It was an exciting day in Butare, southern Rwanda as 14 rally crews battled it out in this year’s Gakwaya Memorial Rally. Petrol heads turned up in their thousands to cheer on their favourite drivers in an intense race.
The 165-kilometre race is held in memory of the late Claude Gakwaya, one of Rwanda’s best rally drivers, who passed away in a motor accident in 1986.
14 crews from Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda traversed the district chasing top prize. This is the 31st edition of the race.
Ugandans dominated the race winning it through Kabega Mussa and his navigator Sirwomu Rogers driving a Mitsubishi Evo 9 clocking 1 hour 20 minutes and 52 seconds.
The best Rwandan team finished in 6th position through Kanangire Christian and Ferdinand Rutabingwa who were driving a Subaru Impreza.
The fans were also treated to some exciting drifting action after the race. Despite losing the title to Ugandans, Rwanda’s motorsport scene has been growing steadily.

Rally fans in Busiika were treated to motorsport action at the opener of the Federation of Motorsport Clubs of Uganda (FMU) sprint on Sunday.
Crews battled for Sprint championship points in the muddy tracks, thrilling hundreds of fans crowded along the circuit.
The fans cheered wildly as drivers struggled to keep their cars on the wet muddy track.
“Busiika is one of the spectacular circuits in the country and racing over in Busiika you actually get to test the power of your car, you get to feel the kind of enthusiasm as you get through the spectators on the circuit, it gives you the urge to keep on pushing, seeing the people cheering is another way of keeping entertaining,” said Frank Serugo, a rally driver.
Heavy rains at the weekend had turned most of the circuit to mud, forcing drivers to put in extra effort in navigation.
“You can see everyone is pushing but we haven’t pushed that much. But we are not running on mad grip unfortunately. We timed the rain wrongly but we will see the second round, we will see how much we can push,” said Mohammed Essar, rally driver.
Many top drivers stayed away from the competition giving local drivers a chance to make their mark in the sport.
Fans however felt that such drivers needed to practice more if they wanted to dominate such circuits.
“I think the circuit is very good. I think the condition on the circuit are not good today for most drivers. Many are learning and many don’t have the cars to just enter those turns as they would want to but I think generally its fine and it’s a good circuit, its good area. Maybe we need to come often and practice. Many don’t take as their profession, they don’t have that time to practice,” said Zahid Chiraj, a rally fan.
Renowned Uganda National Rally champion Jas Mangat won the sprint competition.
Mangat, who was almost the last to register, appeared to have no problem taking on the circuit.
He completed the track in 9 mins 21 secs with Arthur Blick Jnr settling for second position at 9 min 57 secs, 36 secs behind Mangat.

Rally drivers competing in the second day of Uganda’s Jinja Rally battled to keep their vehicles on the road after heavy rainfall turned much of the circuit to mud.
Rally driving is experiencing a resurgence across the region. The two-day Jinja Rally is the second round of the Uganda’s National Rally championship (NRC) and takes place in Jinja, some 86 kilometres from Kampala.
Arthur Blick Junior, a ten times MX champion and also the former team captain of Ugandan National Motocross, won the rally in his Subaru N10 but he said it hadn’t been easy.
“The circuit is not bad, it’s very slippery for us drivers. It’s a challenge, we have to challenge ourselves to be able to drive in slippery conditions. Very well for a regular when you are used to drive on a dry surface, when you go to wet surface you feel like a complete beginner, that is the feeling for many drivers today including myself,” he said.
“It’s quite tough the beginning, too tight, too muddy so the cars is misbehaving here and there because there is no traction so far,” said driver John Consta.
To some rally drivers however, the wet weather just made the rally even more interesting.
“Today has been different. We don’t usually have a wet event but this time we are doing it in the middle of heavy rains. That is interesting, we are, and it’s different from the usual dust. Today we have mud and rain and so it’s very interesting,” said Umar Mayanja.
2016 CRC Champion Wilber Polepole took second place while first day winner Andrew Desh Kananura took third.


It was a day of nerves as rally drivers were flagged off for the final day of the recent Rwanda Mountain Gorilla rally.
Drivers from across Africa were involved in the thrilling final day of the three-day rally.
Burundian contingent of Valerie Bukera and Nital Khetia claimed their maiden championship after finishing third in last year’s edition.
Lady luck was with Bukera's as he became the second Burundian crew to win Rwanda ARC round.
He entered the final day with a 36 seconds lead that came as a result of country-mate Rudy Cantanhede's end of leg two penalty.
By the ninth stage, Cantanhede had reclaimed the lead before he crashed his Mitsubishi IV with one stage to go which handed Bukera the lead.
Even a one minute penalty after the provisional final results could not deny Bukera victory of the fifth round of Africa Rally Championship (ARC).
He posted a 1 hour 49 minutes and 1 second to win the race coupled five stage wins of the 12 stages.
With the victory, Bukera bounces back into the search for the elusive ARC title if he can go ahead to win the remaining two rounds.
ARC Zambian crew of Muna Singh Jr and sister Jasmeen Singh from Zambia kept up with the pace to finish second overall; six seconds behind the winner.
Ugandans Hassan Alwi and Musa Nsubuga finished third.
After the rally, the fans were treated to some exciting drifting of the cars.
Rwanda Mountain Gorilla Rally is the fifth round of the ARC calendar, with two more rounds left in Uganda and Madagascar.
Out of 24 cars that started the three-day event, only 12 finished the race, with most competitors bowing out on an intense second day in Nyamata.

Engines roared and rev counters hit the red at the start of the Gitega Rally, held in the back roads of Burundi, some 65 kilometres from the capital Bujumbura.
10 cars took part in the rally, one of three in Burundi this year as the sport experiences renewed interest after almost two decades of decline in the tiny East African nation.
Cars zoomed through villages and fans lined the roads to catch a glimpse of the pulsating action.
Veteran Rudy Cantanhede broke away from the rest of the pack and crossed the finish line first, clocking 1 hour 42 minutes and 38 seconds.
Cantanhede said he is glad to be back to racing after a long absence from the sport.
“I haven't raced in 4 years and I haven't participated in the Burundi Rally in 15 year for reasons that are known and so I have been waiting for this moment impatiently and so racing in Burundi once again towards victory is beautiful,” he said.
Valery Bukera with his navigator Kheita Nital, also from Burundi, finished second in 1 hour 44 minutes.
“You are champions until you get dethroned. We’ve had a great fight until the last second. Nothing lasts forever and every person has their share of problems. We had a small accident and these are things that can happen,” he said.
The Rwanda duo of Davite Giancarlo and Sylvia Vindevogel settled for third place.
The event drew fans from across Burundi, some of who had the opportunity to take photos with the drivers, a once in a lifetime occasion.
The organisers said the event was a success and they were looking forward to upcoming events.
“This Rally has been unforgettable for many people whether they came from Bujumbura or are living in Gitega. The Rally has also been a huge success for all the spectators. They had a great time and are asking for more,” said Adon Nehamiye the race director.
Organisers encouraged youngsters to join the sport to make it more competitive.
“We are encouraging the youth to get into Rally driving. People say that it is a sport for the well-off but for us, there are cars that are already set up. There are people who love the sport and are ready to give their cars to the youth to enable them to race,” he said.


Until now, East African rallies have seen drivers race on roads only partially closed to the public. That all has to change this year, rally drivers participating in the Mukono rally in Uganda had to deal with an unfamiliar course.
To comply with incoming International Automobile Federation (FIA) rules, Uganda’s National Rally Championship events will increasingly be held on private roads.
That meant the spectacle of cars racing through private farms in Central Uganda at the weekend.
"The rally is a new type of rally in Uganda. We are not used to closed sections, the drivers are finding it very challenging. They have been used to long stages to make top speed, the roads are so clear now this is a closed stage they are not yet used to it and it’s the way to go now, so they have to get used to it,” said motor technician, Moses Seguya.

With this season particularly competitive, some drivers brought new vehicles to the race but still struggled with the course.
“The rally has been very challenging. We have had a full field of drivers with very good machines. Sebuguzi brought his new car, it was a good one, Desh brought in a new a car. I think the competition has been very stiff and really challenging,” said Arthur Blick, a rally driver.
The Mukono rally clearly required a calculative strategy.
“It has been an exciting rally although there were a bit of adjustments that needed to be done for somebody to go fast. Generally it was a fifty fifty we look at the big percentage being small otherwise small mistakes are bound to be made, otherwise we are having a calculative running,” said navigator, Frank Serugo.
The drivers were battling for championship points over a distance totalling 180.5 km, as part of the Federation of Motorsport Clubs of Uganda motor rally calendar.

Uganda produced impressive performances to walk away with top honours in this year’s Huye Rally in Rwanda. Driving a Mitsubishi Evolution 9, Musah Kabega, navigated by Rogers Sirwomu won the race clocking 5 hours and 56 minutes beating a good line-up of drivers across the region.

Jonas Kansiime and his co-driver Aaron Nsamba finished just five seconds behind Kabega and Sirwomu. Giesen Jean navigated by Yannik Dewalque were the top Rwandan team after finishing third.

Rally fans placed along the 290-kilometre route were also treated to exciting rally action, which took place south of the country. The 35th edition of the annual motosport event is the second round of the National Rally Championship, which is comprised of four events in a season.

A record 19 crews participated in the two-day race with last year’s edition attracting 15 drivers.

Held every year, Huye Rally, also known as Gakwaya Memorial Rally, is organized in memory of the late Claude Gakwaya, one of the best rally drivers Rwanda has ever produced. Gakwaya passed away in a car accident in 1986.


The Africa Rally Championship is an international automobile rally championship run in Africa by the FIA, otherwise known as the International Automobile Federation. The Championship was first held in 1981 with its main attractions being the international series events held in Côte d’Ivoire, South Africa, Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Madagascar.

The Africa Rally Championship is particularly popular for its spectacularly scenic locations in the African wild that often prove arduous in the rough and sometimes muddy and flooded terrain, much to the invigoration of the drivers who love a good challenge and put on intense shows for their adoring fans.

This year’s Africa Rally Championship is the 35th edition which began on 6th-8th March in the Rallye Bandama Côte d’Ivoire where the 2014 season winner Gary Chaynes and his navigator David Israel took home the spoils. The Sasol Rally in South Africa was the second section of the Africa Rally Championship 2015 held on 17th-18th April where Kenyan “Team Kibos” comprised of Jaspreet Singh Chatthe and navigator Craig Thornley scooped the winnings.

This comes ahead of the Zambia International Rally set for 15th-17th May followed by Rally Tanzania on 12th-14th June. The Rwanda Mountain Gorilla Rally will take place on 31st July to 2nd August while the Pearl of Africa Uganda Championship will follow on 28th-30th August. Finally the Africa Rally Championship will wind up in Madagascar on 6th-8th November.

Kenya declined to host the Africa Rally Championship in the KCB Safari Rally 2015 event which was slated for October 2nd -4th choosing instead to rekindle the lost glory of the old safari rally by hosting it on the traditional Easter weekend on April 3rd – 5th. The decision was made by the Kenya Motorsports Federation who faulted the FIA’s observer’s report for allegedly harbouring vested interests.

Ugandan rally driver Leila Blick may come from a rallying family but this does not mean she taken the easy road in her racing career. She’s been taking on the men and has set her sights on a win in the upcoming Jinja Rally.

She sounds like any of the other race drivers looking for a win at this year’s Jinja Rally. “I definitely have to win this one, I don’t have a choice I have to win this one just to stay on my path to winning the championship, was not happy with Mbarara even if we had a roll and managed to finish I need to win this rally and Jinja has very nice roads am going to have a ball as well, it’s going to be fun.” But as a woman on the Uganda rallying circuit, Leila Blick is taking on more than just the challenge of racing on tough routes. Starting her career in 2003 as a navigator for her husband and rally driver, Omar Mayanja, Leila fought her way up the ladder, to become a driver who competes regularly with the top male rally drivers in the country. Leila is also sister to local rallying legend, Arthur Blick. “I come from a rally family already, so I was bound to get in there. My husband started driving as well and at first I was a bit resistant, I was thinking the sport is too expensive, we can't really afford it. His way of getting me into the sport was teaching me how to navigate, that is how I started, so he got me into navigating slowly and eventually the bug hit so I started asking ‘can I please drive’? Eventually I got to drive,” Despite a busy schedule, the 40 year-old mother of three with a degree in Food Science and Technology has managed to ensure that the sport fits in with her family and professional life. “The good thing is that rallying is extra curriculum. I can't resist it when there is a rally I have to drive, even if it’s extra curriculum what I do, I try to put the family in to rally they are big supporters. One of my sons is even trying to ride so he is also in to motor sport so it works out perfectly,”

The expensive nature of the sport has been a challenge but Leila has the support of friends and family. “My husband, my mum, friends and over the years I have had a few sponsors the main one being BIDCO who covered me the whole of 2013, last year they had some problems, the whole of last year was a bit difficult so I had to get support from a million different people,” she explains. Leila is well aware of the dangers involved in rallying but she takes it all in her stride “Sometimes I’ve had two crashes and one roll right now and the worst was in Pearl 2008 in the first section I rolled and I was out of the rally it was the worst ever, I had another crash in Botanical which was quite painful and damaged the car. The last roll in the last rally was not bad, it was a proper roll; the car went over somehow we ended back on the road. I was thinking am out of the rally, I tried to start the car, and we continued and even managed to finish the rally,” When asked about rally drivers she looks up to, Uganda’s legendary rally driver Charlie Lubega topped her list. “The person I would really like to drive as would be Charlie. It's impossible to try and reach his standard because he put in a lot of effort and that requires a lot of money as well to prepare the way Charlie used to prepare and be able to win, you need a bit more resources than I have right now but he would be one person I would love to copy.” Leila is currently ranked 7th in the national rally championship. Watch out, men.

Rudy Cantanhede from Belgium wins Ngozi rally championships in Burundi.

The fifth edition of Ngozi rally in Burundi took place over the weekend with 12 cars battling it out on the town's dusty roads. The race attracted curious spectators who watched the cars navigate through the tough terrain in the leafy northern province of the country. And at the end of the adrenaline charged race, Rudi Cantanhede a Burundian-Belgium pushed his Mitsubishi Evolution to victory, finishing 1:46:55 and closely followed by Burundian rally champion Valery Bukera, in a Subaru Impreza N10 at 1:49:23. Bukera said the quality of drivers who participated in the rally was impressive and was surprised to see first timers performing well too. “Rudi and I have quite a lot of experience. Claude Kwizera, the guy there, is also an expert: he has driven in the rally for about ten years, so there's no secret... But some crews are surprising, for instance, this crew which finishes 4th in their first ever rally...this is impressive,” he said. Sultan Ndayishimiye, who was racing for the first time finished fourth in his Subaru Impreza GC8 surprising everyone. He said the course was quite challenging but his passion for the sport helped him conquer the race. “That was not an easy race, you have to fight, but if you train a lot, you can make it. The more you like driving, the more you are able to rally, there's no problem on that side,” he said. Anselme Bigirimana, president of Burundi Motor sports club ​said he hopes to get the race to the prominence level of the Gorilla Rally in Rwanda. “In Rwanda, they practice motorsports at the African level, they have the Gorilla rally, which is part of the African Championship. Rudi Cantanhede has won the Gorilla rally several times, and so did Valery Bukera and Nital Kethia. Thus, believe it or not, Bukera and Kethia are not only Champions of Burundi, but also Champions of Rwanda,” he said. Ngozi Province governor Claude Nahishakiye said the event also aimed at promoting tourism in the region. “This sport brings us lots of tourists, and when they are back home, they talk about beautiful Burundi, and wherever they go, they become our ambassadors. I think that we, local authorities as well as government, should support this kind of sport,” he said. The Ngozi rally is now part of the Africa Rally championships, which includes circuits in Kenya, South Africa, Ivory Coast, Tanzania, Rwanda, Zambia and Madagascar.

Rally drivers in Uganda have begun early preparations for Mbarara Rally, the country’s motor rallying calendar opener, as excitement mounts ahead of the country’s popular annual rally circuit.

Rally drivers in Uganda's capital city Kampala are engaged in an early process of tuning their cars, as the country’s motoring calendar opener, Mbarara Rally, draws closer. With just a few weeks left before the event kicks off, drivers and mechanics have been getting their hands dirty as they try to make sure their cars are in the best form before the season opener. Ian Otega, a one time champion of the event, seeks to reclaim his former glory and is confident his vehicle will endure the brutal dirt road challenge. “I want to try and be the champion because I tried very well, my car is in good condition, I want to challenge everyone to show them I’m still the champion,” he said. The Mbarara Motor Club has opted to host the entire event on a closed circuit in Mbarara. In past events, the club only hosted the opening day, with drivers then venturing onto less well-controlled roads. A closed circuit will be much safer, say participants. “Most cases we find oncoming traffic which is quite dangerous, some stubborn fans, we really lose confidence after all rallying into oncoming traffic or animals, we really lose confidence at times it affects our confidence but good thing the improvement going to closed routes for this year I know it will be a greater achievement for us,” said Edward Kiyingi, rally navigator. Rally driver Arthur Blick intends to take full advantage of the season opener and collect the most points. “It’s a season opener and we want to accumulate as many points as possible and we are going to give it our best,” he said. There has been a great deal of publicity and anticipation ahead of the new Uganda really season and the public is keen to see how this year’s crop of drivers match up to expected tight competition and new circuits.