Who will win the 2018 National Rally Champs?

Jean Claude Gakwaya (58 points) has been tipped to retain the title despite being 7 points behind leader Din Imtiaz. File photo.

The National Rally Champion will be crowned this Saturday when the 2018 domestic motorsport season comes to a climax in Nyamata, Bugesera District.

Heading into the season-ending race – Rallye de Mille Collines, two drivers; Din Imtiaz of Burundi and defending champion Jean Claude Gakwaya – of Rwanda – will be in a tight race for the title. Imtiaz holds a 7-point lead over Gakwaya.

The Burundian hopeful leads the table standings with 65 points while Gakwaya is second at 58. Eric Gakwaya, another Rwandan, is in third position with 51 points.

As machines roar for the much anticipated race, Saturday Sport takes a look-back at the contention in the last five rounds of the national championship.

Din Imtiaz

Imtiaz has competed in more races than holder Gakwaya, which explains why he is at the top going into the final round. While champion Gakwaya has only made two entries in the first five races on the six-race calendar, Imtiaz has only missed two.

Eyeing his first Rwanda national championship title, Imtiaz missed the curtain-raising race – Rallye de l’Est – in March but was able to capitalize on Gakwaya’s absence to collect 18 (+2 bonus) points in the second round – Huye Rally – in June as he finished in third position.

In the Sprint Rally event, held in September, the Awan Din Rally Team finished second behind Gakwaya to shovel 21 points and an additional one point of bonus before finishing sixth in Mountain Gorilla Rally in October where he picked 23 points and two more of bonus.

Despite having not managed a single victory this season, Imtiaz sits at the summit but only the Rallye de Mille Collines title will propel him to the national championship title. Unless, his closest contender Gakwaya performs poorer.

Jean Claude Gakwaya

The crew of Gakwaya and his navigator Jean Claude Mugabo is only 7 points behind Imtiaz, despite the DNE (Did Not Enter) in three rounds, and they remain a force to reckon with.

This publication understands that Gakwaya missed the first three races due to mechanical problems of his Subaru Impreza STi N11 car.

However, victory in the Sprint Rally (26 points) and finishing third (32 points) in the Mountain Gorilla Rally elevated him to second place in the general classification.

The Huye-based crew is at the odds as favorite to win the title given their experience and pace. Only misfortunates will limit their chase.

Eric Gakwaya

Despite, it seems, being a two-horse a race, Eric Gakwaya is another title contender not to count out of the chase. His crew – navigated by Regis Tuyishime – are distanced 14 points behind Imtiaz and seven adrift of local rival Jean Claude Gakwaya.

Racing in their Subaru Impreza GC8, they started the season on a high note, winning Rallye de l’Est and collecting 26 points. However, they suffered an accident that forced them out of Huye Rally before also missing the Sprint Rally in September.

The crew returned to action in October with the Mountain Gorilla Rally where they managed a seventh position and 23 points.

Imposing performance in Rallye de Mille Collines is a must to keep Eric Gakwaya in the title chase, but his intent will only be to exhibit determination to beat the top two drivers.

Jean Jean Giesen

The crew has 50 points, just one solitude point behind Eric Gakwaya. They started the season on a low note with a DNF (Did Not Finish) in Rallye de l’Est but recovered to finish third in Huye Rally where they earned 18 points and extra 2 of bonus.

The Huye Motorsport Team took the fifth place in the Mountain Gorilla Rally to collect 28 points to rise to fourth position overall.

Giesen and his pace reader, Yannick De Walque, can only secure the national championship if they win Rallye de Mille Collines on Saturday and hope that none of the three leading crews makes it to the finish-line.

The 2018 Rallye des Mille Collines, which is the 35th edition of the annual competition, will cover a total distance of 143.02 kilometers in the dusty roads of Gako, Gasenyi, and Nemba.