'When in doubt, get out' - SA's Dakar hero Giniel de Villiers shares some off-road driving tips for the holidays

<i>Image: Red Bull</i>
<i>Image: Red Bull</i>

Since first tackling the Dakar in 2003 (where he finished a more-than-credible fifth place) Red Bull’s Giniel de Villiers has never once failed to finish, that’s 16 Dakar finishes. 

To have contested the gruelling Dakar Rally 16 times without suffering a mechanical failure or race-ending crash is an amazing feat and testament to De Villier's fast, but mechanically sympathetic driving style.

READ | Dakar 2020: Giniel de Villiers is looking forward to new challenges in Saudi Arabia

That efficiency helped De Villiers take victory at the Dakar Rally in 2009 and overall the 47-year-old has finished on the podium eight times.

Want to drive like him? Here are a few insights from the Red Bull driver from Toyota Gazoo Racing that you can apply in more ‘sedate’ off-road driving:

1. As fast as you can, as slow as possible

Momentum is your friend and the key to overcoming most 4x4 obstacles. Acceleration – in the wrong places – is not.

Learn to use the momentum the vehicle has already built up to carry you through obstacles. What this means is that you should not try to suddenly accelerate when you hit mud, sand, or rocks.

2. When in doubt, walk the obstacle

Another one of the most cliched off-road driving sayings, that still rings true: ‘When in doubt, get out.’ As in, stop, get out of your vehicle and scout the obstacle first, plotting your lines.

Giniel de Villiers dakar

                                                                        Image: Red Bull

If there is mud or water, test the depth and nature of the bottom. This is obviously a luxury that rally drivers at a race like the Dakar don’t have. Here, Giniel will have to rely on the course notes, his intuition and navigator, Alex Haro.

3. Sand - Float like a butterfly

The number one tip all experienced sand drivers will give you, is to deflate your tyres before venturing out. Go down to 1.0bar or even 0.8 for really soft sand and dunes at places like Atlantis and the Vleesbaai Dune Route.

Exercise caution when wanting to use things such as electrically controlled rear differential locks and the like - in sand this can cause the vehicle to ‘handle’ strangely.

Many drivers forget that the diff is engaged and then try to make a sudden turn (such as out of a rutted sand track) while the vehicle tries to keep going straight. 

Best to run sand in high range 4x4 without diff and then, when do get into trouble (ie stuck) engage the diff and try to ease a reverse out

4. Mud

Mud is the 4x4er’s 'grey' - it comes in 50 shades and more…From thick, bottomless clay to sticky 'cotton soil' and souplike surfaces often found in forests. 

Much like sand driving, reduced tyre pressure and low gear are key. As is momentum - tip 1! Always walk a tricky-looking section first. And those that don’t look too daunting, many a mud pit has been underestimated and been the undoing of some very experienced drivers.

After 30 years in Africa, and 11 in South America, the Dakar Rally is ready to start a new chapter in the Middle East after a five-year deal was signed with new host nation Saudi Arabia.

Giniel de Villiers dakar

                                                                        Image: Red Bull

"From what I've seen it looks really beautiful. The race there is going to be really challenging. It's going to be brand new for everybody and that is going to make it a big adventure," said Giniel.

"Certainly, from a landscape point-of-view the country seems to have everything and I think it is the start of a great new adventure. We as drivers are all excited and are really looking forward to it," he added.

Follow Giniel de Villers’ progress here.

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