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Defying all odds, Kenya’s paraplegic driver ready for Safari Rally

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After receiving a safety equipment grant from the FIA Disability and Accessibility Commission last year, Kenya’s paraplegic driver Nikhil Sachania is leaving nothing to chance.

Nikhil has completed requisite modifications as advised by the World governing body, FIA, and is awaiting ‘Certificate of Adoption’ which will be done over the next few days.

Rightly so, the Nairobi based KNRC Division One driver is taking advantage of the recent suspension of sporting activities to fine-tune his hand-controlled Mitsubishi Evolution 10 for this year’s WRC Safari Rally event.

The reigning three-time Kenyan SPV Champion has already fitted the certified safety fuel tank he received from ATL as part of the FIA Disability Grant.

The contender in the Kenya National Rally Championship SPV Class and Division One logs is now racing against time for “Certificate of Adoption” eligibility after visiting FIA delegates had recommended further upgrades last year.

His Championship winning EvoX was inspected by Natacha Di Sivuliu (Project and Commission Manager-Safety Department) and Josef Halter (Engineer delegate from FIA).

“There were some modifications that were required for the hand-controls that the FIA Safety Officer had pointed out in the inspection report.

The modifications were to ensure that the hand-controls are attached securely to the car and that the they work smoothly.

Kenya’s paraplegic driver Nikhil Sachania at his office on Friday (top) and during previous rally actions. Photo/PD/EDWIN OTIENO

This is already done to their satisfaction. We have also changed the rear differential of the car as we were having issues throughout the last season with it failing regularly.”

Nikhil reveals that his Specially Prepared Vehicle (SPV) car is being upgraded in phases well in time for Safari’s long awaited return.

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“The car is being worked on in Mlolongo as we speak and should be in great shape in the next few weeks. I hope to test the car soon to make sure the new parts are working as planned.

During this time of the sporting lull we are focusing more on preparing the car to have it ready for WRC.

When the FIA delegates had come to assess the car they had pointed out a few issues that needed to conform with their safety standards and homologation.”

“Their visit was to inspect the vehicle so that I can apply for Certification of Adaption.

The Certificate of Adaptation is provided by the FIA for competition vehicles not in compliance with the corresponding homologation and/or technical regulations due to the adaptations required for a disabled driver.

The Adaptations Working Group of the FIA Disability and Accessibility Commission only accepts requests for vehicles intended for competitions included in the International Sporting Calendar or competitions with regulations specifically requesting the FIA certificate of adaptations.

The fuel tank has been installed in the car’s boot. It is an ATL tank. The support from the FIA will help us conform to the FIA safety regulations and also allow us to participate in FIA related events.

The FIA Disability and Accessibility Commission offers support to disabled drivers through the no-cost supply of a range of safety equipment.

Available to disabled drivers who participate in at least five races per year sanctioned by their National Sporting Authority (ASN), the grant is intended to make motor sport more accessible without compromising safety.

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Disability and Accessibility Commission

The FIA created the Disability and Accessibility Commission to ensure accessible racing and motoring across both the Sport and Mobility pillars.

Nikhil was hoping to make his WRC Safari debut in July 2020 but due to the global health emergency he has had ample time to rework his hand-controlled SPV (a non-homologated-Specially Prepared Vehicle).

Nikhil’s car is a group N spec “with the only addition of the hand controls and the SST transmission”.

“Our goals for 2021 are the same as 2020! Very excited for the scheduled WRC event.

2020 started off very well. Unfortunately with Covid-19 everyone’s plans were interrupted for all our safety. I hope we have a better 2021!” Nikhil said.

Disability Not Inability

Ever wondered how drivers racing with disabilities hack it on the cockpit – and the technology that helps make that possible?

Well, Nikhil Sachania is one such passionate dude who won’t let a common form of disability stand in the way of his racing aspirations.

His passion for the man and machine game is priceless, and this is what brings him back to the cockpit time and time again.

How motor racing passion changed his life

In September 2011, Nikhil was involved in an accident in Athi River where he was testing his new quad with Shazar Anwar and Zane Young trying to get ready for his would-be first national event.

He then hit a rock at high-speed and landed head first. The impact shattered his spine. But guess what? Nikhil has always wanted to race no matter what!

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“I have always loved motorsports, I can’t remember my first encounter but it would be from stories of my dad’s rallying days in the 1980’s.

Well, during my rehabilitation (after the accident), there were two or three people that were driving in our team so it never really slipped my mind. As soon as I had enough strength I jumped into the first car I could get.

My father and my uncle (Kiran Patel) gave me the kind of advice or guidance I needed, so I always knew whom to turn too.

The first three months were the hardest, since I had also broken my left hand. Getting around was very difficult and frustrating.

Once I got back, everything was back to normal- work the next day and partying over the weekends!  I love the feeling!”

And having already taken some impressive gains at KNRC category level, Nikhil now targets to win the Division One and eventually the elite Premier Class, the summita5 National level.

Hand-controls

“All my cars are hand controlled. The operation is a simple push and pull lever mechanism- pull to accelerate and push to brake.”

“Work always comes first then sports. My rally car is always based at my work place, so it is fairly easy to check up on it once or twice a day.

The Mitsubishi Challenger pick up was really fun to drive! It felt like you are driving in a monster truck. The Evo X is faster and I’m loving it everyday. -Edwin Otieno

By PD.co.ke

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