INTERVIEW | Mandla Mdakane is raring to go in GTC with Toyota
He might be young, but 27-year-old Mandla Mdakane is already a seasoned hand in the competitive arenas of local and international circuit racing.
The Johannesburg-born motorsport star is preparing to join Toyota Gazoo Racing South Africa (TGRSA) and its Global Touring Cars (GTC) team, partnering with “Rustenburg Rocket” Michael van Rooyen.
Mdakane spoke to Sowetan Motoring this week, in anticipation of taking to the starting grid in his race-ready Corolla, post-lockdown.
Firstly, congratulations. What are you looking forward to in the journey ahead?
Thank you very much. Really happy to be joining the Toyota Gazoo Racing SA team. I am excited to fight for the championship and add more silverware to the trophy cabinet.
When is your first race?
It was supposed to be in April at the Killarney circuit in Cape Town. Unfortunately, like nearly all sectors, motorsport has been hit by the national lockdown measure as part of Covid-19 prevention efforts. Not starting the season is of course a real bummer, as myself and many other drivers would love to be in our machines out on track. But we must all play our part in following the measures set out by our president, who I believe has made the right decision. We must all play our part and assist to flatten the curve. The 2020 calendar is still under confirmation.
How have you been preparing for the season under lockdown?
I have been training in the house. Luckily now I can jog within a 5km radius. Also, simulator work and watching in-car footage of the circuits we will be participating on.
Sum up your exciting motorsport career thus far:
My journey began at the age of four. My father Hamilton Mdakane used to race back in the day and while he was practising, I wandered off and found the kart circuit. I begged my dad to allow me to try it out. The adrenaline bug bit me.
I worked my way through the various categories, then made the big step up into main circuit racing. In 2014 I moved abroad to compete in the Formula BMW Asia series, then onto the Formula Masters series in 2015, also competing on circuits around the continent. In 2016 I made a move back to SA, competing in the GTC 2 class, finishing second in the championship.
Now, 2020 sees me making another step forward in the GTC class – this time with Toyota.
What were the challenges you encountered?
Motorsport is an extremely expensive sport. I am thankful to my parents who tried their best to make sure that I was able to pursue my dream. There have been events that I had to miss in my days moving up, as securing sponsorship was not easy. But to the companies and brands that have helped me along the journey, I thank you.
Your support systems?
Firstly, God. He has blessed me with this talent and keeps me safe every time I am out on track. My family, who do their level best to support at every race in full force. Friends and supporters, who send me well wishes and messages of support. I am truly appreciative of it all.
How would you encourage youngsters interested in a motorsport career to go about pursuing their dreams?
Look, this is a question I receive often and there is no easy answer. The sport does not enjoy as much financial backing as does rugby or soccer – nor is it as popular. Youngsters should do their best to get started in karting as you learn all the fundamentals you will need there. Squadra Corse, for example, is a Johannesburg-based team that is great with turning novices into champions. Never give up on your dreams - it is possible.
Go on, tell us what company car you are going to pick from the Toyota fleet?
[Laughs] I was waiting on that one! The announcement is only a few days old, but we will probably look at that once we are through with Covid-19. I really do love the Supra and Hilux GR [winks].
Where are you hoping the opportunity with the manufacturer will ultimately lead?
I would love to get involved in the championships they compete in overseas and fly the SA flag high on the world stage.