National rally champion Jas Mangat has opted out of this weekend's CBS Premier Sprint to launch his attempt at the Kenyan championship title instead.
But the enthusiasm in the local rally fraternity remains high as drivers brace for the 2013 season opening event at Lubiri Double Circuit track this weekend, as Moses Mugalu reports.
Mangat, who won the 2012 National Rally Championship (NRC) title, says the decision to compete for the Kenyan title this year will boost his experience so he could have a shot at becoming an African rally champion. Charles Muhangi is the only Ugandan to have won the African Rally championship in 1999. The Uspa best rally driver award winner, Mangat adds that the Kenyan championship, which flags off this weekend, is more competitive compared to Uganda's.
"It is a smart move for him since he wants to sharpen his skills as much as possible before he takes on the big boys at the continental level again," remarks Frank Serugo, a seasoned navigator and rally official.
Between 2009 and 2011, Mangat had unsuccessful attempts at the African Rally Championship (ARC) title. His misfortunes then were largely blamed on lack of experience - he would always recklessly crush out of one event after another.
Although Mangat won't have any qualms with the rules (FIA regulations permit drivers to compete in different national titles in the same season), he may face schedule clashes in his quest for the 'dream double'. Possibilities of having a Uganda and Kenya rally event on the same weekend are quite high.
Meanwhile, the Subaru N12 driver says he will start his NRC title defence on February 8 with the Pine Ridge Mbarara Motor Club Challenge Rally. However, the fact that the NRC defending champion will be absent this weekend hasn't dampened the fans' mood and the drivers' spirits for the CBS Premier Sprint due this Sunday, January 27 in Lubiri.
By Wednesday afternoon, 28 drivers had confirmed participation in the sprint. Former champions Susan "Super Lady' Muwonge, Dr Ahmed Ashraf, Ponsiano Lwakataka and Ronald Ssebuguzi were among the competitors already on the registration list.
Others like Edson Munghereza, Shafiq Ssemujju, Jonas Kansiime, lady driver Leila Mayanja and Ismail Ortega, who is itching to unveil his newly acquired Toyota Allex are also in queue to compete at the sprint. In fact, Ortega is upgrading after years of competing in a Toyota Levin.
Ortega is one of the many competitors who have new or modified machines that will be tested in the first event of the 2013 season. "Being a year opener everybody takes pride in this event," Stephen Ikong, an official at the rally secretariat, said.
But the 2010 champion, Nasser Mutebi was missing on the registration list as he awaited confirmation from his sponsors (Mogas) about the sprint. Ssebuguzi (Mitsubishi Evo 9), who has won the previous two sprints in Lubiri, is hot favourite for this one as well.