Cox and De Villiers, the founding fathers
January 3 rd 2024 - 11:16 [GMT + 3]
Six South African competitors are taking on the 2024 Dakar on motorbikes and a further six behind the wheel of Ultimate cars. Factoring in Toyota Gazoo Racing, Century, Red-lined and now M-Sport, which crafted the Ford T1+ machines, South Africa is the spiritual home of 30 cars or so, amounting to a third of the field. The rainbow nation's rise to the top of the rally-raid scene is in no small part thanks to Alfie Cox and Giniel de Villiers, who have been bivouac regulars since 1998 and 2003, respectively.
Alfie Cox and Giniel de Villiers were pioneers. Not as the original trailblazers who launched the Dakar in late December 1978, but as rally nuts who jumped in at the turn of the millennium and did well enough to trigger a game-changing movement back home in South Africa. In those days, hardly anyone had heard of Jeremy Davies, who had been the first to take the plunge by signing up for Paris–Cape Town in 1992, but the young Alfie Cox, a solid rider who was already tearing it up in motocross and bajas, soon got the bug to copy his pal a few years down the line… as soon as the stars aligned. "I was already a KTM dealer in South Africa and Heinz Kinigadner gave me a bike to do the Dakar in 1998", says the former biker, who finished fourth in his baptism of fire. "It went well, so I did seven on motorbikes and, after that, five in cars." Even though he mostly played the role of a water carrier, Cox still came in second in the 2002 edition, sharing the podium with his two companions from the halcyon days of Gauloises-KTM, the late Fabrizio Meoni and Richard Sainct.
Meanwhile, Giniel de Villiers was preparing his Dakar debut behind the scenes. It went down in 2003, when he and his Nissan burst onto the scene with fifth place at the finish in the Egyptian resort city of Sharm El Sheikh. Mr Consistency has since completed twenty consecutive editions, taken the first South American edition in 2009 and scooped up a total of fifteen top 5 finishes. From the start of this incredible run, Giniel's results sparked a real buzz among the South African public and, particularly, motor sports aficionados: "The national off-road championship has always been fiercely contested, but there were guys like Glynn Hall who started to get involved in rally raids back then and now, just with Toyota, we see 13 or 14 cars from South Africa in the bivouac. Among the drivers, there are lots of young ones coming up, so if we happened to play a small role in inspiring them, of course it makes us feel proud. Seeing Saood Variawa enter his first Dakar at age 18 makes you think of everything he will be able to achieve someday."
On two wheels, Alfie Cox shares the same view as De Villiers on four after passing on the torch to his own son, Bradley. The latest scion of the dynasty has yet to bloom, with 22nd place in his debut in 2022, but he is also part of a bright constellation, points out Alfie: "We've also got Charan Moore, who won the Original by Motul classification last year, as well as Michael Docherty, Ronald Venter, Kerim Fitz-Gerald and others who are about to break through". The way Alfie Cox sees it, the flag of South Africa has not finished fluttering proudly over the bivouac and in the Dakar standings.