Image via @TheRealGiniel
Image via @TheRealGiniel
South Africa’s Giniel de Villiers heads to Saudi Arabia seeking another first at the gruelling Dakar Rally with the Toyota Gazoo Racing driver one of the favourites for the win.
But while a lot of the focus will be on De Villiers, his compatriots Kirsten Landman and Calheine Perry are also looking to make history as they race one another for the honour of being the first African woman to complete the gruelling event.
47-year-old De Villiers will take to the dirt of the Dakar for the 16th year in a row, chasing his second win at the prestigious event.
Winner of the 2009 Dakar in South America with Volkswagen, he moved over to Toyota in 2012, taking three stage wins and twice finishing second overall.
De Villiers holds an impressive record at the Dakar having only once fallen outside the top ten in his 16 years.
“I was fortunate enough to win the first one in South America and then a couple of second and third places, so hopefully the first race outing in Saudi Arabia can get us another win,” he told the official website.
“From the footage I’ve seen, the terrain looks spectacular and I think it’s well-suited to make for a great race.”
Hennie de Klerk and Johann Wilhelm Smalberger make up the only all-South African team in the car division.
While De Klerk competed in the Dakar in 2018, he missed the 2019 edition after a team member was seriously injured during their preparations.
He was best rookie in 2018, finishing 28th.
“The first time is the most memorable one and finishing best rookie made it even more special. There were so many challenges and we had no idea what to expect. You get the big picture but you don’t know exactly what to expect. But it was one of the proudest moments of my life.
“We were going to come back but during our preparation in Namibia, one of our crews had a bad accident. A team member was badly injured so I decided to cancel. So to this new country with new challenges. 99% of the people would never get to see some places where we’re going if it wasn’t for the Dakar.
“It’s important to meet new cultures and live a new adventure. And the tougher it is the better. If it was easy, everyone could do it. It has to be hard. I really hope it’s difficult. The goal will be to reach the Top 20. Anything below that would be great.”
Although there are only three South Africans in total in the cars, the bikes have five lads ready to give their all.
Aaron Mare is competing in his maiden Dakar as too are Kirsten Landman and Calheine Perry.
Landman and Perry will be in a race against one another to become the first African woman to finish the Dakar on a bike. At 1m58, Perry is one of the smallest competitors and will be racing a KTM 450 rally bike.
“I know I might look a bit awkward on a bike and if I fall I have to use a lot more energy to get it back up,” she said. “But I have worked on my own technique.
“I think I had reached a plateau in racing on a national level winning the women’s national championship. My only option was to step outside of my country and race the Dakar. I proved in Morocco that I can compete.
“The goal is first to finish but I’m a competitor. My pace is my pace and going too slowly is not the good option. In the future I want to get into FIM rally racing and I need to prove myself on the Dakar. I love long distances, that’s where I perform the best.
“Of course I want to have fun and struggling is fun. Being the first African woman to finish would mean a lot but I don’t want to focus on that too much.”
Landman, who questioned her future in off-road rally after a crash put her in a coma for 11 days, is looking forward to the 12-stage battle.
“Receiving the acceptance letter of the Dakar really hit me. It’s exciting. I had to adapt to the weight difference of the bike,” she said.
“My main worry is crashing of course and the high speed stuff. One small mistake changes everything. Stars have to align. Becoming the first African woman to finish on a bike would be fantastic for my country and for the continent.”
Stuart Gregory and Wessel Bosman complete the South African contingent.
The 2020 Dakar gets underway on Sunday 5 January with stage 1.