Sarel van der Merwe


Record updated

One of the best drvers to come out of South Africa, van der Merwe was too tall for single seaters so he carved out a career in sports cars and saloons winning the Daytona 24 hour race in 1984 amongst his many victories.

Sarel van der Merwe
Sarel Daniel van der Merwe the fourth has more often than not been regarded as the stormy petrel of South African motorsport but, love him or hate him, Supervan has carved his name in stone. Van der Merwe's record in saloon cars, rally cars, sports cars and off-road machinery is testimony to perhaps the most gifted and talented all-round driver ever produced in South Africa.

He began is racing career in saloons back in 1967 driving a DKW but soon switched to Rallies where he proceeded to win eleven South African Rally Championships.

On the circuits he won the SA Group 1 champion in 1977 and three South African Modified Saloon Car Championships.

He competed in a few international rallies but without much luck, mainly due to lack of a competetive car, though he was offered a World Rally Championship drive if he could secure another passport. Proud of his nationality, Sarel was also offered drives with Jaguar, Mercedes and Porsche with similar conditions.

His international racing career finally took off in 1983 driving for Momo in the IMSA series in the USA. He took several podium places and took a win in the 1984 Daytona 24 Hour race, despite running out of fuel at about one-third distance. He then had to run a mile carrying a five-gallon can of fuel. He went on to take four victories in IMSA.

Le Mans was his favourite race, nearly taking a win on debut in 1984. Leading by two laps near the finish, an unscheduled pit stop dropped them back to 3rd. His greatest disappointment was also at Le Mans in 1988 when, driving with Bob Wollek, they were chasing the winning Jaguar of Lammers, Dumfries and Wallace when Wollek stopped due to a broken camshaft.

Le Mans also has bad memories for him as in 1986 when driving with Jo Gartner. Sarel was pulled in a lap earlier than his scheduled stop and Jo took over. Just one lap later the suspension on the Kremer Porsche broke, the car veered off the Mulsanne Straight in the middle of the night and Gartner was killed.

At the age of 56, Sarel van der Merwe's final circuit racing appearance came on November 23, 2002 in Round 12 of the Vodacom Power Tour at Kyalami, bringing down the curtain on a 30 year career though he does sometimes still make guess appearances at historic race meetings.

In 2007 he was inducted into the South African Sport Hall of Fame, only the third personality from the world of motor sport to be included. The others being Jody Scheckter and Korkie Ballington.