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WRC Safari Rally fever

Yassin Nasser

Yassin Nasser

Ugandan drivers are bracing for the opportunity to take on the world's best in the WRC Safari Rally due later this month in Kenya, reports FRANK SERUGO.

Five Ugandan drivers, set to participate in the WRC Safari Rally due from June 25 to 27 in neighbouring Kenya are raring to go.

The prestigious event, dubbed the toughest rally ever, was only recently reinstated onto the World Rally Championship (WRC) series. It was scrapped off the WRC series way back in 2002 due to financial and organizational mishaps.

For this year, Kenya’s Safari Rally is the only WRC event on the African continent. It is the sixth of twelve WRC-calendar events.

Understandably, East African drivers who include five Ugandans; Ronald Ssebuguzi, Duncan ‘Kikankane’ Mubiru, Kepher Walubiri, Yassin Nasser and Hassan Alwi Junior, are excited about the reality of taking on the world’s best competitors.

DREAM COME TRUE

The Ugandans are making their debut in the WRC-ranked competition.

"It will be a dream come true for me to take on the world's best drivers,” Ssebuguzi, a two-time Uganda rally (NRC) champion, said in an interview last week. He will be navigated by Anthony Mugambwa in a Mitsubishi EvoX.

Duncan ‘Kikankane’ Mubiru, who currently leads the national championship (NRC) title race, concurred with Ssebuguzi on their impending WRC Safari Rally debut.

“I cannot claim that I am going there to beat those world-class guys and win the rally; for me, it’s a chance to participate, rubber shoulders and learn from the best,” Mubiru told The Observer on Sunday (June 6) after winning the UMC Kassanda Rally.

The seasoned competitor will drive a Subaru Impreza GBV in the WRC Safari Rally. He will be navigated by Musa Nsubuga. Another WRC rookie, Walubiri said: “This is every rally driver’s dream come true! Who am I to be part of this world history without God’s blessing!”

Emma Katto, who finished in a respectable seventh position during the 1997 edition of the event, remains Uganda’s best performer in the history of the WRC Safari Rally. Karim Hirji and the late Charles Muhangi are the other Ugandan drivers who participated in the rally between 1996 and 2001.

ELITE DRIVERS

The legendary Sheikh Metha and Ian Duncan are the only East African drivers to have won the world series Safari Rally. This year, Kenya’s reigning champion Carlo Tundo leads the East Africa legion. Coming off victory in the candidate Equator Safari rally, Tundo (fondly nicknamed Flash for his terrifying speed in rally routes) will bank on his huge experience in the challenging Kenyan terrain, especially the sections in the Great Rift Valley.

Kenya’s Maxine Wahome/Chantal Young will be the only all-lady crew out of 58 entries confirmed by world governing body, FIA, on its website.

Current WRC title race leader Sebastien Ogier of France leads the elite drivers who will compete for top honours in the WRC Safari Rally. Briton Elfyn Evans (both Toyota Gazoo Team) and Belgian Thierry Neuville (Hyundai Shell World Racing team) are also in the rally.

Meanwhile, the crew of Jas Mangat and Joseph Kamya (in a Mitsubishi EvoX) bagged their first season win on their second outing this year after a short sabbatical.

MANGAT WINS UMC

Mangat posted the fastest time of one hour, 23 minutes and 34 second to clinch to the scientifically organised UMC Kassanda Sugar Rally last Saturday, June 5.

After this morale-boasting victory, the former NRC champion stated: “Pearl of Africa rally is our next target, if we are to get into title race.”

The prestigious Pearl of Africa Rally that doubles as a continental round is set for August 27-29. Despite finishing runner-up in the Kassanda rally, Duncan Mubiru now leads the NRC title race with 270 points. He is followed by Hassan Alwi (230 points) and Fred Busulwa (225 points) in second and third positions respectively.

In the Clubman Rally championship (CRC) rookie Mark Lubega (son of former NRC champion Charlie Lubega) outclassed other drivers in his category, posting the best time of 59 minutes, 29 seconds. However, Shafik Sendagire, who finished fourth in the CRC category, keeps lead of their championship with 40 points.

© 2016 Observer Media Ltd