SA’s Dakar champ
From barefoot farm lad to star driver
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.