2016 has been an awful year especially for the Rwandan rally drivers yet to others like Kenya’s Don Smith or Burundian driver Mohammed Roshanali, the year leaves a lasting memory.
In terms of FIA/African Rally Championships, the title race for most of the season, was between two drivers Don Smith and Zambia’s young driver Muna Singh Jr.
It was a story that kept even the fans engaged until Smith made sure of victory in Uganda during the Pearly of Africa Uganda rally.
So how did it happen?
As usual, the ARC calendar had seven rounds, starting with ‘Rallye Bandama in Ivory Coast in February, which was won by the home crew of Chaynes Gary/ Israel David while Don Smith finished 10th.
In the Sasol Rally in South Africa, Muna finished 8th while Smith came in 11th place, Muna then finished 2nd at home in Zambia while Smith was 11th. In the Oryx Energies Rally of Tanzania, Singh failed to finish while Smith finished 9th to take the lead in the ARC title race.
After the fourth round of the ARC, Muna finished 2nd while Smith went on the lead in the Mountain Gorilla Rally.
Smith needed to finish the V-Shell Pearl Africa rally in Uganda to clinch the crown and that is what he exactly did – finishing ninth. He came into the Pearl of Africa rally with 79 points, 22 points ahead of Singh Jr.
But the joy came early enough for the Kenyan driver who fought in style as his major competitor could not go beyond the fifth stage. The results meant he is the third Kenyan to win ARC after Jaspreet Chatthe (2015) and David Horsey (1984).
Singh Jr finished second with 50 points while Ivorian Gary Chaynes finished third. Ismail Shermohammed ended his ARC campaign with a category win in Pearl rally. The Zambian is the first ARC Two-wheel drive champion.
Smith’s success means that drivers only need to compete in all the 7 continental events and then make sure that they collect enough points in the race to be in contention for the continental title.
2016 was a blue year for Rwandan motorsport but particularly for top driver Giancarlo Davite, who has been conspicuously absent and missed great deal.
The Italian-born driver missed the biggest part of the season after he was handed a one-year suspension by the Rwanda Automobile Club (RAC) on allegations of indiscipline—this prompted him to switch his license to Burundi.
To most local rally enthusiasts, the absence of Davite on the local circuit is a big blow and the speed merchant will be missed since he was the only driver carrying the Rwandan flag in FIA/ARC Championships for the last four years or so.
At the start of the year, the national rally champions had nine events listed, however; only four races were organized, beginning with regional Rally in Kabale which was won by Ugandan Jas Mangat.
Rwandan drivers did not take part in the Kabale race although they could earn points that contributed to the national championship rankings. The Sprint Rally in May was then won by Burundian driver Mohammed Roshanali, who also came into the season as the defending champion.
Another Burundian Zamin Mwanantebe finished second, while Rwandan driver Fabrice Yoto came in third place, however, only three cars out of eight that started finished the race.
Rallye de L’Est that was supposed to take place in June, Motocross 1 and Liberation Rally event were all cancelled by RAC because of lack of sponsors, and then came the prestigious Rwanda Mountain Gorilla Rally in August, which was the fifth round on ARC calendar.
It was all good news for the Burundian driver Valery Bukera, who won his first Rwanda Mt Gorilla Rally title. Rwanda’s Jean Claude Gakwaya finished fourth and was the only Rwandan to finish in top ten.
Out of 24 cars that started the three-day event, only 12 finished, with most competitors bowing out on a grueling second day in Nyamata, Bugesera district in the Eastern Province.
What RAC needs to learn?
Rallye de Huye in Butare was the second last event on the local calendar and it ended in chaotic fashion after Mohamed Roshanali emerged victorious but it took two days for the organizers, RAC, to make a decision.
It was the most dramatic episode of this year, which prompted the Burundian driver to abscond from the award ceremony and consequently Burundian rally drivers have threatened not to race in Rwanda not until RAC put their act together in terms of organization.
Rallye des Mille Collines was the final event of the year, and was won by Ugandan driver Wilber Pole Pole. Unfortunately, the one-day race was poorly attended with both local and regional drivers showing little interest.
Without Davite coupled with the little investment in local drivers, who struggled to compete against the best from the region, 2016 has been a callous year for Rwandan motorsport as Mohammed Roshanali successfully retained the national championship.
For most local rally fans, they will be glad to see the back of 2016 and hope that 2017 will be better in terms of number of not just the races but increase in entries because local events have been dominated by foreign drivers as the home drivers are simply ill-equipped for serious competition.