From ramp to podium into greatness, fame

Saturday April 24 2010

Katto cruises his Subaru N14 during last year’s

Katto cruises his Subaru N14 during last year’s Pearl Rally while below, Adams (L) prepares to celebrate as Hirji leaves the ramp. PHOTOS BY: JB SSENKUBEGE 

By Ismail Dhakaba Kigongo

Much as the winner of any rally event across the world posts the fastest time, speed is not all you need to stand on the podium. As rallies have evolved, consistency and aggression have remained key ingredients to winning championships finishes.
In the run up to this year’s KCB Pearl of Africa Uganda Rally, the biggest event on the local calendar, Daily Monitor’s Ismail Dhakaba Kigongo, in a two-part series, analyses the 10 greatest crews to have not only raised the most dust but thrilled with success.

Here is the bottom 5

6. Emmanuel Katto
One of the eternal debates among local rally fans is the comparison between Emmanuel Katto and Charles Muhangi. This adrenalin-no-facts-inspired argument is surely one you can get involved in since the more dust a driver raises, the more thrill he/she will bring to the fans.

Katto, call him EMKA, started rallying in 1984 but quit after one season. It took him another 11 years to return and when he did, EMKA broke Hirji’s stranglehold on the national title by winning the Holy Grail in 1996 in Toyota Celica. He, along with study-to-the-detail navigator Moses Matovu, defended their crown in 1997. The crew has competed on in the Africa Rally Championship since 1996 and currently own a state-of-the-art Subaru Impreza N14.

7. Karim Hirji
When motorsport reached its peak in the early and mid-90s, Karim Hirji is one of the drivers who made every event unpredictable. Perhaps, not many rally drivers were fond of the Toyota Celica ST which the hotelier popularized by winning three straight national titles from 1993 to 1995.

Now 60 and retired, Hirji first drove with David Mayanja as his navigator before switching to Frank Nekusa to form the winning combination. Their stock grew even further when the duo won the first Pearl of Africa Uganda Rally in 1996. At the time when Kenya’s KCB Safari Rally was in its prime, Hirji finished within the top 10 thrice in four attempts. To many, he is refered to as Mzee.

8. Riyaz Kurji (RIP)
Riyaz Kurji was more than just a rally driver. Kurji, who died during last year’s KCB Pearl of Africa Uganda Rally, didn’t have to win a national championship to claim fame. Actually, he refused to compete in the last event of the 2005 season which could have guaranteed him the national crown following the death of Charlie Lubega’s co-driver, Abed Musa, in the week preceding the rally held in Jinja. Kurji was introduced to motorsport in late 2003 by Dipu Ruparelia but went on to become a philanthropist.

Arguably the fastest driver Africa has ever seen, Kurji was an embodiment of the competitive spirit that any sportsman must have. He won the Pearl Rally in 2005, 2006 and 2009 in addition to several other events across the border in Kenya.
Omar Mayanja, a rally driver, wrote; “observing the crowds that turned up for the funeral procession, I was left wondering what acts of greatness this fairly young soul had committed.”

Adding; “in many ways, Riyaz had lived his life and a full life it was. Dying days before his 46th birthday, he had surpassed the average Ugandans life expectancy.”
After surviving the crash fairly unscathed, Kurji’s navigator, Sayed Kadri, retired from the sport.

9. Ponsiano Lwakataka
So often, many people are fond of saying more than they can deliver but big-talking Ponsiano Lwakataka tries to walk the talk. His fierce approach in the rally cockpit must have been learnt from his days as a biker. Since switching from two wheels to four, Lwakataka has twice been crowned the National Rally Champion in 2005 and 2007 in his Subaru N4 and N8 respectively.

In his debut season six years ago, he shook up the established order with commendable finishes for anyone who cared to take note. Lwakataka, previously navigated by George Ssemakula, is quickly re-branding for a charge at a third national crown. His detractors can always point to his ‘purported lack of sportsmanship’ as he never takes in failure as part of the learning curve.

10. Chipper Adams
Having an inferior car cannot keep a good man down. Chipper Adams, in his Toyota Supra, re-defined the art of getting through corners. He was eventually named the ‘corner specialist’ for gliding through the tightest hair-pins. Though national rally title was elusive until he retired, Adams, co-driven by Justin Beyendeza, won the Pearl of Africa Uganda in 1997 in his Supra a.k.a. The Hissing Cobra. He tormented with bigger cars that you were always with the belief of him winning championships has he driven a better car. His place in history was made safe by winning the Pearl rally in 1999, the first time the event was held as an Africa Rally Championship (ARC) scoring event.