Jas Mangat, the new national rally champion (NRC), ended his jinx of near misses with emphatic victories to cap a great season by clinching the championship title but it didn't come easy, writes Moses Mugalu.
Mangat, who had previously been labelled Uganda's 'McRash' (in reference to the late WRC star driver Colin McRae famed for crashing out of events), clinched the title after winning three of the six rallies in the season. The Subaru (N12) driver left no doubt both in fans and his fellow competitors' minds that he deserved the title.
"Mangat showed high sense of maturity and consistency this time and those are some of hallmarks of a true champion," says former champion, Ponsiano Lwakataka.
That said, Mangat faced real challenge from Duncan 'Kikankane' Mubiru (with a powerful Subaru N14), Ronald Ssebuguzi (Evo 9) and hugely experienced Rwandan ace, Christakis Fitidis. Mangat skipped one event (the MOSAC Rally in March) while on continental duty in Zimbabwe around the same time but wins in Mbarara, Eastern and Independence rallies sealed his maiden NRC title triumph.
On winning the season opening Mbarara Rally in February, Mangat set off the title race after bagging maximum (100) points. But in what played out as a see-saw race, Mangat fell behind as Duncan 'Kikankane' Mubiru took charge in May after winning the UMC Challenge Rally, his maiden NRC event victory.
Mubiru (Subaru N14) excited the rally fraternity by beating former champion Ronald Ssebuguzi (Evo9) to win the highly competitive rally in Masaka. Mangat finished in a distant sixth position. At this stage, Mubiru led the NRC title race with 225 points from three rounds. Fitidis (200points), Mangat (135pts) and Ssebuguzi (125pts) trailed Mubiru respectively
This set the stakes higher going into the Pearl of Africa Rally in July. However, Mangat lived up to the billing when he put on a flawless display to find second, - and best local driver-, in the Pearly rally. Mubiru, Ponsiano Lwakataka, Wycliff Bukenya and Fiditis were among the victims who dropped out.
Zambian Mohammed Essa won the rally, beating Mangat with three minutes. Rwandan Carlo Davite and Ssebuguzi finished third and fourth respectively. That meant Mangat reclaimed the top spot in the NRC title race with 283points, but stayed within 46points of second-placed Ssebuguzi (237).
Mubiru slid to third place with 235 points. However, Mangat continued his push for the title with back-to-back victories in the Eastern Motor Club (EMC) and Independence rallies. Ssebuguzi finished runner-up in both events. Until this season, Mangat had been a seasoned NRC title contender whose fortunes always culminated into near misses because of mechanical breakdowns. And on sealing the title in October, Mangat dedicated the 'special' triumph to his family and fans.
"This is a special victory for them; they have always suffered for my near-misses in the past but continued to be there for me," said Mangat, whose dad is a former rally driver and now an ardent fan always in the routes to cheer his son.
Lwakataka, one of the pre-season favourites, shunned most of the events in protest over FMU's refusal to use automated clocks to the disappointment of the rally fraternity. Last year's champion, Susan 'Super Lady' Muwonge, fought on gallantly but the competition proved too much with the return of the big boys this season.