“It’s the longest and toughest motor race in the world – both mentally and physically,” says Giniel de Villiers of the Dakar experience. “You use all your skills and preparation to survive and focus for its duration.”
Since his 2009 overall victory, De Villiers switched cars from a VW to a Hilux and featured on the last three podiums. He takes the cerebral load in his stride. “It goes with the territory. You’re concentrating on the road ahead, avoiding problems and controlling the car, it’s part of the job. Second nature.”
The trick for elite concentration levels is simple. “A balanced diet is important to obtain all the right nutrients – and also, getting enough sleep,” he explains. “I don’t believe in taking too many supplements.” De Villiers is also big on hydration, drinking seven litres of water on a race day.
A Dakar participant since 2002, he has an astonishing record of only one retirement (a mechanical failure in 2007). That’s an impressive feat for a 8 574km race over uninhabitable terrain. But he isn’t risk-averse. “You can’t plan a strategy to take risks; it depends on how the stage unfolds,” he explains. “One day you might feel it’s necessary to take more risks than on other days. You’ll decide that in the moment.”
Along with all the speed and exhilaration comes an inherent safety concern, one he carries to public roads. “A defensive driving course where you learn how to control a sliding car is important,” he says.
“Ninety percent of the time an accident can be avoided if you know what to do. I believe such a course should be compulsory for all drivers.”
But while he always has his wits about him, he can still extract boyish joy from a winding piece of tar. “I enjoy driving and cycling the Franschhoek Pass, which is close to where I live. It’s nice and windy – lots of corners – and there’s a beautiful view.”
– Lindsey Schutters
* Photograph Tyrone Bradley/RedBull Content Pool