Fast cats and fast cars

In May, the racing suit of one of F1’s brightest young stars, Oscar Piastri, went up for auction to raise much-needed funds for the Ann van Dyk Cheetah Centre near Hartbeespoort.

The suit was worn during Piastri’s amazing rookie season in Qatar in 2023 where he scored his very first Sprint win and first career second place in a Grand Prix, which is still his best result to date. The suit comes directly from McLaren and is signed on the chest in black marker by Piastri.

Seasoned South African–born motorsport journalist Dieter Rencken has a keen interest and passion in cheetah conservation, which spans over 20 years. He has been integrally involved with helping raising funds for cheetahs, and over the last six years this has extended to the De Wildt Centre. Together with his wife Gabi, they adopted their first cheetah Lily six years ago, and subsequently adopted one of her cubs, Zora.

When he heard the urgent plea for assistance last year from the centre, Rencken immediately reached out to his friends at McLaren who donated a signed Lando Norris racing suit for auction. This year, they were able to auction the Piastri suit through the Hall of Fame Collection and raised an impressive R269 000. Together, the total raised by McLaren donor auctions amounts to almost R400 000, with all profit going to benefit the Ann van Dyk Cheetah Centre.

Established in 1971 by Ann, and originally known as the De Wildt Cheetah Research Centre, the name was changed in 2010 as a tribute to the woman who has devoted her life to the survival of cheetahs and other rare and endangered species.

Nikki Stagg, marketing manager of Community Help Enviro-Education Through Animals (CHEETA) – which incorporates the Ann van Dyk Cheetah Centre – says that as a non-profit organisation with no funding from the government, its main mission is the conservation of cheetah and wild dogs.

“We also provide support to our local nature conservation authorities in providing rehabilitation facilities and temporary care for mainly cheetah, leopard and other small cats like caracal. Currently, our focus is on preserving a genetically viable gene pool for cheetah with our scientifically based breeding programme. The aim is to make all the cheetahs bred in this programme available for release in game reserves in southern Africa,” she adds.

Stagg says the funding received from McLaren is greatly appreciated and will be put toward the support of the above-mentioned programme as well as the centre’s education programme, ensuring cheetah awareness, especially with the young generation – the centre regularly hosts school groups.

“Our centre’s two biggest expenses are food and veterinary costs, so donations like this go a long way in helping us pay the bills. In essence, without the public support, a centre like this would not be able to function. The public can get involved by coming through to the centre and going on a tour, donating through our website or taking out an adoption. It’s a brilliant day out and the support makes the world of difference,” she says.

Comments Anton Roux, chairperson of Motorsport South Africa, “As a motor sporting community, we are honoured and privileged to be able to support this worthy centre and the incredible work they do. There is no doubt fast cars and fast cats go together. We extend our special thanks and appreciation to Dieter Rencken and to McLaren and Zac Brown for making this donation possible.”

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