Emka rivals Muhangi in Shell Rally

Getting ready. Katto fixes his helmet ahead of a race in the late 90’s. FILE PHOTO

What you need to know:

Motorsport. Ugandan motor rally legend Emmanuel Katto without doubt enjoyed the biggest and most passionate fan base in East Africa. The 1996 and 1997 national champion is one of a few drivers to have won the Uganda National Championship back to back. The others being Sam Sali (1989, 90, 91, 92), Karim Hirji (1993, 94, 95) and Charlie Lubega (2000, 2001 and 2002). The legendary driver has taken occasional breaks from the sport over the years due to business commitments across various continents but he is not done with the sport. In part three of 10 series by Hussein Waheed Muk, focus is on his memorable duel with big-talking Charles Muhangi in the 1998 Shell Helix Rally.

Legendary motor rally ace Emmanuel Katto was such an entertainer and very competitive in his prime. Tales of his spectacular driving style are still told by many of his multitude of fans. In third of 10-part Flashback series, we revisit Katto’s memorable battle with an equally big talking Charles Muhangi in the 1998 Shell Helix Rally.
Muhangi ditched the Mitsubishi Evo 3 ‘Yellow Bird’ and dug deep in his pocket to purchase a World Class Subaru Imprezza ‘Ekitaguriiro’ in a bid to tame the likes of Katto.
Muhangi kept the secret of his new acquisition close to his chest and surprised everyone when he showed up for pre-event inspection (scrutineering) in a powerful Subaru Impreza whose thunderous noise was akin to gun shots.

Muhangi’s new Subaru
The next day thousands of spectators lined up at Lugogo Bypass to watch cars, especially Muhangi’s new Subaru, as they were flagged off at Club Ramgharia (now Kati Kati).
Katto, then the reigning national champion left the ramp first amidst cheers from his passionate fans and headed to Luwero for the competitive stages where he had a memorable showdown with Muhangi.
Katto in a Toyota Celica ST205 with co-driver James Opoka (RIP), shrugged off a spirited fight by Muhangi to win the race--- he was really made to sweat for the victory.
Muhangi’s fans in yellow T-shirts returned home very cold but it was very clear the contest at the top had shifted from Katto-Karim duel to Katto-Muhangi. Indeed that was just but the beginning of Katto-Muhangi rivalry.

What Katto recalls about this
race and Muhangi’s Ekitaguriiro:
I recall the Shell Helix rally with fond memories. Indeed Muhangi surprised us all with the fire spitting Ekitaguriro and the way he started the rally showed us that we were in for some serious competition!
Fortunately it took him a bit of time to master the Prodrive works machine and after exchanging some closely contested fast but smooth sections, we were able to pull away from him and win the event comfortably.
I recall celebrating the win with some nicely executed ‘doughnuts’ at Kati Kati to the screams of our loyal fans!
Our fans had the last laugh when Muhangi tried to copy us but ended up almost wiping out his adoring fans as he couldn’t handle the electronic diffs of the car that were new to him!
One thing was for sure though, serious competition had arrived on the Ugandan rallying scene and the fans were going to be in for some entertainment in the future.

*In part 4 of the series:
We flashback to Katto’s strong showing in the exciting 2007 Pearl of Africa Rally event including a cockpit conversation between him and co-driver Moses Matovu as the legendary speed merchant takes the veil off another hitherto untold story.