When you climb into a real rally car, like I had the privilege of doing outside Bloemfontein last week, you are instantly overwhelmed.
What strikes you is the vast number of cables and pipes and the simplicity of the structure.
Unlike the cars in our garages, there is very little to make the interior attractive – like a dashboard and infotainment system.
Just a bare shell with a few carbon-fibre trims and the bare necessities the driver needs to go like hell.
With my helmet on and heavily strapped in, Giniel de Villiers gently glided the racing short-wheel-base Hilux out of the blocks and on to the 3km sand track.
The easy introduction was then a thing of the past as his foot hit the accelerator down the first straight and my gut got it’s first glimpse of the 5.0-litre V8 monster powering this Dakar racer.
Glancing over the myriad of gauges and numbers behind the steering wheel and the centre console, I couldn’t find a speedometer, but it felt something like the speed of sound as we approached the first corner.
Just when I thought he was never going to brake, De Villiers effortlessly guided the car around the bend at a breakneck speed.
Apart from my helmet catching the bar of the roll cage every time, the more corners he went through the more at ease I got as I realised I was in good hands, which is when I started appreciating the driver’s sublime skill and talents.
Being miffed that the few minutes it took De Villiers to complete the circuit felt like seconds, I was given the courtesy of another ride – with Henk Lategan, a youngster who attacks every corner with the exuberance of youth and is great fun, but the ride is much harder on your body.
While climbing out of Lategan’s car, exhausted, someone said: “Imagine doing that for six hours a day, 10 days in a row.”
I certainly have newfound respect for these guys. I couldn’t even find a gauge, let alone try to drive or read directions.