Who is Jas Mangat, Gorillas in the Mist Champ?

Gorillas in the Mist 2016 rally; photo by Miha Logar
Gorillas in the Mist 2016 rally; photo by Miha Logar

Over the weekend the drivers racing on reddish murram roads of Kabale District were, for a change, not driving trucks of goods with scores of people surfing at the back. Their vehicles were actually intended to be pushed to the limit, and the inaugural Gorillas in the Mist Rally tested just that.

Rural life stopped during Gorillas in the Mist 2016 rally; photo by Miha Logar
Rural life stopped during Gorillas in the Mist 2016 rally; photo by Miha Logar

29 cars started on Saturday, only 16 remained on Sunday, and the one team prevailed on both days: Pili Pili* with Jas Mangat at the wheel and Joseph Kamya as his co-driver.

Jas Mangat, Pili Pili Rally Team; photo by Miha Logar
Jas Mangat, Pili Pili Rally Team; photo by Miha Logar

Mangat, 35, has been a rally driver for over 10 years. He has seen all kinds of unexpected obstacles on race routes, from confused domestic animals to kamikaze motorcycle taxis, so he was pleasantly surprised not to run into any heart-stopping surprises in Kabale. Taking into account no real rally tradition in the , he did not expect to things to go smoothly but the race organisation and environment awed him.

Backdrop of Gorillas in the Mist 2016 rally; photo by Miha Logar
Backdrop of Gorillas in the Mist 2016 rally; photo by Miha Logar

“The setting, the location, everything about the rally is different to what we are used to. The terrain is very unusual but also very suitable for rally, these are perfect rally roads,” says Mangat and guarantees that he will be back.

To prepare as well as possible, his team first visited the area the previous weekend. He checked on the roads and then rushed back to Kampala (over 400km away) where he works for the family business, Mansons, mainly engaged with transportation. “A lot to do with the roads,” he laughingly describes his life.

Pili Pili Rally car Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X; photo by Miha Logar
Pili Pili Rally car Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X; photo by Miha Logar

Rally is an expensive sport and it is not easy to get backing because many potential sponsors see it as dangerous, so he never thought professional racing was an option. At his peak in 2013, when he was close to winning the African Championship, he would do over 12 rallies per year but these days the total annual number is about half of that.

His grandfather and father were born in Uganda while Jas himself is Canadian. He has lived in the Pearl of Africa for the last two decades and it was a rally car in Kigali that got him into the sport in 2003. That car was a gift for his dad, from a very good friend, but he only tried it a couple of times and left it parked. Jas fixed it up, there was a rally happening, and that is how a fruitful career was set into motion, with a Uganda and Tanzania title down the road…

* Pili pili = a hot cilli pepper sauce

text: Miha Logar