An African team is set to race in the famous Le Mans 24-hour sports car race in 2014 – and the man behind the wheel is Brenthurst Foundation director Greg Mills.
Mills is an avid amateur racing driver. He was a South African karting champion in the 1980s, competes in historic car series and raced with distinction as South Africa’s representative in a Formula 5000 event as a curtain-raiser to the 2011 Australian Grand Prix.
The African Union (AU) has agreed that the African car will be decked out in the organisation’s yellow, green and black colours at the 24 Hours Of Le Mans, the world’s oldest and most famous endurance race.
Erastus Mwencha of the AU is one of the patrons of the 2014 challenge, along with former Formula 1 driver Eddie Keizan and Colin Davis, a Le Mans racer in the 1950s and 1960s.
The team will have an all-African driver line-up, headed by Mills, and an almost entirely African crew of engineers and mechanics.
“Motorsport, at least at the top level, is seen today to be out of the reach of the ordinary person,” says Mills.
“We aim to prove two things with this effort. First, that with the right amount of application and determination anything is possible. And second, that Africa should not be seen solely as an exporter of raw materials and talent, but can be a source of technology and innovation.”
The design of the African car was completed at the end of 2012. Power comes from a 2ZZ Toyota engine – developed with the support of South Africa’s Toyota team, which has excelled at the Dakar Rally.
Mills says he hopes to underline and build on Africa’s Dakar success and reinforce its message of “ingenuity and derring-do”.
One foreigner on the team is renowned Formula 1 designer Mike Pilbeam of the UK, who raced in South Africa for decades and has designed several Le Mans cars in recent years.
Mills and Pilbeam visited the Le Mans organisers in July last year to post notification of the African entry and gain clarity on the rules.
Finances have been raised abroad for engine and gearbox development and aerodynamic upgrades and, by being based in South Africa, the team intends to bring the car to the grid well below Le Mans’ R5-million cost-cap.
“About 80% of the advantage with modern sports cars comes from aerodynamics,” explains Mills. “This demands a lot of theoretical experimentation using computerised fluid dynamics, as well as practical wind-tunnel time and testing.”
Mills is better known as one of South Africa’s most prominent political and economic policy analysts, having written a number of books and travelled extensively across the globe.
He was once described as “an academic adventurer” by the chief of the UK’s armed forces, General Sir David Richards, with whom Mills worked as head of a policy think tank in Afghanistan. Three deployments to Afghanistan since 2006 and countless others to trouble spots in Africa are testament to Mills’ willingness to take risks to get things done.
Mills has authored several books, including ‘Africa’s Third Liberation’, which was launched on August 1 in Johannesburg, with Malawi’s President Joyce Banda and Zimbabwe’s Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai delivering keynote speeches. His latest book 'Agriculte, Furniture & Marmalade' focuses on Southern African motorsport hereos. Watch a video interview he did with Polity alongside.
At the Brenthurst Foundation, Mills works to “strengthen Africa’s economic performance”. He runs several presidential-level advisory groups, including in Mozambique and Malawi.
Written by Mark Moon
First published in the Sunday Times