Locals moment to rub shoulders with royalty

Seasoned Campaigner. Mubiru and his navigator Mayanja have a lot of experience on Kenyan routes. PHOTO | JOHN BATANUDDE

What you need to know:

  • Once In A Lifetime. Five Ugandan drivers will race against the world’s best drivers including seven-time champion Sebastian Ogier hoping to write a new chapter in one of the toughest events as the Safari Rally reaches 68 editions.

For nearly three decades between 1973 and 2002, Kenya had a jewel. They hosted a round of the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) – the Safari Rally.

At that time, it was the biggest sports event this region had. Ugandan drivers – Karim Hirji and Emma Katto – made a splash there – finishing seventh in 1994 and 1997 respectively.

Those results were huge as their Toyota Celica ST185 machines were never expected to compete with renowned drivers like Richard Burns, Colin McRae, Carlos Sainz and Tommi Makinen.  

The event was excluded from the WRC calendar due to a lack of finance and organisation in 2003. Since 2003 the event has been part of the African Rally Championship, organised by the FIA.

Post-2003, Riyaz Kurji and Jas Mangat, then owning Ugandan rallying licenses, managed podium finishes.

On September 27, 2019, the rally was readmitted into the WRC championship calendar starting with the 2020 rally.

Deep pockets

It was later cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic, instead making its return in 2021. That long awaited WRC return, backed by US$2m (Shs7.4b) from the Kenyan government, is today.  

Up to 70 crews will race through 796.86km, of which 262.93kms is competitive as the event reaches its 68th edition. It is concentrated around the town of Naivasha in Nakuru County.

Many will be looking out for the red and white Toyota Yaris WRC driven by seven-time world champion Sebastian Ogier. Flying under the radar, like Katto and Hirji before, are five Ugandan crews. They are led by three-time national champion Ronald Ssebuguzi, co-driven by Anthony Mugambwa in a Mitsubishi Evo. X. 

“This is a chance for us to show our potential amongst the very best in the world,” said Ssebuguzi before departure.

He will be flagged off 42nd, four cars ahead of Yasin Nasser/Ali Katumba (Subaru Impreza). Current National Rally Championship (NRC) leader Duncan Mubiru/Omar Mayanja (Subaru Impreza) leave 54th.

From driver to navigator

It’s a huge switch for Mayanja who has always been a driver himself. “It was quite the shock for me to be asked to call the notes,” Mayanja noted. “Previously, I was working as team liaison for Kikankane rally team for the WRC Safari Aally. I thought I would be close to the action and in the thick of things. I never imagined it was going to be this thick. “It’s not easy for a driver to become a passenger and be driven at high speed. It takes a while to get used to it.  “Not having the driving controls at your hands and feet can be scary when you call a triple caution.  On the other hand I don’t want to end up upside down because I called it too late.

Experience in Kenya

“But it’s comforting that Duncan has a lot of experience in Kenya and is in his best form ever. It’s also a very special rally.

“So, in as much as I am a reluctant passenger, I am grateful for the opportunity to do even more for the team and make even more unforgettable memories,” Mayanja explained.

The other Ugandans are Hassan Alwi Junior/James Mwangi (Subaru Impreza) and Kepher Walubi/Siraje Kyambadde (Mitsubishi Evo. X) are placed 56th and 58th respectively on the ramp.

All five Ugandan crews will be written in the annals of local, Kenyan and world rally history if they finish what was often referred to as the toughest event on the global circuit. 

LAST 10 WINNERS 

AS A WRC EVENT

1993: Juha Kankkunen/ Juha Piironen (Toyota Celica)

1994: Ian Duncan/David Williamson (Toyota Celica)

1995: Yoshio Fujimoto/Arne Hertz (Toyota Celica)

1996: Tommi Mäkinen/ Seppo Harjanne (Mitsubishi Evo. III)

1997: Colin McRae/Nicky Grist (Subaru Impreza WRC)

1998: Richard Burns/Robert Reid (Mitsubishi Evo. IV)

1999: Colin McRae/ Nicky Grist (Ford Focus)

2000: Richard Burns/ Robert Reid (Subaru Impreza WRC)

2001: Tommi Mäkinen/ Risto Mannisenmäki  (Mits Evo. 6.5)

2002: Colin McRae/ Nicky Grist (Ford Focus)

KENYA SAFARI RALLY

LAST 10 WINNERS

2010: Lee Rose/ Piers Daykin  (Mitsubishi Evo. IX)

2011: Carl Tundo/ Tim Jessop (Mitsubishi Evo. IX)

2012: Carl Tundo/ Tim Jessop (Mitsubishi Evo.IX)

2013: Baldev Chager/ Ravi Soni (Mitsubishi Evo. X)

2014: Baldev Chager/ Ravi Soni (Mitsubishi Evo. X)

2015: Singh Chatthe Jaspreet/ Panesar Gurdeep (Mits Evo. X R4)

2016: Singh Chatthe Jaspreet/ Panesar Gurdeep (Mits Evo. X R4)

2017: Tapio Laukkanen/ Gavin Laurence (Subaru Impreza WRX)

2018: Carl Tundo/ Tim Jessop (Mitsubishi Evo. X R4)

2019: Baldev Chager/ Ravi Soni (Mitsubishi Evo. X R4)

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