When Liquid Telecom Kenya decided to engage to support and promote motor sports in Kenya, it arrived with an innovative sponsorship concept, built around deploying its own technological strengths to reposition the sport permanently on the national and international stage.
As part of the Econet Global group, Liquid Telecom Kenya has been among the official sponsors of the 2015 and 2016 Kenya National Rally Championship (KNRC), but its role has been rather different in shape and form than sponsorships that ran previously, with the Interent service provider moving into direct driver sponsorships combined with multiple technological set-ups.
The KNRC series runs eight rallies a year in different parts of Kenya, through some of the most challenging and breathtaking terrain, in areas such as Embu, Eldoret, Eldama Ravine, Guru Nanak, Iten, Kabarnet, Kiambu, Kisumu, Kajiado, Kitengela, Machakos, Meru, Mombasa, Nairobi, Naivasha, Nakuru, Nanyuki, Nyeri and Voi.
Liquid Telecom Kenya first entered the rally series, in 2015, with the sponsorship of rally legend Ian Duncan. Duncan is one of Kenya’s most successful rally drivers, boasting over 35 years of experience in motorsport.
As an all-round motorsport star, he has won the Kenyan Rally Championship six times and the Rhino Charge, which is a standalone, dangerous terrain rally run for charity, three times. He is also the reigning Classic Safari champion, has won the Safari rally in the World Rally Championship, and boasts successes in Rally Raid, Enduro and Motocross.
Duncan’s sponsorship package was different from the start, and included the set up of live, in-car Go-Pro footage from each rally, as well as behind the scenes footage. This has given rally enthusiasts access to unique rally content, and allowed audiences to experience the rallies from inside Duncan’s Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X.
Liquid Telecom Kenya aided with the new rally car, and installed the technology to film every moment of Duncan’s rally experience.
The set-up created a first in Kenyan motorsport, with the footage then uploaded online on the Liquid Telecom Motorsport Kenya You Tube channel and Ian Duncan’s website (www.ianduncanrallying.com) via Liquid Telecom’s very small aperture link (VSAT) uplink technology, at the end of each competitive section.
Liquid Telecom Kenya later moved to additionally sponsoring the all-female team, Rally Chix, led by Natasha Tundo and Chantal Young, throughout the 2016 KNRC season, through its retail brand Hai, which provides Internet connectivity to homes and small businesses.
Driver Tash Tundo, daughter to veteran rally driver Frank Tundo and younger sister to rally champion Carl “Flash” Tundo, has been part of the rallying community since her early years, when she was part of the organizing committees, and later became club steward and deputy clerk of the course.
The mother of two first took to rallying as a navigator for other drivers, in both Kenya and Uganda, including her father and brother. She navigated for her father for four years and later shipped to Uganda where she finished second in the Uganda Pearl of Africa rally in 2012 while navigating for Ugandan driver Jas Mangat.
Her greatest achievement was becoming the No. 10 best female rally navigator in the world. She also finished fourth in the Safari Rally in 2012, and went on to win the Guru Nanak 2012 while navigating for Carl Tundo, making them the first brother and sister in Africa to win a rally together.
Tash took over the cockpit, navigated by Chantal, for the first time as a rally driver in 2015, after six years of being a navigator.
Chantal has also always been surrounded by motorsport and is one of Kenya’s most well rounded female competitors. Her competitive history began with racing quad bikes, taking numerous overall podiums before moving into rallying. Chantal won the Classic Championship in her first year in rallying, before taking the accolade of highest placed female navigator in the 2013 Classic Safari Rally.
Since launching as an all-women rally team, the Rally Chix have made their mark, in a male dominated sport. They defied all odds during the 64th Safari Rally in Elementaita to return their Subaru Impreza N10 in 11th overall position.
Even as it backed Ian and the Rally Chix, Liquid Telecom was continuously developing several new technological strands to revolutionise the whole of motorsport in Kenya and across the continent, by raising time-keeping and rally monitoring to international standards, and making the championships more accessible to the wider audience.
The aim has been to scale Kenyan rallies to international standards by improving the safety and precision of the rallies to the standards set by the International Motorsport Federation (FIA), strengthening the country’s bid to be reinstated in the World Rallying Championship by 2019.
The Safari Rally was first ran as a WRC round in 1973, but was dropped after government funding dried up in 2002. It has however, continued as a domestic event. However, during its nearly three decades as one of WRC’s rounds, it was one of the championship’s most important rounds.
“Our entire vision and mission at Liquid Telecom is to shape Africa’s future through transformatory technology: it was obvious as we looked at ways of engaging in extra contributions to society through sports sponsorship that we should identify an area where we could deploy technology to achieve gains to everyone involved,” said Mr Paul Statham, Chief Operating Officer of Liquid Telecom Kenya.
“The potential national and international importance of the Safari Rally had been proven historically, yet it had been confined in its options for more than a decade, making it an ideal engagement for Liquid Telecom Kenya.”
Following from the 2015 sponsorship of Ian and his technological set-up, Liquid Telecom Kenya moved from the beginning of the 2016 KNRC series to providing connectivity at all the rallying events through the provision of free Wi-Fi throughout the competitions via its national fibre, its VSAT services in remote areas, and dedicated Wi-Fi networks that it set up for each event.
This has enabled more engagement and involvement for everyone involved in the rallying. Liquid Telecom Kenya also moved to providing Wi-Fi and web hosting services to the Kenya Motor Sports Federation (KMSF).
The company is also now the official timing and results partner throughout the 2016-2018 KNRC series.
To this end, it has procured state-of-the-art World Rally Championship standard timing equipment from TAG Heuer, to ensure Kenyan rallies meet world-class standards. Liquid Telecom Kenya will be in charge of operating and maintaining the kit, as well as supplying the critical communication links between stages and rally headquarters.
All participating cars will be fitted with this equipment and will beam continuous signals from their existing transponders to TAG Heuer receivers that upload the data to the Rally HQ via satellite. The technology will deliver constant records of the whereabouts of every competitor, and internationally recognized timing, giving immediate and much more accurate results than the previous system, which used stop watches and flags.
“Motorsports timing in the modern era is integrally linked to sensors and signals, making it another area where Liquid Telecom was ideally placed to contribute,” said Mr Statham.
Liquid Telecom Kenya has also deployed technology to allow home spectators all over the world to enjoy the rally events in real time. In June 2016 at the 64th KCB Safari Rally held in Elementaita, Liquid Telecom Kenya successfully streamed the rally series live with a commentator via the Liquid Telecom Motorsport Kenya You Tube channel.
The live stream broadcast further features footage captured by low flight drones, also provided by Liquid Telecom Kenya, which circle over the course throughout the first spectator stage to get close to the action. The drones are connected to Liquid Telecom’s free Wi-Fi hotspots at the location and linked back over high-speed microwave and satellite to Liquid Telecom’s pan-African fibre network.
“The application of drones and in-car technology has helped broaden the appeal for motorsport in Kenya and beyond our borders. If you look back twenty years, the TV coverage of motorsports was practically non-existent. It’s just been an incredible advancement, which has helped raise the profile of rally car driving,” said Duncan.
The footage is held on YouTube in Liquid Telecom Kenya’s growing archive of KNRC rally film, with the live You Tube broadcasts of KNRC are expected to be upgraded with new features in subsequent rallies.
“Rally by rally we will increase the coverage, bringing in a “Fan Park” where guests can watch the stream; streams of a greater number of stages and multiple social feeds. These will run on YouTube first, then Periscope, and then Facebook Live, as and when it properly launches here in Kenya,” said Mr Statham.
The latest upgrade again has been the new partnership between Liquid Telecom Kenya and Kwese Free Sports, Econet Media’s Television channel, which has enabled a further elevation of the Kenyan rallies to a new space, in the form of live TV.
The spectator’s stage of the last two races of the 2016 KNRC series were covered live on Kwese Free Sports TV, with the first broadcast aired on November 6, 2016, making another first for motorsport in Kenya and Africa.
The launch of its Kenyan motor sports coverage also marked the channel’s first new African sports content, giving audiences the chance to watch the rally live on television, which had never happened in Kenya, as well as giving the sport more exposure still.
“Little attention has been paid to motor rallying in Africa: we want to bring it to the forefront by offering quality, timely, and convenient broadcasts to fans in Kenya. We wanted to give the rally a bigger footprint away from the people who actually go and watch it on location,” said Monicah Ndung’u, general manager of Kwese Free Sports TV.
“We also wanted to facilitate the growth of the sport because we are a sports channel. We view motorsport as an important element of the sports calendar in Kenya.”
Kwese Free Sports, which launched in Kenya in August, is offering sports coverage for free on any set-top decoder or digital TV. It also holds exclusive free-to-air rights for the Premier League, the National Basketball Association (NBA), Extreme Fighting Championship (EFC) and the National Football League (NFL), and is now airing in Rwanda and Malawi, and available in Ethiopia, Senegal, Mauritius, Mozambique, Nigeria, Seychelles, Congo DRC, Benin, Togo, Uganda, Ghana, Angola and Tanzania through affiliate channels.
The rally coverage partnership with Kwese Free Sports TV is just the latest success for Liquid Telecom Kenya in its mission to reposition the KNRC, with potential for even frutehr development of the group’s connection with East African motorsport.
“We believe that developing motorsport through the application of even more technology, and more channels of exposure, has been made possible through our tie-up with Kwese Free Sports TV, and are already in talks on how to take this further,” said Mr Statham.
It’s a position, less than two years onwards from Liquid Telecom Kenya’s very first engagement with Kenyan motorsports that speaks to and initial vision and concept that has progressively and rigorously been turned into a reality.