Profiles

Lynn Tundo: woman driving East African Classic Safari Rally

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East African Classic Safari Rally Championship Managing Director Lynn Tundo. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG

Summary

  • Since childhood, she has been the unseen hand directing her family’s rallying exploits. During a recent rally, her management skills were so impressive that the new owners of the company that runs the East African Classic Safari Rally decided to head-hunt her to return the event to its glory.

In Kenya’s rallying circles Tundo is a household name. It is difficult to have a chat about the country’s rallying history without its mention and the woman behind that success is Lynn Tundo.

Since childhood, she has been the unseen hand directing her family’s rallying exploits. During a recent rally, her management skills were so impressive that the new owners of the company that runs the East African Classic Safari Rally decided to head-hunt her to return the event to its glory.

Diana Ngila met the new East African Classic Safari Rally Championship (EASRC) Managing Director in Nairobi to pick her brains ahead of the November rally. She was accompanied by the company’s owner Joey Ghose, himself an accomplished rally driver.

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You're a woman of many firsts; first-ever woman clerk of the course, and now managing director of EASRC. How do you do it?

It’s normally a male-dominated sport, but I’ve been involved in motorsport most of my life, right from the age of 13. My brother started rallying in the original safari and so I was involved in helping him. Then my husband Frank started rallying, followed by my son and later my daughter. So, I’ve never been able to stop. And I’ve always been organising for them, the service and that sort of thing.

What role does the clerk of the course play?

The clerk of a course organises the rally. You have an event director, which is what I am for this coming rally, but the clerk of the course goes around, finds all routes, does all the notes, and ensures safety.

How did you become the first woman clerk of a course?

Having lived in Nakuru most of our married life, I was involved with the Rift Valley Club for many years, and then went away, came back, and they made me chairman, then clerk of the course for one of their Nakuru rallies.

At the Rift Valley Motor Club, we decided to run a couple of classic rallies, and that’s how I met Jay (Joey Ghose) who had come from the UK to take part in our rallies.

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East African Classic Safari Rally Championship MD Lynn Tundo and company’s owner Joey Ghose. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG

So, you came to take part in the rally and ended up owning the company that runs it. Why did you pick Lynn as this rally’s event director?

(Joey Ghose) The first rally I met Lynn, is the Top Fry Classic Rally in 2017. I felt it was very well organised. It was like the old days when I was growing up in Kenya, and therefore felt she was the right person who could bring to fruition the vision of the East African Safari Rally that we grew up with.

It {vision} was not the sprint we see with today’s modern high speed machines, but more like a journey through East Africa. Lynn and I shared a common goal, that’s why we gelled.

(Lynn Tundo) Describing EASRC as a journey rather than a sprint brings to mind Neil Vincent. He is credited as one of the pioneers of this thrill-seeking event. It is reported that he said, he'd rather get in the car, slam the door, drive halfway across Africa and the first car home is the winner.

Yes. It’s about endurance, that’s what the old Safari Rally was about. When we had the original Safari Rally, if you drove sensibly for the 7/10 days, you could finish and you’d finish very well. If you went flat out, you’d break your car, and then you’d be out. So it’s about endurance, protecting the car, enjoying the scenery, and not going flat out.

But then who wins if we’re all going so slowly?

(Joey Ghose) No, they’re not going slowly. They’re going slower than the modern rally, which is fast and furious, with short stages, and sprints. With modern cars, the faster you go, the higher your chances of winning.

Ours is 4,000 competitive kilometres through both Kenya and Tanzania. However, because of Covid-19, this year we decided it would be too complicated to cross borders given the huge team of people so kept it in Kenya, but added more places than previously.

This year the rally will go to Northern Kenya a bit. We’ll start in Naivasha, then head to Nakuru, Kerio Valley, Laikipia, Meru, Embu, and then cross over to Amboseli, just like the original rally, and finally finish at the Coastal region.

With the interest that the other rally (Safari Rally) generated, do you think this is going to be equally as successful?

(Lynn Tundo) I hope it’s going to be more successful. We are riding on the back of that Safari Rally. We have 70 cars entered, they had 34 and we have entrants coming from 14 countries, with 45 overseas entrants.

Our rally is bringing a lot of people together. We’re talking about an entourage of 700 people, going around Kenya every day. It’s an eye-opener for them, so hopefully they’ll come back and go to the parks.

How will you handle the logistics of moving 700 people around?

(Lynn Tundo) It’s a logistical nightmare. Finding beds in those places is hard, and already people are complaining “we can’t get a bed!”. But we have to look after the service crews and the drivers. If you think about it, each entrant will bring about 10 people. So you’ve got to make sure they’ve got to have first dibs at the accommodation.

You said they’re classic cars, meaning they have the old school look. What about under the hood?

(Joey Ghose) The cutoff date for the vehicles is 1985. You cannot have a four-wheel-drive , a turbo-charged or super-charged car. The point is we want to keep it old school, so the cars remain as they were pre-1985.

(Lynn Tundo) You’d be surprised how fast some of them are. The basics of the car remain the same. With modern technology, these days you can buy a car which is close to a World Championship Rally Car {performance wise}, and that is an issue because the cost also goes up to that level. So to answer your question, one of the reasons we took over this rally, was affordability to the common entrant. It was going out of reach.

In 2019, we had 20 entries. This year, we have 70. It just goes to show that we’ve made certain regulation changes that have gone on to make the event affordable, fair, transparent, and fun.

At the end of the day, we’re doing this for fun. We do not want a situation where one has to spend $500,000 to come for the event and then is full of tension for 10 days to try and win it at all costs.

That’s not what the East African Classic Rally was or will ever be about. It’s about having fun, showcasing our beautiful country, and attracting more people to come and visit Kenya.

Is rallying a family thing?

(Joey Ghose) Yes, it is. If your family is not behind you, then there is too much stress. Drawing from my rallying days, 40 years ago, until you return home after every rally, they’re stressed. But if they’re with you, being part of the team, then the stress is less, the fun is more and the whole family enjoys.

We are a family of four, I have two children, a son, and a daughter. They said I needed a way to relax, and since I don’t like modern-day rallying, they suggested the Classic Rally could be the way out. This is why the family needs to be involved. We work for the family, so the fun should be with the family.

(Lynn Tundo) Frank and I did his first rally together. At the end of it, I said to him, I think if we want to stay married we’ll get you another navigator! (bursts in laughter).

Why?

You know what it’s like with wives, husbands don’t trust their sense of direction. When we say turn right, they ask “are you sure?”. Yes, I’m sure, turn right! This year’s rally will be the first time the whole family is involved. I’ve got my daughter helping us run this event. My son {Carl} is doing it, so is my husband, and my other son from Dubai who has never rallied, and is coming to do it with Frank.

That’s what it’s all about. When everybody was rallying, I was always there on the sidelines, I couldn’t sit at home. I always went to enjoy it, made them sandwiches, and made sure that the windshields were clean. It’s just a family thing.

How do you get corporates to sponsor you?

(Joey Ghose) When you look at our rally, you’ve got 700 people moving around each day, and with media, the exposure is humongous. The 14 entries spread from Hong Kong to the US. We have drivers like Ken Block, Patrick Sandell from Sweden, Ian Duncan from Kenya as well as the Tundos (Carl and Frank), the Savages (Jonathan and Sebastian), and the Lee Roses from South Africa.

The rally will be broadcast in 50-60 countries, reaching an audience of 200-300 million people. This is great exposure to large companies and Kenya.