SA’s Dakar champ

From bare­foot farm lad to star driver

Leisure Wheels (South Africa) - - CONTENTS - Giniel de Vil­liers

Giniel de Vil­liers was born in Barrydale in the Western Cape. He grew up on a farm near the vil­lage, which is si­t­u­ated near the Over­berg and Klein Ka­roo. At­tend­ing school there un­til grade nine, he then moved to Paarl Gym­na­sium, where he ma­tric­u­lated.

He was 16 years old when his dad, who was par­tic­u­larly keen on mo­tor­sport, bought him­self an Opel As­cona race­car. Giniel and his dad headed to a rac­ing track, and his fa­ther took his car out for some fly­ing laps. Back in the pits, Giniel’s dad re­alised his son was champ­ing at the bit to have a crack him­self… so he sent him out on the track.

Amaz­ingly, the young Giniel – who did not even have a learner’s driv­ing li­cence – was faster than his dad. His fa­ther gave him the As­cona to race in the Club­mans class, and the young­ster soon started win­ning. He kept on win­ning as he moved up the classes. By 1993, he won the na­tional class D Cham­pi­onship in an­other Opel and re­ceived a call from Nic de Waal from Nis­san Mo­tor­sport, of­fer­ing him a fac­tory drive.

A mo­tor­sport le­gend called Glyn Hall took over from De Waal in 1994 and a close re­la­tion­ship be­tween Giniel and Glyn that lasts to this day was formed. Since then Giniel has made the move from cir­cuit to off-road ral­lies. As an of­fi­cial Red Bull ath­lete, he is now con­sid­ered one of the best cross-coun­try rally driv­ers in the world. This is his mo­tor­ing story.

Where, when and in what did you learn to drive?

I started driv­ing a kart on the farm when I was four years old. And trac­tors when my feet could reach the ped­als.

Any funny tales dur­ing that learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence?

I crashed the kart into the wall of a shed once, which caused the en­tire shed to col­lapse.

What was your first car?

My first car was the Opel As­cona race­car my dad gave me to race when I was 16 years old.

You raced the Nis­san Primeras suc­cess­fully in the SA Tour­ing Car Cham­pi­onship… any ri­val­ries or funny mo­ments from that time?

All I can of­fer are two words: Terry Moss. All the funny tales and un­usual hap­pen­ings in­volved Terry.

Then Nis­san with­drew from cir­cuit rac­ing, and you moved over to of­froads?

This was not an easy tran­si­tion be­cause rac­ing off-road, the sur­face you race on is ex­tremely vari­able. You have to learn how to read the ter­rain and lis­ten to some­body sit­ting next to you, giv­ing you in­struc­tions.

Then you got drafted to do the Dakar with Nis­san. How did your first event go?

He is one of SA’s most suc­cess­ful rac­ing driv­ers, win­ning the Dakar Rally in 2009 in a fac­tory VW Touareg. Raised on a farm in the Klein Ka­roo, he is quiet, re­served and po­lite, quite un­like some of his pre­de­ces­sors who used to throw things out of ho­tel win­dows and had a rep­u­ta­tion for caus­ing trou­ble. This is Giniel de Vil­liers. A gen­tle­man, a busi­ness­man, and a mul­ti­ple rac­ing cham­pion.

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