8 February 2013

Uganda: Big Guns Set for NRC Opener in Mbarara

With all the 'big boys' on the entry list, there's no doubt that this weekend's Pine Ridge Mbarara Challenge Rally will live up to the billing, writes Moses Mugalu.

Defending champion Jas Mangat and hot favourite Ronald Ssebuguzi lead the elite drivers confirmed for the rally due to flag off tomorrow (Saturday, February 9) with a super special sprint stage at Pine Ridge double circuit track in Bwala, Masaka. Former champion Ponsiano Lwakataka, Dr Ashraf Ahmed, Duncan 'Kikankane' Mubiru, Shafiq Ssemujju, veteran Wycliff Bukenya and Rwandan ace Christakis Fitidis are some of the big names poised to make the rally very competitive

However, the real competition highlight is expected between Mangat and Ssebuguzi when they take to the cockpits of their Subaru N12 and Mitsubishi Evo.9 respectively. Both drivers have already set their ambitions clear; with Ssebuguzi declaring the 2013 NRC title his after an emphatic start to the season in Lubiri where he recently swept the FMU/CBS Premier Sprint.

"This year I am not going to relax till I win the NRC and sprint championship," Ssebuguzi, the 2006 and 2009 champion, said after winning the season opening sprint last month.

"My fans should expect nothing short of this kind of success; I'm ready to go all the way," he said.

Meanwhile, Mangat has vowed to complete a dream double this season by retaining the Ugandan NRC title and capturing the Kenyan crown. That said, the Mbarara rally has drivers competing there with extra zeal based on the sequence of its results and the bearing that the event plays in determining the eventual champion.

It has become the norm (evidently as it has panned out in the last three seasons) that whoever wins the Mbarara rally goes on to clinch the NRC title. Nasser Mutebi (2010), Susan 'Super Lady' Muwonge (2011) and Mangat (2012) all won the Mbarara rally and marched on to the title in the respective seasons. Clerk of the Course (COC), David Nsobya who designed the route has predicted a 'challenging but thrilling' rally.

"The route has both rough and smooth sections; so, whether it rains or shines fans should expect extremes of either side," Nsobya said of the 470-kilometre rally that covers parts of Masaka, Mbarara, Kiruhura and Bushenyi districts.

Nsobya said they decided to include as many rough sections to 'bring down on the anticipated high speeds because of the profile of the drivers in the event.'

"The stakes are high and a good number of drivers are known speed merchants," Nsobya remarks.

Thirty-two crews had by Wednesday evening been listed for today's scrutineering, the first exercise of the rally, through which the cars will be examined for standards and approved. According to the tentative starting order, Ssebuguzi is set to open the route followed by Ssemujju, Wycliff Bukenya, John Consta and Ponsiano Lwakataka respectively. Mangat will 'eat' their dust in the sixth flag-off place.

Meanwhile, 2011 champion Muwonge has skipped the highly-billed rally following a delay to dispatching spare parts of her Subaru N10 from South Africa.

"We sent the shocks (absorbers) late but they should be here before the next event," explained the Super Lady, who assured her fans that the car would be in much better shape once the shocks are fixed.

"I didn't want to drive and come last; it is better we fix the problem once and for all so that we go full-blast for the rest of the season," she added.

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