Natural born racing drivers


Blessed are we South Africans. We’ve produced some real world-class drivers over the years. Think Formula One world champion Jody Scheckter, and Daytona winner and local rally and racing legend Sarel van der Merwe. Think Dakar Rally winner Giniel de Villiers and Hannes Grobler, the only person to have won the local rally and off-road championships in one year.

So blessed are we that this amazing driving ability, which seems to be embedded in our genetic make-up, is on display on our roads on a daily basis. For instance, a driver of a Tata hatch on the N1 between Pretoria and Joburg. Driving in the middle lane at 120km/h, he was typing what seemed to be an essay on his iPad, which he deftly held in his left hand, which also happened to hold the steering wheel, typing one-finger style with his right hand. Amazing skills.

And the old lady in a rickety VW Polo. Completely defying her librarian-that-plays-the-church-organ look, she exhibited excellent racing skills by jumping into the emergency lane to overtake the line of cars waiting at a traffic light, only to then craftily nip into a tiny gap at the front of the line. This type of racing craft is also prolific on the highways, especially in peak driving times. With a long queue of cars aiming to go left at a split in the highway, the real racers will swoop past on the right, only to amazingly seize the tiniest of gaps in that queue, as close to the split as possible.

The Mercedes Formula One team should send Nico Rosberg to come and drive in our peak hour traffic – he’ll no doubt pick up some overtaking skills in the process. And you can’t have excellent overtaking skills without a fair whack of bravery. The other day, we were idling behind a slow truck on a B-road, with about 10 vehicles ahead of us. With plenty of blind rises on this busy road, overtaking opportunities were limited.

However, this didn’t deter Juan Pablo Montoya in a Hyundai Atos. By driving about 13mm from our 4×4’s rear bumper, he managed to slipstream his way to an additional 3.7km/h in his tiny hatch, and off he went (slowly) overtaking the line of cars, fearlessly ignoring the solid line and the looming blind rise. Such commitment, such bravery. Another interesting racing phenomenon on public roads comes courtesy of the men and ladies from law enforcement departments. The latest trend seems to be to drive with flashing emergency lights, but with no apparent emergency. This, I believe, is a deep-rooted, subconscious desire to be a safety car driver for racing events.

The safety car runs ahead of the racing field with lights flashing, setting a slower pace after an incident. Recently I was driving behind such a metro car, every single blue light illuminated and flashing impressively. I ducked in behind him. After 5km the metro vehicle, curiously, stopped at a spaza shop, clearly forgetting about the race. South Africa has been short of a really great female racing driver in recent times. This may soon change, judging by the skills displayed on our roads. Like the young lady in the BMW 120i who slipstreamed another vehicle and passed it on the left so brilliantly. Nascar drivers could have taken notes.

Ah, and the taxis. They are masters of many racing talents, including slipstreaming and taking a gap that really isn’t a gap. But that pales in comparison to their late braking skills. This spectacle is most apparent in Joburg’s suburbs, where the Toyota Avanza seems the vehicle of choice. It works like this: they drive at about 40km/h, hooting at regular intervals to attract potential clientele walking on the pavements. When a customer puts up a hand, it happens: late-braking in its purest form, stopping in the middle of the street. But paying further testament to the inherent driving talent in our country, the line of 15 cars that has formed behind the slow-moving Avanza then brilliantly copies the late-braking move, without anyone hitting anyone. Mostly, anyway.

If there is one flaw shared between most taxi drivers, it’s the so-called ‘jump start’. A ‘jump start’ is when the racing vehicles are waiting for the proverbial green light at the start line, and someone takes off before the light turns green. Taxi drivers often get this wrong, taking off before the race officially starts. Luckily for the jump starters, there never seems to be a race marshal around when you need one, so 99% of the time they get away with this indiscretion. A nation of natural born racing drivers we are indeed.

Text: Danie Botha