KAMPALA. Leon Ssenyange often makes sober and fair assessments despite preference of his own crew – Ssebuguzi Rally Team – to win every race.
Ronald Ssebuguzi’s co-driver, Ssenyange, gave a clear review on why Manvir Baryan’s Skoda Fabia R5 has dominated the last two Shell V-Power Pearl of Africa Uganda Rally events. “The Skoda is likely to shed two seconds in the corners,” Ssenyange, also a journalist, explained on a TV show. Yes, two seconds!
Exaggerated or not, the car’s light frame and ability to get through turns has made it a beauty to watch with Manvir on course for a second straight Africa Rally Championship (ARC) title.
“The roads (for the Pearl Rally) were basically going through farms with straight lines ranging from 100-300metres then hairpins after hairpins and corners,” driver Jas Mangat reasoned.
“Such roads involve more of accelerating and braking. Our cars are a bit heavier and take long to accelerate in corners as well as braking which is a great disadvantage over the R5.
“Honestly, there is no way I could beat Manvir. But on roads like Mbarara or Kabale, anyone would attempt to catch the Skoda,” he added.
Rumour has it that Ugandan drivers, Duncan Mubiru and three-time national champion Mangat, have mulled the idea of buying the same car as Manvir.
History suggests that rally cars purchases here follow this pattern.
Peugeot v Datsun
The rise of motorsport goes back to the 70s and 80s when Ugandan-born Kenyan rally driver Shekhar Mehta won the Safari Rally a record five times (1973, 1979–82), including four consecutively. He largely drive Datsun cars and in 1981 finished fifth in the World Rally Championship (WRC).
Mehta, who died in 2006, also tried a Peugeot but didn’t find the same level of success. President Idi Amin Dada and Hajj Asuman Jjunju also acquired the same Datsun.
Ssali’s Nissan PA 10
The decline of the Datsun/Peugeot era made room for the Nissan PA10s that made Sam Ssali and the late Jimmy Dean sweep honours from the late 1980s into the early 1990s.
Sali won four straight National Rally Championship (NRC) titles (1989-92) in that Nissan PA 10, reg. number KJZ 134.
It was the first left-handed rally car to grace the Ugandan rally scene.
Dean won the NRC in 1987 and 1988. Karim Hirji acquired several PA 10s for his Dembe Rally Team. Everyone wanted a piece of it.
Failing to gain much traction, Hirji bought the Toyota Celica GT4 ‘Tiger One’ with which he won the 1993 and 1994 national titles.
That same car was later driven by Gerald Kiddu (RIP), Emma Katto and Moses Lumala.
Hirji then bought the Celica 205 to win another title.
Katto and Lumala as well as Chipper Adams all fell for the allure of the Toyota as it became the most common rally car. The Toyota Levin and Supra became the lesser cousins.
Muhangi brings Ekitaguriro
Not since Mehta’s dominance has this region been awed by a car like Charles Muhangi’s Subaru Impreza WRX, famously called the Subaru 555 with which Colin McRae won the 1995/96 WRC.
His success at the nationals in 1998 and an African title in 1999 changed the landscape. Every driver wanted a piece of the Subaru.
Besides having relatively cheaper spare parts, Muhangi’s success in the Ekitaguriro opened an incredible market for the Subaru in Africa and beyond.
Name it, everyone drove a Subaru, the N10 is the common but so were the N12s and N14s.
If anyone stood tall against the Subaru invasion at the turn of the millennium, it’s got to be Charlie Lubega’s Mitsubishi Evo. IV.
He won four national titles in five years between 2002 and 2004. Not many purchased the same car. But, over the past five years, it has mutated into the Mitsubishi Evo. X.
The Kisodde has been the car everyone wants a piece of. Mubiru, Mangat, Ugandan, Kenyan and Rwandan drivers all have that Evo. X.
It’s now taking a beating from the Skoda Fabia R5 and when you can’t beat them, join them, the old English adage goes.