"Dakar" winner Giniel de Villiers and his dream homeland
Wolfsburg (10 December 2009). In January 2009 Giniel de Villiers wrote history for Volkswagen after becoming the first African to win the Dakar Rally and by recording the first victory with diesel power. As a result the popularity of the former racing driver and current rally driver grew enormously. Volkswagen visits the 37-year-old South African who comes from a region considered by many people to be one of the world's most beautiful holiday destinations.
South Africa: Mother nature, surrounded by the Atlantic, sprawling vineyards, and the home of Volkswagen's most successful factory driver. However, his surname is absolutely deceptive: de Villiers has no South African routes whatsoever, but in face bears a French name. "French ancestors emigrated to South Africa many hundreds of years ago," he explained. "And indeed in exactly the region where our family lives today." Giniel de Villiers was born in 1972 in Barrydale, Western Cape Province which lives from agriculture. Wine culture, but also fruit farming dominate work in the lap of mother nature. The Volkswagen factory driver recommends the West Cape to South African tourists, the Garden Route including the National Park, ostrich farms and a lagoon landscape as well as the entertainment offered by various theme parks in the North.
Fruit, tractors and karts on the road to motorsport
Giniel de Villiers today lives in Stellenbosch, 55 kilometres east of Cape Town. Stellenbosch is also known as the 'City of Oaks' (Afrikaans: Eikestad). A Mediterranean climate - ideal for winegrowing - prevails in the rolling countryside between the near 1,500 metre high mountains. The number of wine cellars increased significantly during the last two decades, just like the reputation of the southern vines. The rally driver was quite literally born with an affinity for fertile soil: Father Pieter "Smittie" de Villiers was a planter and cultivated peaches, apples, pears and grapes. For the first time at the tender age of four the son, who grew up with two sisters, sat at the wheel of his tractor. "I couldn't even depress the clutch when I stood with my entire weight on the pedal," he remembers smiling.
His father built him his own kart several years later. "It had a 200 cc mowing machine engine and reached 50 kph," he says. He raced with friends on temporary tracks around the estate in Barrydale. Later, in his youth, he added a beach buggy to his garage.
When his father moved to Paarl near Cape Town in 1986 due to professional reasons, Giniel de Villiers attended the grammar school there. His favourite subjects: Maths and sciences. As foreign language he learnt English, his native language is Afrikaans. It was not far from Paarl to the race track at Killarney: Both father and son spend more and more of their weekends at the track. Sometime the head of the family bought a racing car. When his son was just 18 years old and quicker in the car he was allowed to take over the car. In 1993 Giniel won his first national class category in touring car racing, the following year as Nissan factory driver class B of the South African Production Car Championship. He moved up to Super Touring Cars in 1995 and won the South African Championship between 1997 and 2000. After the demise of the series and at the request of his sponsors he swapped to the South African Off-road Championship which he won in 2001. On his "Dakar" debut in 2003 he finished fifth, before Volkswagen signed him in 2005.
Public pride on first African "Dakar" victory
Following victory in the 2009 Dakar Rally the Volkswagen works driver Giniel de Villiers finally climbed into the ranks of prominent sport personality in his homeland where rugby, cricket and football are the most popular sports. Pieter Rossouw, co-trainer of the popular rugby club Bulls was a schoolmate of Giniel de Villiers in Paarl. Schalk Burger and Jean de Villiers (not related!) from the famous Springbok rugby team also. Peter de Villiers (also not related!), trainer of the South African national rugby union squad, was one of the first to congratulate the "Dakar" winner after his victory.
Many other ordinary people, however, are also impressed by the humble demeanour of the rally ace. "A celebratory with both feet firmly planted on the ground, who always laughs and always has time for a chat when he reaches the 19th hole," states the Internet entry of a fellow golfer. "I still remember when I competed against him in a club race at Killarney. He is a fabulous, extremely down-to-earth chap who deserves his success. Fantastic, Gielie, I'm proud of you," adds hobby driver Tracy McKay. Motorsport fan Steve even compares him with South Africa's only Formula 1 World Champion: "The 'Dakar' is just as important as the Indy 500 or Le Mans, and Giniel's performance is as good Jody Scheckter's in 1979." The "Dakar" winner is particularly pleased with this. "Jody was a big hero in South Africa and it is a real honour to be compared with him," acknowledges Giniel de Villiers.
The commonly used nickname "Gielie" and also "Boykie" - formed from the English and Afrikaans diminutive for "boy" - repeatedly expresses the close emotional relationship of many South Africans to their motorsport stars. The Table View Library, a library in Cape Town, even uses the success of its compatriots in word and pictures for its annual theme "Race to Knowledge".
Down-to-earth lifestyle and regional roots
Victory in the world's toughest cross country rally has changed nothing of the 37-year-old South African's down-to-earth lifestyle, even though he is more frequently recognised by the public. He still lives in a house in Stellenbosch. He loves to explore the surrounding rolling countryside by mountain bike or on a KTM 450 Enduro. On such occasions his beloved Volkswagen Touareg with a TDI engine has to stay in the garage for a change. Among his favourite water sports is kite surfing on the beach in picturesque Somerset West, on Blouberg Beach in the shadow of Table Mountain and in Langebaan. He likes to work on his handicap at the golf club in Stellenbosch. It goes without saying that in spite of so much sport and the obligatory healthy diet there is still space for exquisite regional pleasures. "Life is too short to drink bad wine," confesses Giniel de Villiers whose tastes are too varied to stick to a single sort. However, he will not turn down a specific drop, even though it does not originate from South Africa: The champagne for the 2010 Dakar Rally winner ...