Rwandan rally driver Jean Claude Gakwaya is in a buoyant mood as he seeks a podium finish in the 2016 Mountain Gorilla Rally that gets underway today with the Special Super Stage at Amahoro National Stadium before heading to Gako in Nyamata for the competitive sections on Saturday and Sunday.
“I have the experience when it comes to driving in Rwanda; my car is in fine condition and I look forward to finish at the podium this time around,” Gakwaya, who has never finished on the podium in this particular rally, told Times Sport.
The rally scrutineering (including Turbo sealing) will be done at Amahoro stadium by special arrangement on Friday morning while the prize giving ceremony will be held at Nyamata Gold Tulip Hotel on Sunday.
Gakwaya added: “There are many foreign drivers competing for the same top honour and they have better cars plus experience, but it’s the driving techniques and skills that matter at this level, I’m used to the terrain here, so hopefully I can use it to my advantage.”
Last year, Gakwaya was excluded from the competition after falling behind schedule-Time Limit on day one, and it was the same case in the previous 3 editions; his best finish was in 2014 when he was placed 7th.
He will lead Team Gakwaya, which has also entered Eric Gakwaya and Marius Uwadata in a Toyota Celica.
Gratein Rudasingwa, Genese Semana and Tassor Gakuba (all in Peugeot 205 cars) are the other local drivers, who have entered the three-day rally.
The foreign crews include Rudy Cantanhede, the most successful Burundi-licensed rally driver, with four wins to his credit since the event was renamed Rwanda Mountain Gorilla Rally in 2002. He has won the race in 2004, 2007, 2008 and 2010.
The others Burundi drivers include; Sultan Kalula, Valery Bukera, Alif Karmali and Mohammed Roshanali.
Bukera settled for 4th and 3rd spot in the last two editions, while Roshanali, who is navigated by Youssouf Habimana, finished 8th last year. His best position was in 2013 when he topped the two-wheel drive category.
“Last year, things didn’t go as well as we wanted but hopefully, we shall make amends this time round,” he said ahead of the rally, adding that, “I am ready for the rally and to challenge for top spots.”
Meanwhile, among the African drivers, who have already submitted their entry form, is Kenya’s Don Smith, the Africa Rally Championship (ARC) leader with 79 points.
Last year, the event attracted 19 drivers but 11 completed the race, which was won by Kenyan Singh Chatthe Jaspreet in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X after clocking a time of 112.7km/hs. Rwanda’s Mitraros Elefter finished 7th in a Subaru Impreza STi N10.
A total of 28 teams have registered for this year’s Mt Gorilla Rally, which is the fifth round on the FIA/African Rally Championship (ARC) calendar.
Don Smith of Kenya is expected to spearhead the foreign entries with Uganda sending the highest number of drivers with 22 followed by Rwanda 15, Burundi 7, Kenya 2 and Zambia 2 respectively.
The two other ARC contenders, Zambia’s Muna Singh and Abdu Sempebwa from Uganda, have also registered for the race.
With a 29-points lead over Singh, Smith has to finish both the last three events to help Kenya retain the continental title for the second year running.