Motorsport. In the first part of a 10-part series dubbed ‘Emmanuel Katto Flash Back’ last week, Hussein Waheed Muk talked to Katto’s co-driver Frank Gitau. Today, we bring you Katto’s journey through the Pearl of Africa Rally
Ugandan motor rally legend Emmanuel Katto hit the peak as soon as he had joined the sport, winning the national championship in 1996 and 1997. His pleasurable driving style, friendly character and exciting pre-event comments attracted media coverage and the biggest fan-base in Africa.
In the second of 10-part ‘Flash Back Series’, EMKA Rally Team evokes memories of Katto’s exciting close battles with Karim Hirji, Chipper and Charles Muhangi in the popular Pearl of Africa Uganda Rally. After the 1990s, he got into the mix with the 2000s generation of drivers but the battles were not as memorable. The near misses here explain why Emma Katto is one of Uganda’s rally legends never to have won the coveted Pearl Rally.
Pearl Rally 1997:
Emmanuel Katto and Karim Hirji in powerful Toyota Celica ST205 had impressed at the world championship Kenya Safari Rally earlier in the season. Back home in the Pearl Rally they were the two big-shots in the spotlight.
With the rest of the local competitors in inferior cars save for Chipper Adams (Toyota Supra ‘Hissing Cobra’) who could dare Katto and Karim? Chipper emerged winner as the big-guns faltered, much to the disappointment of their fans.
Pearl Rally 1998:
Muhangi was making a second appearance in his popular Subaru Impreza dubbed Ekitaguriiro. In the run to the Pearl Rally Katto and Muhangi had hit at each other in the media which excited fans who turned up in big numbers. The race was mainly among Katto, Muhangi, Karim Kirji and Chipper with the likes of Zambian Satwant Singh, Moses Lumala, Herbert ‘Fatso’Lubega and Charlie Lubega just participants by then.
At the height of contest Katto’s car had two punctures after hitting a hump, Karim stopped and gave him a tyre and that was the turning point. At the end of the race Karim and Muhangi were in a deadlock and Muhangi was declared the winner having been the quickest in the opening section of the rally.
He went on to wrestle the national championship from Katto.
Pearl Rally 1999:
It was another exciting race but it nearly ended in tears. Katto dropped out earlier on leaving Karim, Muhangi and Chipper in a hot contest on day-two in the sugar plantations in Lugazi. Muhangi who had scored maximum Africa championship points in Namibia, Zimbabwe and Zambia was cautious since local drivers were ineligible to score ARC points but was hanging in there. While in hot pursuit of Chipper, a track loaded with sugar canes suddenly crossed into the narrow farm road hardly 350m ahead of Karim.
He had to brake instantly and the car skid for 220m, according a Police report, and burst into flames. Karim and co-driver Frank Nekusa were flown to hospital in Kampala. Chipper won the race and Muhangi finished second but scored maximum ARC points to become the first Ugandan and remains the only Ugandan to won the Africa championship.
Pearl Rally 2000:
This edition of the Pearl Rally was a real heart-break for top drivers and the multitude of their fans in equal measure. Fellow drivers, companies and fans had conducted a successful fundraising drive and bought for Chipper Adams a new Mitsubishi Evo5. Chipper who entertained fans with his showy driving style was widely believed to be the best driver who was only let down by unreliable car. With a new car for Chipper, a Subaru WRC for Karim, Muhangi in his noisy Ekitaguriiro and a sizeable number of international crews it was anticipated to be the most competitive Pearl edition. But by the mid-day in the first leg, nearly all top drivers including Chipper had dropped out of the race.
Charlie Lubega who was never rated as a contender went on to win the race. There were even dramatic scenes when drivers charged at each other in the heat of the moment.
Pearl Rally 2002:
Emmanuel Katto’s Pearl Rally title hopes were undermined by an early booking penalty and later on a puncture and mechanical failure. South African Johnny won, Kenya Glen Emond finished second while Katto beat Belgian Bernard Dethier to third position as then national champion Charlie Lubega settled for fifth place. Gemmel sealed the Africa championship after that victory in Pearl rally.
Katto returned in 2006 but did not finish the race that saw nearly entire field drop out when he was headed for maximum Africa Rally Championship points. The cockpit conversation between Katto and co-driver Moses Matovu will be told in the fourth part of the series in which the Speed Merchant takes the veil off the hitherto untold story.
Katto’s comment on whether he could have done anything different if he had a second chance?
“Given a second chance to win the Pearl of Africa Rally, I do not believe that I would do anything different. As all my fans are aware I am extremely competitive by nature and my sole intention in any event was to always go for a win, nothing less nothing more!!”
“‘Maximum attack’ was my motto as learned from Marku Allen, one of the most exciting rally drivers of his time!”
In hindsight the maximum attack strategy actually cost me a few rally wins and the one that comes to mind was when I was leading Chipper Adams by over 10 minutes on the second day of the Pearl Rally (1999 edition) and then unfortunately rolled after hitting a rock and going off the road and destroying somebody’s banana plantation in the process in the ST 185. My fans never forgave me for that one!
Next week in part 3: We revisit Emmanuel Katto’s memorable battle with an equally big talking Charles Muhangi in the 1998 Shell Helix Rally. Muhangi ditched the ‘Yellow Bird’ and reached out for a World Class Subaru Imprezza ‘Ekitaguriiro’ in a bid to tame the likes of Katto.