Gugu: The Rallying Guru
Gugu Zulu, known to many as “The fastest Brother in Africa” is South Africa’s current A7 national rally champion. A more face friendly medium though would be his current position as presenter on Car Torque, commentator on the Wesbank Super Series and the SAfm Formula One commentator. So he’s fast, talkative and just plain awesome. No wonder DriveRSA decided an interview with this premium South African motorsport legend was imperative.
So you’ve got a nice cabinet at home filled with championship trophies from South African rallying, what next?
I’m fortunate enough to be sponsored by VW South Africa as well as BP and am currently competing in the newest class they’ve just created; it’s called the Super 1600. Initially I was in class A7 and we won our championship last year, and the previous year we were in class A5 and again we won our championship. It’s a bit slow unfortunately in terms of my timing. I was doing A5 for about five years but because of the way motorsport is in South Africa it’s not really a career – it’s a very expensive hobby and progress and moving up is very much dependent on sponsors. At the time the funding was just not there so the only way we could do it is stick it out in A5 and continue winning. Luckily I managed to secure the funding and now VW has given us a Super 1600 car which is an amazing piece of machinery. It’s a VW Polo, pretty much stripped out and given the full works in terms of suspension. With the engine we’ve got a sequential gear box so it’s just like a motorcycle engine, you just flip the lever up and down. We’ve got a high lever as well for your hand brake and the pedals are just something else. I mean I do a lot of right foot breaking as well.
Wow so a Michael Schumacher prodigy hey?
(Laughs) Michael’s got nothing on me. But yes I mean it’s a phenomenal car and I race it with Carl Peskin as my navigator. We’ve done very well in the past; we’ve won great championships together. A match made in heaven so they say.
Sticking with rallying, which is the best car you’ve driven so far?
To date I must say I’ve always enjoyed any Subaru experience.
Where would you say is the hot spot for rallying in South Africa?
The nice thing about rallying is we’re so spread out already, we’ve got an event coming up in now Witbank, we’ve got an event in Cape Town, we’ve got PE in July, we’ve got in Durban which is where we start our season. I think there’s some possibility of looking into the Tzaneen area as well and the Bloemfontein area so we’re really well spread out. The nice thing is people don’t have to pay to come watch, people just arrive and follow the rally at their own leisure. I also think it’s an educational process, as well as a marketing and PR exercise, that needs to be improved in order to increase the number of people coming through as rallying is a totally different animal. You know the guys on the track? They go round and round on the same piece of tarmac, where as with us rally drivers everything is different, from day to day and even metre to metre. I think it’s very challenging and from a visual perspective it’s certainly the most exciting form of motorsport.
In SA which is your favourite track?
Of the rally circuits, the PE one is by far the best because you go out in the Longmore forest. It’s a beautiful place to be and it’s quite challenging, very technical, but at the same time there are some nice fast flowing sections that you can really bury the throttle through. But it also challenges you mentally and physically as well because of the undulations as well as the turns and the fast sweeps.
What is your most memorable rally, if you could re-live one?
I think it would be the Zulu rally in Natal. I had just landed from the UK, I was extremely tired but we got into the swing of things quickly. I was able to beat some Subaru’s with a little 1400 Chico Golf – I was just driving like a mad lunatic.
You’ve conquered SA, are you planning on making your name big on the world stage at all?
Yes we’ve tried, we’ve been to the US, and we’ve been to the UK. But again sponsorship is a problem, but we keep pushing, we can’t give up. I still have two of my favourite events that I’d like to do and those are the Dakar and Le Mans.
Which Le Mans car would you chose?
I think I’d go with a GT car, you know the LMP cars are a little too expensive and not very realistic.
What about the diesel Audi?
You see now I like the way you’re thinking. Look it’s a nice car, we’ve spoken to a couple of manufactures, in particular Audi as well – probably in the R8 because it’s something that’s a little more affordable to do and more realistic as apposed to the millions and millions of Euros you need for the LMP cars.
Your next race is in Witbank. Take us through how you prepare for a rally?
Motosport in South Africa is a hobby; it’s not an industry, so Monday morning I report to a desk job like everybody else.
What’s your job?
(Shy smile) At this moment I’m unemployed, but usually I’m involved in the marketing space within motorsport. Back to prepping for an event, it’s really a mental thing. We get a CD the week before the event where we watch and go through the actual route itself, that saves us costs and time on trying to get to the route and doing the recon ourselves. Come Thursday then we do the documentation and then Friday we do the first stage. From a mental perspective I need to visualise what I need to do, I need to calm myself down. Physically I go to the gym as well, that’s imperative. Lastly you’ve got to believe in yourself, that’s just the way it is.
How much influence do you have on the car, mechanically?
I do have a lot, like the Golf Chico that I raced and won championships in, that’s a car that I developed along with VW directly. The production of the Chico Golf came to an end last year and I’m the very last rally champion in South Africa, and possibly the world, in a Chico Golf.
So VW has a lot to thank you for hey?
Well I have a lot to thank them for actually, but I like the way you put it.
Talking about normal road cars, what are you driving at this moment?
A sponsored car, VW Golf GTI, yeah the Golf 6 in black. But I’m waiting for a Scirocco, so next month I’ll get that.
And what about your ultimate garage? Top three?
AC Cobra number one spot, I wouldn’t build it though, I’d rather drive the technology than build it. I’ve never really thought about any other cars. I’m not really a Porsche person, Aston Martin maybe, but I’d probably have a 4×4 of sorts. Definitely not a Range Rover though, I want a proper off roader – like a Jeep Wrangler would be the real McCoy. Then I need a nice car I can take my little future children to school with as well, maybe an Audi RS4 Avant. That you must drive – what a beautiful machine.
What’s the best car that you’ve test driven?
Well I’ve had Aston Martin, Porsche, Lamborghini. I’ve been in Lolly Jackson’s Koenigsegg, and I’ve driven his Zonda as well.
Which is better? (She says salivating)
The Koenigsegg is wild (he says is a hushed whisper). The Zonda is also very wild because of its shape, you know. But I think the Koenigsegg also has the comfort features where the Zonda is just a raw piece of machinery. Around the track I’d still take the Koenigsegg any day, a wonderful machine.
Who is your F1 team?
It’s got to be McLaren, from day one. I used to support Ayrton Senna, and when he went to Williams I was really a Williams fan. But then the young man that came in, his name is David Coulthard, what a guy. He’s never won a championship but hey, he’s David Coulthard. I followed him to McLaren and never looked back; we’ve won championships with Mika Hakkinen. About 4 weeks ago I went partying with David Coulthard – had to send him home though because he was too drunk. So I outlasted him.
Have you met any other drivers?
I’ve met Lewis Hamilton, great guy, very short, he looks tall on TV but he’s teeny weeny. I’ve met Michael and Ralf Schumacher and Jean Alesi – so motorsport has really been kind to me. Even Sir Sterling Moss, I’m even getting goose bumps just thinking about it, Derek Bell, so many guys. Thomas Scheckter, I’ve driven with him.
How about the World Rally Championship? Who’s your driver there?
Look everyone says Sebastien Loeb; I mean the man is phenomenal. Personally for me it’s always been Petter Solberg. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting him as well – he’s a showman. Also Marcus Gronholm, tallest and nicest oke I’ve ever met, best thing about him is he says it like it is, never sugar coats things.
Would you say you’ve reached the peak of your career?
I don’t think I’ve hit my peak, as I said it’s a problem being based in South Africa where this is my hobby. It’s not an industry so one can’t make a living out of it. We have to work, we can’t train and practice all day and that hinders progress. We aren’t in as good condition as some of the other drivers overseas. I’ve come to a point where I want to look at the other aspects of my life, I want to get married, have beautiful kids, have my little bambino sitting in the back seat of my Avant, giving the finger to the guy in the M3 that just cut us off – so the whole family thing. I’m definitely headed in that direction, so the next thing is to basically tell my story, do a doccie, write a book, inspire people.
What message would you like to give your fans out there?
To young people, big dreams, they do come true. I was young; I entered motorsport as a so called pioneer being the only black driver participating at the highest level – and it’s quite a responsibility. Go out there, explore, experience and don’t get stuck.