Pretoria-based businessman takes on the world-famous Dakar
Hennie de Klerk, CEO of TreasuryOne, a risk management business in Pretoria, is the only privately funded South African racing in the 2018 Dakar Rally in South America, which he qualified for by winning the Dakar Challenge at the Toyota Kalahari Botswana 1000 Desert Race.
The Dakar dream – what’s the basis in your case? Is it about testing your endurance, having a great adventure … maybe needing to prove something?
Hennie de Klerk: It’s probably the same as for lots of people. It’s such a famous race; I’ve always read about it. I started racing about six years ago and have wanted to do the Dakar since. I was warned by a friend of how hard the journey to that moment would be. I got into the local scene and bought my first offroad race car. I suppose I’m just an average guy with an unrealistic dream – we tend to only see the romantic side of these things up front.
The presumption is that the preparation of the car must take priority, but the condition of the driver is obviously important too. What’s involved in getting yourself ready?
During the race, I’ll be spending between 10 and 15 hours a day in the car; 14 stages over 14 days, with just the one rest day. Between four and six of those are racing hours, with long liaison stages between them. For perspective, that’s like driving from Johannesburg to Bloemfontein in the morning, and then racing to the hotel in Port Elizabeth. It’s around 10,000km over 13 days; around 800km a day;
and around 300 to 400km of racing. So my focus is on fitness. You have really high heart rates when you’re racing – 150 to 180 beats per minute. I go to the gym and train for five to six hours. About 80% of that is cardio. It’s not about muscle; it’s about fitness and making sure you don’t get tired. There’s not much wheelto- wheel racing, but you still need to be aware at all times. And then there’s high-altitude training.
What about your diet?
I was vegetarian for a while, but then I went to see a dietician, who said I needed more protein for this kind of thing. Also, the meals during the Dakar are not great – there’s not much choice – so I need to be able to handle variety. I need to have more carbs in a day, otherwise I’ll be breaking down muscle.
You’ve tested various setups for the car, but the winners of the race must be, at least in part, better at predicting the unexpected than most. What measures have you considered to give you an edge if or when something goes wrong?
The biggest unknown for me is the dunes. There are more dunes in this race than ever before – seven stages. They put them back into the race as a lot of people were saying it wasn’t being true to the roots of the rally.That challenge is daunting. I learned that it’s about choosing your lines and seeing opportunities. I did six trips to Namibia to practise. I managed to roll the car three times – those were expensive lessons. I used a Toyota Fortuner 4ℓ V6 that I left in Namibia, as the race car was already on its way to France months ahead of the race.Also, because it’s my first Dakar, I’m unseeded. There are 100 cars in my class and I’ll start at the back. At least I’ll have paths to follow …
This year’s route takes in Peru, Bolivia and Argentina. How will conditions differ from what you’re used to in Africa?
How will you acclimatise, with all the crazy altitude shifts?In terms of the racing conditions, a lot of the driving is a bit easier than what we deal with here. A lot of the surface includes gravel rather than being completely off road, like the farm tracks we race on in South Africa. The long hours are the toughest part. I have a six-person team to look after the car while the navigator and I get some sleep.For the altitude, I prepared in the gym with an altitude mask set to 12,000 feet, which is the height we’ll be at in Bolivia. I did that for three months with lower oxygen levels, training my lungs. Altitude sickness is a big concern. It gives you headaches, and you can’t drive like that.
Racing in your private capacity takes a lot of courage, organisation and money. How much does an endeavour like this cost?
And what are the potential benefits to your company and reputation?I won the 2017 Dakar Challenge, so that took care of the entrance fee, which would amount to about R400,000. On top of that, you need a budget of about R3.5 to R4 million.I’m not really looking at the other benefits. It’s more about a personal challenge and accomplishment. For me, it’s about finishing it. The navigator is under strict instructions to not chase the race; to take our time and to survive. The finishing percentage for the race is only about 50% and I want to be in the good half.