Dakar in Giniel’s blood


The Citizen (Gauteng) - - PROFILE - Jaco van der Merwe

When you are hav­ing that sec­ond help­ing of gam­mon and yet an­other plate of your aunt’s aw­ful tri­fle, washed down with a cold one on Christ­mas Day, please spare a thought for Giniel de Vil­liers.

South Africa’s most fa­mous rally ex­port won’t be able to join in the an­nual fes­tive glut­tony as his body will be in pris­tine shape and his mind al­ready on the dunes ris­ing above the Peru­vian coast­line.

Barely a week af­ter Christ­mas, De Vil­liers will be in Lima lin­ing up his rac­ing Toy­ota Hilux along­side Ger­man nav­i­ga­tor Dirk von Zitze­witz at the start of the Dakar Rally, which will be his 16th at­tempt at ar­guably the world’s hard­est – and one of the dead­li­est – mo­tor­sport race.

“When De­cem­ber 31 comes along I’m nor­mally at my fittest. That, un­for­tu­nately, means that I can’t join in with cel­e­brat­ing Christ­mas with cham­pagne along with the rest, but that is one of the small sac­ri­fices that comes with the job,” he says with a wry smile dur­ing a break in test­ing out­side Bloem­fontein.

Ex­actly how does a driver pre­pare his body for this ar­du­ous race, which next year will be solely hosted by Peru af­ter Ar­gentina and Bo­livia pulled out?

Al­though the num­ber of stages was from the tra­di­tional 14 to 10 in 2019, De Vil­liers’ team prin­ci­ple at Toy­ota Ga­zoo Rac­ing South Africa, Glyn Hall, reck­ons the rac­ing time will be very sim­i­lar to a 14-stage race be­cause of the sand, which will make up 70% of the more than 3 000km race.

“It’s fairly tough phys­i­cal train­ing at the mo­ment,” De Vil­liers says. “I ride a lot of bi­cy­cle and also run a bit. It’s just a case of gen­eral fit­ness and try­ing to com­mit your­self to it ev­ery sin­gle day.

“I’m try­ing to get as fit as pos­si­ble be­cause the fit­ter you are, the longer you are able to con­cen­trate and the faster you re­cover to get ready for the next stage.

“The best place to pre­pare your­self for the ex­act phys­i­cal chal­lenges you’ll ex­pe­ri­ence dur­ing the race is in the car it­self and we do spend a lot of time in the car dur­ing test­ing. We re­cently spent two weeks test­ing and rac­ing at a rally in Mo­rocco, so the more time you can spend in there, the bet­ter.

“But I must add, at the mo­ment it’s so hot in the Cape that spend­ing time out­side is about the same tem­per­a­ture as in the car.

“In the past, when we had stages at very high alti­tude, I slept in an alti­tude tent dur­ing our test­ing in Namibia, but there’s no need for that this year, so you do cus­tomise your ex­act train­ing for the con­di­tions you’ll ex­pe­ri­ence dur­ing the race it­self.”

Af­ter start­ing his rac­ing ca­reer in tour­ing cars and win­ning the na­tional cham­pi­onship for four years run­ning, De Vil­liers, 46, has been in off-road rac­ing for al­most two decades.

Al­though he has seen ev­ery­thing in the Dakar in, re­mark­ably, fin­ish­ing all 15 races he started, which in­cludes the top step of the podium with Volk­swa­gen in 2009, he isn’t en­ter­tain­ing any thoughts of a ca­reer change yet.

“I’m not tired of rac­ing at this stage of my life. Even though I’ve done 15 Dakars, there are just so many chal­lenges in the race. Ev­ery time you go there are dif­fer­ent chal­lenges, which of­fers some­thing new,” he says.

“It’s so dif­fer­ent from some­thing like For­mula One, where you go around a track which is al­ways the same.

“Even when you get dunes again in the Dakar, it will be dif­fer­ent kinds of dunes from what you’ve ex­pe­ri­enced be­fore. There­fore, the over­all chal­lenge is al­ways fresh.

“I be­lieve you must live in the mo­ment and take it day by day. You don’t know what is go­ing to hap­pen and how you will feel about it. So if you feel good about some­thing, do it and make the best of it.”

Even though ped­dling his bike is one of his pas­times, be­lieve it or not, De Vil­liers does do things that don’t in­volve wheels.

“Golf. I just love it,” he smiles, ad­mit­ting he boasts a cred­i­ble hand­i­cap of 13.

“When I do get the time for golf I re­ally en­joy it. It’s a dif­fi­cult game, make no mis­take, but it’s also very good for your head. I like be­ing out­doors and golf fits the bill per­fectly.

“And then I also like a bit of kite surf­ing. It’s some­thing I’ve been do­ing for quite a while.

“The big thing is to find time for it all. It’s re­ally a bal­anc­ing act, be­cause I’ve got three young chil­dren and you can never do too many things.”

He might just be faced with an­other bal­anc­ing act for his tro­phy cab­i­net when he re­turns with more sil­ver­ware from South Amer­ica in Jan­uary. – news@ci­ti­zen.co.za

Pic­ture: EFE/EPA


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