally. Her resume dating back to 2012 when she started lessons on co-driving has taken her around Kenya and made a one-off appearance in Pearl of Africa Uganda rally together with Helen Shiri.
She met JACKSON BIKO for a morning tea at Valley Arcade last year and this is what she had to say.
More and more ladies are jumping into safari rally vehicles to compete, Tuta Mionki— the speed-queen— being one of them.
She has been a navigator since 2012, and has participated in numerous championship including the KCB safari rallies, the Pearl of Africa Uganda Rally where she and Helen Shiri were the first indigenous Kenyan Lady crew to compete outside Kenya.
She was ranked 27th female co-driver in the world by world rally ranking (2013).
Your name, Tuta Mionki, what does it mean?
It’s from a fable, Tuta apparently means “a little oil” or tu’ mafuta. Mionki means “many fires”…
So, your name means a little oil and many fires. Can’t say it makes sense.
(Laughs) It doesn’t really. The fable could be a rumour.
How did “a little oil and many fires” find herself in the co-driver’s seat of a safari rally car?
You know as a child growing up watching Shekhar Mehta and Patrick Njiru, we always admired the fast cars but I never thought I’d get into rallying. I think it started in 2011, I did a few classes with Abdul Sidi. In 2012, he got a driver who was looking for a navigator so he referred me to the driver.
So my first rally was the KCB Nakuru Rally in 2012. I was in a two-wheel drive car. Interestingly, it was the first Vitz to rally in the country. (Chuckles)
How did the Vitz perform?
We came in third in the two-wheel category, which shocked me and on top of this we won a bit of cash which rarely happens. (Laughs)
What exactly does a co-driver do?
We give instructions to the driver during a race. Organisers come up with the route and give us pace notes which are the instructions; how far is the river from the bend? How sharp is the bend? Is there a crest in the hill? Before the race we do a recce to see which obstacles we face. Then during the race my job is to give the driver instructions as to what to expect ahead.
So something like, “turn right in 20 meters, a ditch to the left, a big bump, slow down…an elephant incoming…an elephant!!…no, my bad, it’s only the village chief…”
(Laughs) Something like that, only a bit a more structured and more musical because you’re talking about speed of anything close to 180 km/hr on a rough road. You have to talk quickly and accurately: so it’s 100m into a medium left, a fast left or a hairpin left? Everything is fast and so it sounds like you are singing. Your job is to make sure that the driver is doing the right thing because if you call the wrong note you will be headed into a ditch or a tree or into a dam.
Do you love being a navigator of would you prefer to drive?
Uhm, hopefully I will drive, I still have that dream. But I love navigating, I love telling the driver what to do! (Laughs).
Has being a navigator changed how you drive?
Yes, it has. In 2009, I was involved in a speed-related accident. I was a passenger, though. The rally car is so different from a normal passenger car in terms of its safety features. We have a roll cage, six-point belt, bucket seats and protective helmet and competition brakes. Your car is not meant to race or even to roll. It’s meant to take you from point A to B and there is a reason roads have speed limits. Being in a rally car has completely changed how I drive on our roads.
As a navigator, what do you think makes a good rally driver?
(Pause) Seriousness. There are people who take it as a hobby and others who take it seriously. They plan, they take time to test the car with their co-driver. They listen because it’s teamwork. If you don’t have chemistry with a driver there will be a problem.
How do you know you two have chemistry?
We just gel. There is mutual respect. The fact is, most drivers don’t respect co-drivers. (Chuckles]). That’s just how it is, I mean he’s the monied guy, the car is practically his and rallying isn’t cheap. But he can’t do it alone, and that’s what they forget; that they can’t do it alone.
Outside rallying, how do you fill your time?
I’m a HR practitioner by day. I run my own businesses and I have a number of clients that I service so that keeps me busy. Other than that I hike, I climb things (Laughs), mountains…and I also love Manchester United.
No, just nephews and nieces.
Would you like to have children of your own one day or is that not part of the plan?
I love children and I plan to have a couple of my own. Hopefully a set of twins, you know just one off. (Laughs) But you can’t predict these things. For the longest time I would say ‘I’ve not met the right person,’ until my eight-year-old nephew told me the other day, “You don’t find a husband. A husband is supposed to find you. You’re the lady.”
That’s an eight-year-old?
Yeah! I was like OK.
That kid is naughty.
(Laughs) During Easter, my four-year-old nephew asked me, “Where’s your family?” and I was like, “You are my family,” and he said, “No, the one that lives in your house with you.” So yes, when the pressure starts coming from three-year-olds and four-year-olds you start thinking about it. But they said they’d pray for me I find a husband. (Laughs)
Oh! In that case you are in good hands.[Laughs] I am. I have nothing against marriage, I love kids. You know sometimes I wonder if I would be able to do all these things I’m doing in my life now had I been married. (Pause) I don’t know. But I think one day that’s the thing I will regret, that I didn’t get kids.
It’s never too late, you can always have an IVF…
(Laughs) I should try. Then what happens when the baby comes without a daddy, won’t I be questioned by my nephews where the daddy of this child is? (Laughs).
Are you enjoying your life?
Yes. Sometimes I think a little too much. (Laughs)
What car are you?
(Pause) Ferrari. Smooth. Cute. Fast
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