Guy Botterill crowned as leading Rookie for Dakar 2024


Botterill proves himself at the biggest table in world rally driving.

Noreen Perryman – Citizen

Guy Botterill has never been far from the driving seat. He grew up in Hillcrest, KwaZulu-Natal, after moving from Richmond as a barefooted and gumbooted little farm lad, and zoomed around the iDube karting track at only eight years old. Botterill’s career achievements include earning his KZN Colours for Motorsport (1998, 2000 and 2002) and numerous years of experience and top SA championship wins and achievements in karting, production cars, Polo Cup and Shelby Can Am, before the rally and off-road racing bug bit him. It also bit his co-pilot Simon Vacy-lyle, who is also from the Highway area.

The now-37-year-old father of a two-year-old son, Harvey, and husband to Denell (nee Habig – whose father is Jannie Habig and brother is Ben Habig, of motorsport and rallying fame), has been residing in Ballito for the past three years and continues to work in Pinetown at his dad’s business, Just Tools. Caxton Local Media caught up with him after he finished as the Top Rookie Driver of Dakar 2024 and ended in an overall sixth position with SA co-driver Brett Cummings, who now has six Dakars to his name.

Botterill/Cummings were the best finishing duo out of the Toyota Gazoo Racing South Africa’s five teams, ahead of Giniel de Villiers/Dennis Murphy (7th), Lucas Moraes/Armand Monleon (9th), fellow rookie Sa’ood Variawa/Francois Cazalet (17th) and Seth Quintero/Dennis Zenz (100th).

“Brett was unbelievable throughout the race. I can’t believe we got to the end, and to be in the top 10 and to be sixth is incredible,” said an excited Botterill after the final stage, finishing all 12 stages in a time of 50:55.51 and travelling almost 8 000km over the two exhausting weeks.

Botterill shares more about before, during and after the Dakar 2024:

Designer of the Toyota Gazoo Racing Dakar car Glynn Hill with Guy and co-driver Brett Cummings. Photo: Toyota Gazoo Racing

Giniel de Villiers

It’s a privilege to work with Giniel. I had to pinch myself a few times when testing in Namibia and at just being able to work with these guys. Giniel competed in his 21st Dakar and is now tie for the most Dakars finished. Next year, he will try break that record, but it is a phenomenal achievement to start 21 Dakars and finish 21 Dakars. He is super experienced, and there is very little he hasn’t experienced and very little he hasn’t done himself, so you can ask him a question, and he will give you the answer you are looking for as he knows.

This priceless advice I gained from Giniel, which also sums up the Dakar in one short sentence: “Any fool can go fast.” You need to be in the situation to understand this, especially when you are doing 8 000km … you really have to manage your pace, and Brett was brilliant at controlling my pace.

Driving the dunes

Dubai dunes are a lot smaller, whereas Saudi and Namibian dunes are huge. It was good to have the mix during practice as small dune after small dune hammers you, and all the mistakes I made were in the small dunes – they like an endless roller coaster, and if you go too fast, you can fall over, so they are also very tricky. The Namibian dunes were very good for me to learn on. I think the Namibian dunes and Saudi dunes are very similar, especially in colour and huge size.

We got taught that if you can’t see where you are going, you brake. As simple as that. I wasn’t always the quickest in the stages, but when you don’t have experience in the dunes – even now, after doing one Dakar, I can’t say I have much experience – I have some but am still not comfortable in the dunes – you follow the philosophy that if you can’t see, brake, to prevent ending upside down.

The most difficult time to drive is midday when the sun is right above you and you’re driving on light-coloured dunes. With some dunes, you can see contrasts, but when they are white, you can’t see the dips and the drops or the crests because all you see is the farthest dune in the distance which is white, and none of the dunes in-between. It is known as whiteout when you can’t see depth – it is very dangerous, and there were plenty of dunes like this.

Worst conditions

The worst thing about the Dakar is the dust, especially when you are in a wadi – a valley or ravine bounded by relatively steep banks – and caught in dust called fesh-fesh, which is like talcum powder that just billows up, and you can’t see anything in front or around you. We were caught in about 300km to 400km of conditions like this, and you just have to drive patiently – it was very testing.


The navigator on the Dakar is equally if not more important than the driver. There is no point being a little quicker as a driver but then you go get lost for one hour. Brett (Cummings) was incredible in knowing the pace, so in the beginning, he was slowing me down a lot, making me look after the car and tyres and warning me when to slow for rocks, which were the size of cars, or when I was approaching dunes too fast. He was also very good at knowing when to go fast and when to go slow. Without him, I would have gone faster, but I would not have finished where I finished. Yes, maybe I would have done better in one stage, but as Giniel says, any fool can go fast.

Brett was very good at controlling me in the early stages. In the stage when we finished fifth, I was pushing hard, and Brett allowed me to go fast, and that is a strange thing for a driver to say that ‘the navigator allowed me to go fast’, but the way you are given information and the way you are told things from the navigator determines how fast you go, even in rally cars.

Somewhere, it just clicked between us, and we started gelling. From around midway onwards, we went from finishing in the low teens to fifth.

The waterboy scenario

When you are the rookie in the team, your car must carry the spares and parts for the rest of the team while you racing, as you are usually behind everybody and will most likely come across them if they have broken down. Fortunately, for Brett and me, the spares got shuffled around to other cars from about Stage 3 or 4 as we moved up the ranks, and the waterboy duty was passed down to others in the team.


I was warned that if I see a crowd of spectators, I can expect a big jump or drop-off and to slow down. (Guy laughs.) We were fortunate that we did not experience any rollovers but numerous punctures. As a rookie team, we were allocated second-hand tyres to help with budget restraints, which is not a problem when driving in sandy conditions. However, it does play an important role in controlling your speed to preserve the tyres. Some mechanical problems were experienced, like breaking our back shock 11km from the end of Stage 1.

Giving it gas in the GR DKR Hilux T1U on the dunes of Saudi Arabia. Photo: Toyota Gazoo Racing.


It was crazy because in every stage, I was in a good position, and all these main, massively known people were swapping places and driving around me. Often, it would either be Sebastian Loeb or Carlos Sainz just in front of me or just behind me. At one point, Brett said, “Loeb is behind you,” and I asked him to repeat that again because it sounded so good – it’s not every day you have Sebastian Loeb behind you.

Before we started the Dakar, we ran through all the top guys who I believed, with a bit of luck, could win, and we got to 21 competitors. I reckoned that if I could get in the top 20, then I was doing really well. Until you race with these top guys, you have no idea how fast they are.

In Stage 1, we started in 46th position and went on at our own pace. You get a 30-second dust gap, and Carlos Sainz started behind us. He passed us relatively early, and for the entire stage, I could see his dust. He wasn’t pulling or leading me, and at about 100km to go, we passed him broken down with a puncture. You have no information telling you where you are standing, so at this point of the race, before our back shock broke 11km before the end, unbeknown to us, we were lying second and closing in on the leader. We finished the stage seventh, dragging our car over the line with the broken back shock. The fact that Sainz wasn’t pulling or leading me, was when I thought that maybe we were in with a chance. Naturally I kept this thought to myself as I knew it was early days.

Hobnobbing at the Dakar

Loeb boxes himself away from everybody. When it comes to the starting stage, he races in to clock-in and doesn’t mingle or mix. I’m sure he is tired of everyone harassing him. Sainz mingles but is a man of few words, just responding with a yes or no, but at least I got a selfie with him. (Guy grins.)

Future motorsport plans

Simon and I will be preparing for the SA Off-Road Championship that is starting in April, and I will continue to manage the Botterill Motorsport rallying Team.

You can follow Guy on or

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