Five South African motorsport legends

CD Anderson

South Africans like living life in the fast lane, and the country boasts a long tradition of professional motor racing, on both two and four wheels, from track and production car racing to rally and Formula One. Along the way, South Africa has created its fair amount of racing champions, trailblazers and superstars. We look at five of South Africa’s greatest motorsport legends.

Gugu Zulu

Gugu Zulu, who died in July this year while climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, was one of South Africa’s best loved sport stars. He broke barriers in becoming South Africa’s first black professional racing driver, affectionately known to the racing world as “the fastest brother in Africa”.

Born in Soweto in 1978, Zulu started racing at the age of 20, under the tutelage of South African rally legend Sarel van der Merwe. He earned the second seat next to Van der Merwe in his Sasol Steam production car team in 2001. After winning both the Wesbank Driver of the Year and Goodyear Star of Tomorrow motor racing awards, Zulu drove in both rally and track racing, predominately for Volkswagen.

Together with driver/navigator Carl Perkins, Zulu won the SA National Rally Championships in 2007, 2009 and 2010, eventually graduating to rally’s top division in 2014.
He became the first South African to be invited to race in the Skip Barber Dodge Racing Series in the US, and was also a member of the South African A1 GP team.

Jody Scheckter

As one of 17 South African Formula One drivers, Jody Scheckter was the country’s most successful driver in the sport. He rose to international prominence in the 1970s, winning his first F1 race in 1972. Scheckter went on to win 10 races (including a home win at Kyalami in 1975), a Championship in 1979 and over 30 podium finishes. He drove for McLaren, Tyrell and Ferrari.

One of his more memorable, though tragic, racing moments was in the 1973 US Grand Prix, when Scheckter attempted to rescue fellow driver Frenchman François Cevert, who crashed in front of him during qualifying laps. Cevert died and the event had a profound effect on Scheckter, who became a more mature and less reckless driver during the latter part of his career.

After retiring in 1981, Scheckter worked as a race commentator and driving team owner. He is currently an organic farmer in the UK. His two sons, Toby and Tomas, also become racing drivers in Formula Three and Indy Car Championship. Scheckter placed 90th on the list of Great South Africans in 2004.

Sarel van der Merwe

“Supervan”, as Sarel van der Merwe is affectionately known, is South Africa’s most successful rally driver, winning a record 11 South African Drivers Championships between 1975 and 1988. He has also competed in Nascar events in the US, as well as saloon and modified saloon (track) racing in South Africa after retiring from rally driving.

Van der Merwe was the face of Volkswagen and Audi during his rallying heyday, rejecting the more popular but more compact Japanese vehicles because of his lanky frame. In a popular 1987 television advert for Volkswagen, he famously demonstrated how the car “sticks to the road like boerewors to a braai grill”.

Van der Merwe officially retired from racing in 2002, at the age of 56, but has since become integral to continuing the popularity of motorsport in South Africa as a race organiser and coach for up-and-coming drivers such as Gugu Zulu.

Desiré Wilson

Desiré Wilson is one of only five women to have competed professionally in Formula One (F1). She raced in the 1980 British Grand Prix at Brands Hatch. While the race was not officially part of the greater Formula One championship because of the use of modified and retired F1 cars, at the time it was the only opportunity for female drivers to compete in F1 cars.

Wilson won the race, the first and only woman to do so, and the Brands Hatch track named one of its grandstands after her. Breaking further into the male- dominated F1 world proved difficult, so Wilson went on to other racing disciplines, including Kart racing and Grand Tour endurance racing.

She also attempted to break into American Indy open-wheel racing during the 1980s. Officially retiring from racing in 1997, Wilson continues to compete in exhibition races, such as the popular Goodwood Revival motor racing event in the UK.Along with other pioneering female drivers Divina Galica and Giovanna Amati, Wilson helped to pave the way for female racers in motorsport, including American Nascar driver Danica Patrick and Formula Three’s Katherine Legge.

Brad Binder

The 2016 Moto3 World Champion Brad Binder is one of South Africa’s up-and- coming international motorcycle racers.

The 21-year-old become the first South African to win a Grand Prix championship since Jon Ekerold’s 1981 win for Yamaha. Binder rides for Red Bull/KTM/Ajo, and his title win at Alcañiz, Spain, on 25 September 2016, came during a consistently good year. He secured five wins, including first place at Silverstone, UK, and Mugello, Italy, the spiritual home of the sport.

Binder began his racing career racing karts in Potchefstroom and started racing bikes professionally at the age of 10. Entering the Red Bull Rookies Cup championship in 2009 prepared him for a prolific international career that will, along with this year’s win, lead to the senior Moto2 championship in 2017, with aspirations to become as great as the 250cc legend Max Biaggi, who dominated and popularised the sport during the 1990s.

Source: Motorsport South Africa

SouthAfrica.info reporter

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