Gugu Zulu Interview
When did your passion for Motorsport start?
According to my mother, it was at age 6, she asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up and my answer was straight to the point – “A DRIVER” – little did she know that I meant a racing driver, she asked if I wanted to be a Taxi Driver, bus driver or truck driver. All I said was “A DRIVER”! I started collecting magazines and following motorsport on TV through into my teens and at one stage, I had so many magazines, they stacked up taller than me. By then the bug had bitten and I started plotting on how I was going to get involved in local motorsport.
Who were your idols growing up?
WOW, there were so many, Sarel Van Der Merwe – biggest name in the business in SA. Overseas, I was an Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna fan and then later David Coulthard and currently I am a Lewis Hamilton fan.
What was it like driving under the guidance of Sarel van der Merwe?
It was surreal at times, I never thought that I would be so fortunate to be approached by SuperVan to drive for him. I had to pinch myself a couple times. We hit it off very well, and it was an honour to drive under his name, sadly our union did not yield any brilliant results due to budget issues and non-existing testing time and even more disappointing the lack of reliability from my car, it that failed to last more than 3 laps at any given race. If he had a proper budget, I feel that I could have done better in the Wesbank Super Series. My biggest highlight though was when Supervan organised a test for me with VW Motorsport for their Jnr Works Driver Program. He took me out in a POLO at Longmore Forest and I had the pleasure witnessing him play with the car like it was a toy, we later swapped seats and I managed to promptly beach the car on a sand heap into a right hand turn. His response was too priceless in his rather dry humour. “Oh, you fucked that up, let’s do it again and get it right.”
The Vodacom Sports 2000 championship promised so much but unfortunately the series didn’t last as long as motorsport hoped, do you think a series like that if had been on-going would have seen more ‘Gugus’ coming through the ranks?
The Vodacom Sports 2000 Championship was a brilliant concept, pity corporate SA was not very supportive but at the same time the costs were extremely high, but that being said, I certainly made use of the opportunity presented to me by Vodacom and its partners. I managed to use the series as a stepping stone to carve a career in motorsport. It’s sad to note that I am the only successful graduate to have come out of the programs, but I think it not only depends on the sponsors, but rather the hunger that the individual has to achieve their dreams and goals that they have set out for themselves. Of the 500 kids that started in the program, I ensured that I was well equipped to stay relevant and be in the media spot light in order to sustain my value to the sport. I continue to get sponsors to help me grow within the sport. Some of the other guys sadly saw it as a weekend ‘joll’ and whilst many took it seriously, it is more about understanding the business of motorsport and how it functions in particular regard to the sponsorship aspect of it!
What was it like competing in the Skip Barber Dodge Racing Series?
Certainly of the many experiences I have had I will always cherish my exploits into the US. As a budding racing driver, I wanted to go overseas and try my luck, but it all boils down to sponsorships and sadly SASOL (My sponsor then in the Wesbank Super Series) were not interested as it was not
part of their strategy. So what I did was I started researching online on obtaining a drive or test in the USA and came across a Black racing Family called the Lenny Miller Racing Team. I was astounded that there was a black family racing team and promptly forwarded them my CV and enquired about their operation. They reverted and invited me for a test session in the Skip Barber Dodge Series in May of 2003. In light of my lack of sponsorship, they assisted me by paying for my plane ticket and accommodation as well as the test which was a week’s training session at Skip Barber Dodge and 2 races on the weekend. The track where the test was to take place was at Virginia International Race way and some of the big shot names there were Marco Andretti, Sergio Perez, Benny Moon and many others. I did more driving in that week at Skip Barber Dodge than I had done in SA over the 4 years I was active in local motorsport. The instructors were brilliant and one had the opportunity of being observed on every single corner and corrected if need be. This did a lot in boosting my confidence especially when you looked at the time sheets and lying in 1st place it read: 1st Gugu Zulu, 2nd Sergio Perez and 3rd Marco Andretti and vice versa in the other sessions. Sadly after a successful test, the team was unable to secure funding for me to move over and try my luck and sadly SASOL was not interested, so my career was limited to SA. Looking back now, Marco is currently in Indy car and Sergio in F1 whilst I am here at home in ZA – ooooh what could have been had we had a backer!!!!! Guess will always wonder!
It must have been fun working on SABC’s Car Torque and now Petrolheads on Ignition, becoming a racing driver do you ever envision becoming a TV presenter?
It was always my vision to get involved with a car program since growing up. I was a big fan of Drive Time with the late Alan Johnson. I recall telling my old man that one day I will also be on a show like that; little did i know that it would be Car Torque; produced by the same guys who did Drive Time. I also used it as a vehicle to stay relevant and build my brand ‘GUGU ZULU’. The Fastest Brother In Africa, in the end, motorsport is all about sponsorship and staying relevant, Car Torque was that vehicle for me to spread my presence in SA and say “heya, I am here”!!! The perks were awesome as well, I drove many of my dream cars – WINK*
What for you has been your racing career highlight?
I think winning the national class championship – 3 in total for VW BP Rally Team – Class A5 (07/09) and Class A7 (10). Besides these, I went to the Indy500 in 2009, what an awesome experience! Racing in the US is amazing and makes us look like we are pretending in SA.
With numbers of both spectators and entrants in local motorsport down, what do you think needs to change in motorsport to get these figures up?
Sponsorship in motorsport is down and that is because of the maladministration of our sport and abuse of the sponsors by many sharks in the game. The other thing is that motorsport needs to up its image as it’s competing for its space in the sun against other sporting codes. We need to change the Hobby attitude and make it into a viable business model where even the racing drivers get paid for the services. The drivers also need to play their role in promoting themselves and not only rely on the associations to do so as they don’t even have the adequate budgets to do so.
What has been the biggest change moving from circuit racing to rally?
With rallying, every metre is different from the next, hence the controlled chaos attached to it. Guys in circuit racing race around a course that is constant, only change they have is perhaps other traffic around but the corners are the same lap after lap, yet, after practicing for 2 days, they still get it wrong on race day!! With rallying, you are driving virtually blind and have to trust that your navigator is calling the right calls, if he says FLAT OVER A BLIND CREST, you need to believe and see it yourself and bury the throttle and hope that the road is flat on the other side – The adrenalin rush is so much more!!!
What was it like racing the oval at Phakisa as part of the ASA American oval event?
That was a weird experience, initially I always thought that NASCAR was boring; in that you go round and round, but once you get into the car and do it, you come to the realisation that there is much more than meets the eye. During my exploits in the US, I did attend a NASCAR Weekly Series Race as well as the Indy500, doing over 300kmph lap after lap and coming inches to the wall and negotiating traffic is very tricky. I was one of 6 SA drivers participating with 20 other yanks. Sadly our car that we ran was a NASCAR School car which was seriously down on power, it was like taking a Golf Chico 1.4 and racing it against a Ferrari. I felt like I was driving a pregnant donkey against the others! Nonetheless, I was able to qualify 24th out 26th and with a good fuel strategy, we were able to finish 12th overall. Not bad for a pregnant donkey!!! If the opportunity arises, I will certainly jump at it, but this time, I want the same machinery as everyone!
What are your ambitions in this year’s rally series?
This year VW SA has decided to move us (Carl Peskim – My Navigator) to the S2000 Challenge class in one of the ex-works VW Polo Vivo. The car is super-fast with its 4 wheel drive system and requires a different style of driving as compared to my front wheel drive A7 Polo and A5 VW Golf Chico. Thankful, Carl has done a season in S2000, so his knowledge in pacing us will become valuable. Given our bad run over the past 2 seasons, our aim is to finish as many events as possible and if we get onto the podium that will be a bonus. We don’t get much seat time, so it’s critical to finish all the rallies and ensure that we add to the VW tally on the points system. Perhaps next year if we get the latest VW POLO, we can then challenge for overall good placing’s, for now, just learn as much about the car and ensure we score points in every rally.
What are your plans moving forward in motorsport, where can we expect to see Gugu in 5 years’ time?
Wow, I would like to venture back to circuit racing at some stage, but do a bit more endurance events as this is where one gets more seat time. It’s sad that I am still counting the number of practice sessions I have had in my entire rally career, goes to show that motorsport is expensive and practicing is a luxury. Over and above this, my wish would be to do a Le Mans or a Dakar event, but for both I need at least R5million to get there, so will keep trying to get partners sharing in our vision and perhaps we could be on the starting line in one of these events. It would be super cool to tell my story via a documentary and either one of these events as a backdrop. Anyone reading this please shout!!!
As part on an adventure couple, what is next on your and Letshego’s list of adventures?
We had planned to participate in the 2012 Absa Cape Epic, sadly we had to postpone our plans to 2013. This year will be about building base millage and ensuring that we ready come March next year. In the immediate future, we are doing as many adventure events as possible.
How do you keep racing fit?
I enjoy Mountain Biking as it relates well to my Rallying. I have recently started Kettlebells and have taken to running 21km races such as the Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon.
What was it like being part of the Top Gear Festival as a stunt driver?
That was an amazing experience – got to chill with Jeremy and the boys including partying with David Coulthard and the Sheckter brothers – What a night!!!
What do you think can be changed to make development a reality in local motorsport?
People need to believe in it and support it whole heartedly instead of looking at lining their pockets. Perhaps we need to look at starting a schools program not only on the driving side, but rather the auto mechanical route as offered in colleges/Schools across US and Europe.
I know you have driven a Legends Car at Zwartkops, what was your impression?
One of the most exciting cars I have driven. I was fortunate to witness a Legends Race whilst in the US, seeing 4 cars driving side by side and hearing them roar past you, shakes everything inside of you!!! I would certainly like to race the car and hope that we get a sponsor to tick this box!!!!
Would you be interested in competing in a Legends Series?
Definitely – car is quick, nimble and sounds and looks exciting!!! I want in!!! Perhaps GUGU ZULU RACING a be a reality and run a couple of drives in the team.
There’s a rumour about a racing academy with Legends, would you be
interested in teaching the next generation of Gugu’s?
Count me in!!!