South Africa’s Dakar king, Giniel de Villiers, was four years old when he started racing in a go-kart on his dad’s farm in Barrydale.
This Matie’s very first official car race was in 1989 in the so-called Clubman’s class where drivers race around a track with old, almost ‘normal’ cars. He was in matric then – only 17 years old…
“That was quite something,” Giniel recalls.
Since then he has competed in many track racing formulas, among others tour rallies, and he was the SA touring car champion from 1997 to 2000 with a dealer-backed Nissan. In fact, it was Nissan that gave him his first shot at the Dakar Rally – in those days still from Paris to Dakar in Senegal in the west of Africa. His biggest moment, however, came in 2009 in the first Dakar race in Argentina after the event had been moved to South America. He and his navigator Dirk von Zitzewitz won the race in a Volkswagen Touareg.
Giniel, who has competed in 16 Dakar races, has finished under the top 10 in all of them except one and has achieved a podium spot eight times.
He replies to the question about what the most difficult part of the race is with the answer: “The whole race is difficult, not just one part. Because the race is so long and the route crosses different terrain, it is important to figure out where you can go full out and where not.”
He is currently preparing for the 2020 Dakar – this time in the Middle East.
For him the best part of the race is “to win”. Motorsport has taught him “to never give up”.
Giniel is also the defending South African rally champion. Through the season he competes in six races on two-track roads in almost every province – and the Desert Race in Botswana – for the Toyota Gazoo Racing SA rally team. He keeps fit by riding his mountain bike and for relaxation he enjoys a game of golf or kite surfing.
His preparation for the next big race starts as soon as the chequered flag signals the end of the previous one. “Preparation is a continuing process. We do various tests and take part in many races throughout the year. As soon as you finish one Dakar your preparation for the next one starts. We are always trying to improve the locally-built Toyota Hilux and one also has to continually work on one’s fitness levels.”
Before he started his racing career, this farm boy, who completed his high school career at Paul Roos Gymnasium, earned a BEcon degree at Stellenbosch University. He completed the four-year course in 1993, but motorsport sent him in other directions.
Giniel still lives in Stellenbosch and says the best part of his university days was “the friends you made, the carefree life with no worries and the good old times”.
- By Pia Nänny -