Jonathan Mogotsi: How an 'extroverted introvert' went from sim racing to driving for VW SA

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Jonathan Mogotsi
Jonathan Mogotsi

Jonathan Mogotsi is a racing driver for the Volkswagen Motorsport team.

With no formal training, Mogotsi climbed the motorsport ladder after proving his worth as a simulation racer.

Mogotsi races for VW Motorsport in the 2022 GTC series.

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Jonathan Mogotsi is a clear example of the adage 'you see my glory, but you don't know my story'. The youngster is a familiar face in South African motorsport circles and is an active competitor for the Volkswagen Motorsport team. In recent years, he represented Volkswagen South Africa in the SupaCup, but will be competing in the Global Touring Cars (GTC) series in 2022.

But did you know that Jono (as he's affectionately known) did not have it easy coming into his own as a racing driver? His story is that of a motorsport fan who took his passion from the screen to the track by grabbing the opportunities that came his way. The seizing of chances meant leaving his family behind while he chased a dream in Britain, followed by signing up for more talent-search activations upon returning to South Africa.

Yet, contrary to what some might believe, Mogotsi did not have the financial backup many drivers enjoy, and he fought and clawed his way to where he is today. The journey was anything but easy, but the challenges could do little to wipe the broad smile off his face.

Bond between father and son

Jono and his father always shared a special bond and, perhaps even without him realising, it set the path for his career. The two would visit the local gaming arcade on Sundays before heading home to watch Formula 1. The gaming would get them excited for the upcoming race and activate that 'racing driver's mindset'.

For the youngster, though, the Sunday sessions with his father also sparked an interest in racing, giving rise to him investing more time and energy in sim(ulation) racing. And as expected, Jono improved with each gaming session and competed in online races. It led him to the Gran Turismo Academy and qualifying for the opportunity to become a real racing driver.

Mogotsi explains: "The premise of this was to see if they could take an avid sim racer and turn them into a real racing driver. They took 25 of the best South African sim racers and put us through various challenges. Then, they flew eight of us to Silverstone, where we participated in a rigorous training programme. In the end, I lost out by finishing second, but it was just the taste of real motorsport that I needed."

Juggling racing and family

Returning to South Africa after feeling like all hope of donning a racing suit again is gone, the Volkswagen Driver Search Academy came knocking in 2016. This was just after the passing of Gugu Zulu, the fastest brother in Africa. Again, Mogotsi grabbed the opportunity and won it. His prize: a 2017 racing seat with Volkswagen Motorsport, "and the beginning of my long-term relationship with the brand," he says.

Mogotsi would hone his skills, sharpen his talents, and improve his driving. He competed in the SupaCup the last few seasons, but will line up in South Africa's premier motorsport code, the GTC, racing a Golf 8 GTI race car. He is eager to take on a challenge, yet he is all too aware that it will be very different from what he is used to.

Jono says: "People often think that driving is driving, and laid back, but it isn't. The racing car's cabin often has little to zero ventilation, and the body is subjected to high G-forces. So, I try to train a few times a week and eat relatively healthy (I cheat on weekends, though)."

But while he acknowledges the strain a season of racing has on the human body, he admits to still trying to maintain healthy relationships with the people around him. Thankfully, they are his biggest support systems and understand when racing and training get in the way. "Maintaining relationships with everyone is tricky as I haven't quite found the right balance between work, play, and self-care," the racer says. "However, I always try to make time for my people as they're super supportive of my career.

"And even though I'm an extroverted introvert, I enjoy being alone but can be very social when amongst others."

Follow through with your dreams

Mogotsi proves that dreams can be accomplished. Being in the media or on television every week can create the impression that things came easy because his face is a familiar sight, but what he has now did not come without sacrifice and the burning need to realise a dream. It was what drove him.

"It is crucial to have a dream and follow through with it as far as possible," Mogotsi says. "I tried chasing my dream, and it failed a few times before I got my big break with Volkswagen."

But, says Jono, if racing is a dream-career you'd like to pursue, visiting event venues on race days and engaging with drivers can help open one's mind to the possibilities that are out there. Racers have first-hand experience on what it takes to make it in motorsport, and often they can guide you on what the next step could or should be.

Mogotsi concludes: "Us drivers are easily accessible in the pits and are always keen to have a chat. We'd love to help."

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