Monday, July 26, 2021

Charlie Lubega: From Taamale to Quadruple NRC Champion

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Charlie Lubega is many things to many people. To some, he is the entertainment guru responsible for transforming Kampala’s nightlife starting with Soul Disco in the late 1980’s until present day where he still owns some of the preeminent entertainment venues. To others, he is a real-estate magnate that owns several commercial buildings in Kampala but to the rally heads, Charlie was something more – He is one of the most storied rally drivers in Ugandan rally history.

Charlie who started rallying sometime in 1996 did not spend a lot of time as journeyman before he started winning rallies and soon won a hattrick of NRC championships starting in the year 2000 until 2002. He briefly lost the championship to archrival Moses Lumala in 2003 before winning his swansong championship in 2004. With this fourth NRC championship win, Charlie tied the legend Sam Ssali’s record of four NRC championship wins and the two continue to hold that record.

Charlie who was a longtime fan of rallying was a familiar face in the stages and would screen WRC rallies at his Ange Nior disco on certain nights as early as 1993 finally took the plunge and started rallying in a Toyota Levine Super Charger navigated by the late Denis Okori. He finished in third place on his first rally.

After a few events Charlie upgraded to an underpowered Mitsubishi Galant VR4, which failed to keep up with competition and was quickly replaced by a Toyota Celica GT4 (ST185) in hopes of improving his performance and challenging the top dogs.

The Driver who had affectionately been nicknamed “Macarena” did not mesh with this car and was dogged by an endless list of mechanical problems from engine failure to broken drive shafts and dampers. He started to be seen as an also-ran by fans and he also acquired a new nickname “Taamale” which translates to “the one who will not finish”.

As he was struggling to find his feet, Karim Hirji advised him to buy his group A Toyota Celica GT4 (Tiger One) which Charlie did. But before taking the ownership of the GT4, he bought another Mitsubishi Galant LHD and drove it get used to the LHD Celica GT4 he was acquiring from Karim. The new to him Celica GT4 was also a wash and it did not improve his prospects. It soon became apparent that something drastic needed to be done quickly if he wanted to challenge for wins and the championship.

For the 2000 season, Charlie changed tack and flew in a Dom Buckley prepped Mitsubishi Lancer EVO IV. It was a spot-on acquisition for it was in this car that Charlie finally found his dancing shoes.

This season the crew of Charlie Lubega and Abed Musa was simply untouchable starting with a victory on the debut of their new car during Caltex rally. They won five of the six rallies that season and finished 2nd on the Simba Telecom rally in which they drove the less reliable Celica GT4 – Emma Katto went on to win this rally.

All the high fliers of that era – Chipper Adams, Karim Hirji, Emma Katto, 1999 ARC Champion Charles Muhangi, and 1999 NRC champion Moses Lumala all fell to Lubega this year.

To try and stop the bleeding, Emma Katto acquired the ex-Colin McRae Subaru Impreza WRC S4 (R17WRC) from Karim Hirji for the DFCU rally but even that was not enough to stop a man whose time had come – Charlie won that rally too.

By the time the Pearl of Africa Rally – Uganda’s ARC round came around. Chipper Adams also joined the fray and imported an EVO V from the same Dom Buckley’s garage in a bid to slow down Charlie and defend the POARU rally title. Charlie and Abed despite having already won the NRC with the POARU event to spare would not entertain such nonsense – they won this rally too. The 2000 season had become a one man show like a cologne of the same name that had taken Kampala by storm ten years previously.

Tamaale was quickly forgotten and Charlie became Mambo No:5.

The 2001 NRC season was almost identical to the previous season with Charlie and Abed getting five wins that season. The crew flew in a second EVO IV again from Dom Buckley on August 01 that year and continued to torment the opposition. They did same thing in 2002 before losing out on the 2003 championship race to Moses Lumala the 1999 champion.

In the 2004 season, Charlie and his longtime codriver Abed Musa bounced back with a bang winning his last championship as he ended his rally career in style. Charlie Lubega retired from motorsport soon after and is missed terribly by his fans and whole motorsports fraternity.

Credit goes to Andy Musoke, Aaron Nsamba,Joshua Mayanja and Dave Jones

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