Toyota Celica ST165: The Emka car that took the breath away

King of the rough: Katto cruising through a competitive section in Mpigi during a domestic rally in the late 90s. PHOTO BY JB Ssenkubuge

What you need to know:

  • Motorsport Flashback. Emmanuel Katto, the 1996 and 1997 national champion, is one of a few drivers to have won the 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 breaks from the sport over the years due to business commitments but he is not done with the sport.
  • In part 7 of a 10-story series, Justin Mungoma recounts Emmanuel Katto’s first race in Uganda in a Toyota Celica ST165 and how he became an instant hit.

Emmanuel Katto started motor rallying in Kenya and only showed for his first race in Uganda in the closing round of the 1995 National Rally Championship.
Katto came in as a late entrant in the Nile Special Rally in Jinja.

He attracted little attention as he was widely regarded as one of those upstarts in the race to add to the numbers.

Fans and officials did not expect a new driver to show up in a powerful Toyota Celica ST165—the usual exciting talk in the motor rally fraternity had it that flamboyant Collins Kiberu had purchased the car from then Kenya national champion and President Arap Moi’s son Jonathan Toroitch.

In line with rules, unseeded Katto navigated by Raymond Matovu were flagged off at the tail-end. After the opening stage co-driver Matovu was the first to give testimony that Katto wasn’t your ordinary beginner considering the pace and mastery of the powerful machine.

He won respect and support of fans following his show that saw him overtake several cars in the competitive stages. At some point co-driver Matovu is said to have threatened to exit the cockpit for he could not cope with the pace. At Bujagali stage Katto belaboured to convince his co-driver to get back into car.

After regrouping cars at some point in the race, Katto realized he had a chance to beat the front runners.

He stepped up the pace in a bid to close in on the front runners but unfortunately hit a railway crossing in Iganga and the car spectacularly rolled.

Uninjured and with car still in running condition, Katto surprised fellow competitors and spectators when he continued with the race to finish fourth.

What Katto recalls
“This was the rally that put us on the map of Ugandan rallying. We were the very last car off the ramp as we had zero seeding points. I remember begging the organisers to allow us to start further up the field but they refused. I had just bought the car and did not even have time to learn to drive it properly.

I was blown away by the power of the car as I had never driven a works TTE car before. The speed of the car was mind blowing and we absolutely blew away everyone ahead of us apart from Karim Hirji. I lost count of the number of cars that we overtook.

Everybody was amazed by our pace and the top drivers were wondering where I had come from! My navigator had never experienced such speed before and jumped out of the car on three occasions begging me to slow down.

What a lot of people didn’t realise was that the reason for rolling the car on the railway crossing was because the driver had literally stopped reading the notes and was screaming for dear life! I came over the crossing too fast and was embarrassed to have damaged my new machine on my first outing!

If we hadn’t rolled I believe we would have finished second but it didn’t matter because Karim and the top drivers of that era realized that they now had serious competition! Suffice to say the organisers never put us at the back of the pack again!’’