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Nikhil Sachania, a paraplegic rally driver re-defining Kenya’s motorsports scene

THE WRC Safari Rally Kenya 2024 took place from March 28 to March 31 in Naivasha, Nakuru county. This was the third round of the 2024 World Rally Championship events, following the Rallye Monte and Rally Sweden events that took place in January and February respectively. The sport is cherished in Kenya, with drivers like 35-year-old Nikhil Sachania being highly recognized and adored.

Sachania is Kenya’s first and only paraplegic rally driver. For him, getting through the race successfully has always been the ultimate goal. In the just concluded WRC Safari Rally, Sachania was among the team of competitors, alongside his navigator Deep Patel.

A Life-Changing Tragedy

During an exclusive interview with SportsBoom.com, Sachania highlighted the background story that cost him the ability to walk. He noted that at the age of 22, he got involved in a quad bike accident that severely injured his spine. This tragedy rendered him paralyzed from the waist down and confined him to a wheelchair. He was on the verge of losing his dream of becoming a motorsport driver but he drew resilience to fulfill his rallying ambition from his love and obsession for the sport.

Sachania’s interest in motorsport was sparked at a young age through watching his father compete in rally championships. “I would actively help him in secondary activities such as being a spanner boy, which greatly propelled my knowledge of rallying” says Sachania.

Exploring the Motorsport World as a Paraplegic Driver

In 2014, three years after the accident, he embarked on his rallying career. “I found it thrilling to be behind the wheel,” he recalled.

He further noted that his rally car is modified to accommodate his disability. “My first rally car was equipped with a simple push-pull mechanism, which made it possible to drive with one hand on the wheel and the other hand on the accelerator and brake.”

According to Sachania, the first few days of driving a modified car was challenging but through training and experience, he quickly adapted to the new driving mechanism. He now manoeuvres easily even in the most challenging terrains.

Sachania has made remarkable achievements that render him a force to be reckoned with in the motorsport arena. He has dominated local circuits given that he is a three-time winner in the Kenya SPV championships. In the 2022 WRC Safari Rally, he finished fourth in the Kenya National Rally Championship (KNRC), while in the 2023 edition, he recorded a podium finish that culminated to occupying the third position in the KNRC category and finishing 20th in the overall Safari Rally Championship.

Image Credit: KCB Kenya

Recognition of Rally Drivers with Disability by FIA

The second-generation driver acknowledges the FIA Disability and Accessibility Commission for supporting drivers with disability. The commission offers safety equipment at no cost. “In 2020, I received the FIA safety equipment grant that included a certified FIA tank, fire suppression kit, and overalls,” says Sachania.

“The FIA tank has been very instrumental in boosting my Safari Rally aspirations since 2021, which was the first time I participated in a WRC event.”

A Tragedy Turned Inspiration

Sachania has a unique and admirable driver-navigator relationship with his able-bodied partner Deep Patel, who describes him as an inspiration. According to Patel, “It is mind-blowing for people when they witness Nikhil racing a car. He is indeed an inspiration.”

Sachania aspires to continue participating in motorsport competitions to inspire others, particularly those who are oblivious of the possibility of having people with physical disabilities participate in motorsport events.

He states, “Although many people get inspired, they see me get out of the car to my wheelchair, there are those who question why I am driving and they think that it is outrageous.”

“Fortunately, I am able to block out the negativity and focus on the positive.”

Sachania is an embodiment of determination and self-belief. He has defied the accident-imposed limitations and inspired an upcoming generation of people with disabilities aspiring to venture in motorsports. He seeks to continue encouraging people with disabilities to work relentlessly towards achieving their full potential in the sports scene, regardless of the discipline they want to pursue.

By The African Mirror