Winning the coveted Africa Rally Championship title has lifted Kenya’s Karan Patel to the pinnacle of continental success as he sets his sight on the world stage.
The youthful driver shelved his defence of the Kenya National Rally Championship title to challenge for the Africa crown, which slipped between his fingers last year after he lost invaluable points to eventually finish second overall behind Zambia’s Leroy Gomes.
But there was no slip-up this time around. Experience has taught him to take each sure steps as time goes by in sports. Karan started competing in the World Rally Championship stage in his rookie years but failed, and wise pieces of advice prevailed on him to gradually climb the ladder.
Yet for nine year’s his father Kiran Patel prevailed upon him to first get an education and secure a job first, then stand on his feet. The 32-year-old is now an accomplished rally driver, physical training buff, and is a darling of sponsors. Austrian energy drinks company Redbull has signed him as a Redbull Athlete, and KCB Bank has invested Sh8 million on him in annual sponsorship for his rally programme.
He is a contented man looking forward to returning to the World Rally Championships to pick up from where he left in 2016 season.
“I rolled down a valley five times in Portugal, driving a Ford Fiesta R2T in the Dmack Cup but emerged a better driver in 2016,” he recalls with nostalgia.
He also competed in Spain, Poland, Germany and Portugal where he retired with mechanical problems. He, however, finished in Finland (42rd overall) and in Poland (43rd).
Known within rallying as “Toto Moto” Karan is a jet-skier, motocross racer, and emerging professional rally driver.
He was born and raised in Mombasa where he started his education at Tiny Tots, then joined Coast Academy and later Mombasa International School. He then moved to Kenton College, Bredbury High School and Premier Academy, all in Nairobi, before proceeding to the UK for further studies.
He had a knack for speed from a young age. But it wasn’t until he got into dirt bike racing in the national motocross circuit that he started to really develop his competitive edge over 15 years ago.
Little did he know, rallying was in his future.
Karan may be a speed merchant, but he also has good academic credentials. He is a Licensed Aircraft Engineer and a Certified Level 2 NDT Aerospace inspector, currently working in the helicopter maintence industry.
But Patel is known better as a rally driver and his record speaks for itself. He has quite an impressive resume; 2022 national champion, 2005 East Africa Motocross Champion, 2022 Motorsports Personality of the Year, 2021 WRC Safari Rally 8th overall and 2nd in Rally 2 class.
But it is 2023 that has brought the best out of him. He wrapped up the Africa Rally Championship title last month in Tanzania after a long season, yet he could have done so earlier had he not missed Cote d’Ivoire Bandama Rallye, and the Pearl of Africa Rally in Uganda.
With his regular co-driver Tauseef Khan beside him, Karan won the Rwanda, Kenya, Burundi, and Zambia legs of the ARC series to claim the African crown which eluded him after being out-pointed by Gomes last year.
Behind the veneer of calm and assuredness displayed by Karan and Khan throughout the season lay an undercurrent of excitement that erupted into joy during the prize-giving ceremony in Sao Hill Mafinga, Iringa in Tanzania.
Karan now joins the prestigious ranks of Kenyan drivers who have triumphed in the ARC namely; Shekhar Mehta, David Horsey, Jaspreet Singh Chatthe, Don Smith, Manvir Baryan, and Carl Tundo.
“I have always enjoyed racing and so I don’t need much to keep me going. I am also a very competitive individual and so second place is not enough for me,” he says.
“Nevertheless the fact that I have a wonderful group of people banking on me and supporting me in my journey to be the best version of myself helps a lot because when the going gets tough I think about the support I have from my family, my team, my friends, supporters and fans which I use to keep pushing myself to greater heights.”
With the ARC crown firmly in his pocket, Patel can now reflect on the season.
“Winning the African title is extremely valuable as we have worked very hard as a team and family. But the 2021 World Rally Championship Safari Rally was something else,” says Patel.
“As you may expect, since 2014 when I started rallying, there have been so many ups and downs and various situations that test me as a driver. The most exciting and memorable moment was when we finished eighth overall, and second in the Rally 2 class during the 2021 WRC Safari Rally Kenya.”
His pillar is naturally his parents who have invested heavily in his rallying career, including gifting him a Ford Fiesta Rally 2 car to achieve his desired goal of being the best in his generation.
The Ford Fiesta Rally 2 is a modern machine for racing while a 25-year-old Toyota Land Cruiser 100 is his preferred daily ride.
The senior Patel is usually a prominent feature in the service bay of his son’s team. He is more of a friend to Karan and his younger brother Kush than a father. The boys in return love and respect him.
“Being the backbone of my racing career, my father’s role in my motorsport’s journey is nothing short of extraordinary. The feelings I experience are a mix of profound pride, unwavering support, and a deep connection that goes beyond the racetrack, “Karan says.
“Witnessing my father’s pride in my pursuit of a racing career is incredibly fulfilling. His joy isn’t just derived from my victories but also from the hard work and determination I exhibit, no matter the outcome. Knowing that I’ve made him proud is a driving force behind my efforts on the track.
“My father stands as my steadfast supporter, offering encouragement during the highs and solace during the lows. His unwavering belief in my abilities and his words of encouragement are like a constant tailwind, propelling me forward in my racing endeavors. Our shared love for racing forms a special bond between us. The common interest not only strengthens our relationship but also provides a unique avenue for us to connect on a deeper level.
“Together, we navigate the challenges and relish in the triumphs, creating enduring memories along the way. My father shoulders significant responsibilities and makes sacrifices to ensure my success. Whether it’s financial support, time spent traveling to races, or hands-on assistance with the racing vehicle, his commitment is evident. His sacrifices become a testament to his belief in my dreams. The highs and lows of my racing career are an emotional journey we navigate together. From the elation of a podium finish to the disappointment of setbacks, my father is there, sharing in the emotional rollercoaster,” he intimates.
“Our shared experiences on the racetrack forge a bond that transcends the ordinary. The legacy my father helps create is something truly special. The memories we forge on the racetrack, the lessons learned through challenges, and the shared victories become an integral part of our family narrative.
“It’s a legacy that extends beyond the racing career, leaving an indelible mark on our history. In essence, my father’s role as the backbone of my racing career is a journey marked by pride, support, shared passion, and sacrifice. Together, we are creating a legacy that transcends the racetrack, forming lasting memories that will be cherished for a lifetime.”
But in a country which claims ownership of a winning person, but who is often criticised or shunned in defeat or when things are not going on well, Patel is not an exception and has been a victim of this negative energy.
“Criticism is one of the challenges that I faced through my rally career however, each mistake is a lesson learned and each decision made has been done based on careful consideration and various factors. I always remind myself of these things when I face negative criticism,” he says.
On the WRC Safari, Karan says Kenyans need this event to measure against the best.
The Kenyans proved to be worthy competitors in 2021 after Onkar Rai finished a remarkable 7th followed by Karan and Tundo. But all these would not have been possible without the support of the KCB Bank, his main sponsor.
“It is a great relationship considering KCB has been at the backbone of my rallying career from the very start as sponsors of the event (rallying) themselves to now sponsor our team,” he says.
Also for Patel to be named as the first Kenyan Redbull Athlete which comes with huge benefits including international exposure, financial assistance and opportunities for growth, remains the single most important factor of his career.
The other Redbull athlete is Sylvia “Queen Arrow” Gathoni in esport gaming.
Patel follows a very strict lifestyle, work and sports regime. “A typical day for me starts at 4:30am with a cup of black coffee, followed by an intense 90 minute workout starting at 5am where I focus on doing various exercises to condition and enhance my fitness levels.
“I then spend some time in the steam room before I freshen up and head straight to work from the gym. My work is my passion and it’s something I really look forward to everyday. I’m always the first person in at work by 7:45am and the last one out at 4:30pm. Lastly I get home around 5 – 5:15 pm where I typically chill out for about an hour then start making dinner,” intimates Patel.
“I like to eat early so that I can wait an hour after eating before I get into bed at 8:30 pm in preparation for the next day of the same routine.”
All these efforts are put into good use on every weekend he is on the wheel.
“Good mental and physical preparation before a race is key to optimum performance, ” he says.
“For me I am always working on this, constantly challenging myself by pushing the limits of what I can achieve.
“I believe that it’s important to have good physical endurance and this will ensure good mental abilities because the first thing that happens before you lose mental performance is that you get physically tired, therefore I’m always working on my physical fitness because it compliments my mental abilities.
“But nevertheless it’s also important to be mentally prepared for a race and for this I would say experience helps me because only time and various situations can help you strengthen your mental state of mind and help you manage yourself during situations that would otherwise challenge less experienced competitors.
Away from sports Patel remains a busy man at Tailwinds Solutions. Founded by Licensed Aircraft Engineer Karan Patel, Tailwind Solutions Limited was incorporated in 2019 and is an independently owned Limited company. One of the founders holds an EASA B1 and KCAA Cat. ‘A’ and ‘C’ Licenses with type ratings and is a Certified NDT Level II Inspector.
“Our team possesses the skills, talent, drive and knowledge for success in the advanced non-destructive testing services and consultancy for aerospace and general industry with related sales of spare parts and specialised consumables,” he said.
“Our reputation stands in providing high quality NDT services to all industry sectors across Africa, because your safety is important to us,” he concludes.