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Fast cats and fast cars collide for good

Racing suit of one of F1s brightest young stars, Australian Oscar Piastri, auctioned to raise funds for cheetah conservation.

This month, the racing suit of one of F1s brightest young stars, Australian Oscar Piastri, went up for auction to raise much needed funds for the Ann van Dyk Cheetah Centre at the De Wildt Cheetah Research Centre near Hartbeespoort in South Africa.

The suit was worn during Piastri’s amazing rookie season in Qatar in 2023, where he scored his first sprint win and first career 2nd place in a Grand Prix. The suit comes directly from McLaren and is signed on the chest in black marker by Piastri.

The auction of the suit was initiated by seasoned South African-born motorsport journalist Dieter Rencken, who has a passion for cheetah conservation. He has been integrally involved with helping raising funds for cheetahs and, over the last six years, has extended this work 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 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 of the Centre was changed in 2010 to the Ann van Dyk Cheetah Centre 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 CHEETA (Community Help Enviro-Education Through Animals), which incorporates the Ann van Dyk Cheetah Centre, saysthe non-profit organisation gets no funding from the Government for its  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.”

Stagg says the funding received from McLaren will be put towards the support of the programme as well as the Centre’s Education programme ensuring cheetah awareness. 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.”

The public can get involved by coming through to the Centre and going on a tour, donating through its website or taking out an adoption.

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