• Donna Collins
It takes a lot of guts as a navigator to strap yourself into a rally car, and put your life in the hands of the driver, whilst shouting rally route instructions through the head set to keep all four wheels on track.
But for veteran rally driver Willem Hugo, his two daughters and now his grand-daughter it was all part of the fun of being raised in a home where cars, speed and the smell of Avgas was the norm. Spanning three generations of family unity in motorsport, this is also a first for Namibia and probably Southern Africa as well.
Willem is by no means a stranger to the Namibian rally scene, having been one of the front runners at the peak of his career, and first started competing in 1982. Today at 60 something, Willem is still going strong, and is the oldest Namibian rally driver on the circuit.
Since last year he teamed up with his 15-year-grand-daughter Mandi, who is the youngest participant and together they are making waves gaining podium finishes. After a quiet start to the rally colander, Willem and Mandi made an appearance during the season’s first rally in Swakopmund last month.
Full of confidence, and totally fearless Mandi strapped herself into the ‘gremlin green’ Select Subaru, and held her own in a field of seasoned drivers and navigators to finish the event third overall with Willem smiling at the wheel.
The grade nine pupil actually first cut her teeth as navigator for Willem in 2015, and went full out last year, participating in three rallies including the Total Taras, where the team finished fourth overall and first in their Class.
But the family action doesn’t stop here. Willem’s driving skills throughout the years earned him his unwavering reputation, and after he first teamed up with his eldest daughter Maretha Olivier who joined him as navigator at the age of 14, the family hasn’t looked back.
This was a unique team, as father and daughter trail blazed their Hyundai Elantra through one rally event after the other, even participating in rallies in South Africa. The pint-sized Maretha continued to navigate for her father in fearless fashion for four years, and was one of the first ladies to take on such a challenge from such a young age.
Meanwhile, Willem’s second daughter Stefanie also caught the rally bug at 15, and took over where her sister left off. Her experience navigating for her father taught her many skills, and through participating in many Namibian events, prepared her for bigger things to come, as she headed down to South Africa.
Here, Stephanie launched her rally career, taking on the ‘big guns’ and was joined by Willem as navigator competing in the Western Province and later SA Rally Champs. She was also sponsored by team Total SA during which time she was driving a potent Toyota Run-X. The raven-haired beauty spent the best part of four years as the face of Total SA Rally Championships until she returned to Namibia.
“The future for my three girls is exciting, with Maretha navigating for Allan Martin who won the Swakop 1 000 Dunes Swakop Rally and leading the championships. Stefanie is aiming to compete in the Taras this year, while Mandi and I are taking on all the rallies in Namibia as well as a national rally in Cape Town,” said Willem.
“Navigating is very complicated and you need to keep a cool head – but the girls learned to read the route notes long before they started, having grown up in the world of motorsport it was second nature to them.
“I don’t know of anyone who has had their three daughters navigating for them, so this is not only unique for Namibia but anywhere in the world,” said Willem, adding with a smile no one can beat this.
“I am very proud of my girls, and I would have stopped competing long ago if it wasn’t for them.”