Who is Giniel de Villiers?

2009-01-19 11:06

The unassuming Stellenbosch resident has come a long way since racing farm tractors with his go-kart as a young boy.

Giniel was born in Robertson on the 25th of March 1972. Father Pieter (Smittie) was a feverishly keen motorsport enthusiast and part-time rally competitor - as such, it was hardly surprising when Smittie built Giniel his own go-kart at age four.

Those early years racing against the clock on various self-conceived farm ‘special stages’, even racing tractors on occasion, were the grounding for what would mature into an awesome racing talent in later years.

An ignominious start before stardom

Despite finishing last in his first clubman race at Killarney in 1989, Giniel was on the pace by the end of the season. Thereafter progress on track was about as linear as a space shuttle launch trajectory.

De Villiers and Nissan motorsport South Africa boss Glyn Hall forged an incomparable alliance during the mid to late 1990s. With De Villiers behind the wheel and Hall responsible for a high level of technical proficiency in car preparation, Giniel absolutely owned local touring car racing.

From 1997-2000 Giniel won four consecutive local touring car championship titles, some by quite embarrassing margins.

With practically nobody left to race against, Giniel’s career took an unexpected turn when local touring car racing collapsed in 2000 – at a time when De Villiers was ranked as the most successful touring car driver in the world. Nissan retained Giniel's prodigious driving talent by setting him about the South African off-road racing championship in a Nissan Hardbody.

Venturing off-road

It turned out to be a fortuitous change of pace for De Villiers. After a decade of racing on circuits, his old farmyard go-kart instincts were awakened by the off-road racing challenge, whilst Nissan were able to move its motorsport division and marketing directive close to each other by racing bakkies.

Giniel won the South African off-road championship in his first year of competition during 2000. His natural pace and disciplined fitness regime allowed him to finish fifth in his Dakar debut with Nissan during the 2003 event, impressing many experienced campaigners.

When Nissan withdrew its factory team from Dakar competition after the 2005 race, Giniel was recruited by VW and since then it has only been a question of when (not if) he would take a Dakar victory. The 2007 event was a severe test for Giniel’s resolve as he was leading comfortably by the 9th stage when a mechanical failure relegated him to finish 11th.

During this year’s event he was on pace again when a navigational error cost him the lead. In the end he won, adding the Dakar trophy to his collection of three Moroccan rally wins.

The unassuming professional

Although he spends two thirds of the each year racing and testing overseas, Giniel is an avid outdoorsman who enjoys mountain biking and playing golf around the Stellenbosch area, where he lives. Kite surfing has become a leisure activity of necessity too recently, as a means to cope with those particularly blustery Cape summers.

Detractors will no doubt point to his lack of open-wheeled pedigree, but Giniel’s career has been exceptional; even more so considering he is the antithesis of the hell-raising racing driver – quiet, unassuming, humble and utterly professional.

Never a door-banger in circuit racing, or one to throw his toys when mechanical foibles curtailed his driving ability or robbed him of results, Giniel’s humble manner and admirable courage – he won the Dakar with a pinched nerve in one vertebra – has earned him respect from all in the pit lane or bivouac

Giniel might be 36, yet a disciplined training regime has ensured he is fit and ready for action. There should be a good couple of years of top flight racing left in him.

VW’s motorsport division is keen to expand thanks to its first Dakar win, and if they do enter World Championship Rally racing, Giniel should be well rewarded for his sterling service to Wolfsburg so far.

From the dusty farm roads around Robertson in the late 70s to Dakar champion in 2009 – Giniel has done it all with the disarming panache of a farm boy who just liked driving really fast, everywhere…

He might never have been big enough to play rugby - as expected of a farmboy - but he was always plenty brave enough to win the world's toughest rally raid. He is our boykie.

  • Joe - 2009-01-19 16:35

    I still remember watching Giniel drag race his Primera against a Super Truck at Killarney. A drag which he lost... But the Dakar he won!!! Congrats Giniel, you really really deserve all the credit due!

  • Anna - 2009-01-19 16:36

    Brilliant! And he is a star. The way South Africans do it without a lot of noise. Just the best!

  • Modesty - 2009-01-19 16:53

    Hell yeah, he's our boykie! I wish we had better coverage of the Dakar, though. It sucks to hear that there were live transmissions going out from the race in South America but we never got to see anything more than the 30minute roundup.

  • james - 2009-01-19 18:51

    Had Giniel been exposed to F1 he would have made serious waves.

  • Trevor - 2009-01-19 20:25

    Well done!!! You deserved it. PS.. I agree with Modesty, let's have better coverage in future, please.

  • Angie - 2009-01-20 07:56

    Well done you boykie from Barrydale, I am very proud of you. Knew you would make it big some day!!

  • Ross - 2009-01-20 07:56

    One of the most down to earth celebs around! Always smiles, and always have time for a chat, when he sits on the 19th hole of De Zalse. Please guys, lets all mail Supersport, and ask for better coverage!!!!!

  • NCL - 2009-01-20 08:34

    Modesty, of the 30minutes, 10 is used for the previous day's round-up. They spend more time on Robbie Gordon in one program, than on Giniel in the whole 15 day coverage. The problem is, sponsors. They cover days with soccer, cricket, etc, but 30min is all we got from the biggest offroad race in the world. Congratulations to Giniel. You deserve all the credit for an outstanding achievement.

  • steve - 2009-01-20 08:46

    The Dakar is as big as Indy 500 or Le Mans and Giniel's achievement is as good as Schecker's in '79.

  • BB - 2009-01-20 08:53

    Brilliant, well done Giniel. Also agree with the limited coverage, it would have been nice to see live coverage, come on supersport, we want it, 30mins a day was not enough!!!

  • Table View Library - 2009-01-20 09:01

    You have made us feel proud to be South Africans. What you have achieved is truly amazing. This sport requires more stamina, determination, endurance and tenacity than any other sport we have watched. The libraries" theme for the year is "Race to knowledge" and we are going to use pictures and info about you to illustrate the theme.

  • Tracy McKay (nee Bandey) - 2009-01-20 09:38

    I still remember racing against Giniel in a Clubmans race during one of my many visits to Killarney from PE. He is a fab, down-to-earth guy who deserves all the glory. Pity about the poor coverage. Well done Gielie. I'm proud of you!!!!

  • Philwest Volkswagen Somerset West - 2009-01-20 10:09

    Baie geluk Giniel - dis 'n baie mooi storie met 'n "awesome" result - Philwest Volkswagen is baie trots op jou - gooi mielies

  • tshepo - 2009-01-20 10:13

    Well done, more World Championship Rally titles are waiting!

  • Frans van den Heever - 2009-02-09 13:16

    Giniel jy is my hero!!!!!! Baie geluk met die dakar wen jy verdien dit uit en uit!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Johann Grobler - 2010-01-02 14:30

    Alles van die heel besteste met jou aanslag op die 2010 DAKAR. Hou duim vas. GOOI MIELIES!

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