Friday, 10 April 2015

Emma Gilmour

Emma Gilmour with the Suzuki Swift

Emma is a driver and co-driver from New Zealand. For quite some time, she has been the top female rally driver in her country, and has competed around the world. In 2014, she branched out into rallycross.

Her earliest forays into rallying were in the co-driver’s seat. In 1999 and 2000, she navigated for her cousin, Gwynn Gilmour, in the Rally of New Zealand. Her sister, Monica, was a rally driver too, and Emma read the maps for her on occasion. From the very start, Emma’s rally career was international in nature; in 2002, she partnered Alistair Cavenagh in the Canberra Rally, in Australia.

2002 was the year that she got behind the wheel herself. Her first rally car was a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 3, bought from Gwynn. Her first rally was the Targa Bambina tarmac rally, and she started her career off well, with sixth overall, and first in the four wheel drive class. Her first gravel stage rally was the Rally of Rotorua, and she was on the pace against established APRC drivers, finishing 16th overall. Almost unbelievably, her first season as a driver included a run in the Rally of New Zealand, which she did not finish, and an overseas trip. She did not manage to finish the Japanese Alpine Rally either, although she set some decent stage times before retiring. 

Emma’s first year as a fully-fledged rally driver saw her push herself so far, it would have been difficult to keep up such momentum. Her return to the Rotorua Rally ended when her Lancer lost a wheel, and another accident dropped her out of the Rally of New Zealand.

In 2004, she contested the New Zealand Rally Championship, driving a Lancer Evo VI this time. Despite a couple of disappointing retirements, it was another year of progress. She scored her first top-ten finish in the Rally of Otago, coming ninth, and then surpassed it in the Rally of Nelson, finishing sixth. For a change, she entered the Targa New Zealand in a works Suzuki Ignis, and won the small car class. She was 30th overall, and set one twelfth fastest stage time, against cars with much bigger engines.

Her competition schedule in 2005 was squarely based in New Zealand, revolving around the NZ championship in a Lancer Evo VI. During this season, she travelled to Europe, to become a student of the legendary John Haugland, at his Rally School in Norway. She did not actually compete. At home, she managed her first Rally of New Zealand finish, in 26th place. She was the second New Zealand finisher. In June, she did not finish in Rotorua, normally her best event, but she did score her first podium place; a third in the Rally of Otago. She was second in the NZ championship, after a sixth place in a heat for the Wairapa Rally. Away from the championship, she was fifth overall in the Targa New Zealand, despite a heavy penalty for an illegal tyre change, and ninth overall, with a class win, in the Race to the Sky hillclimb.

For 2006, she looked toward Europe. Using money from a private sponsor, she secured a wildcard entry into the Ford Fiesta Shootout, in the UK. She was the winner of the International Scholarship award, and received entries into the Rallies of Germany and Finland, as part of the Fiesta Sporting Trophy. She was 50th in the Rally Deutschland, seventh in class, and although she was only 65th in Finland, with a class sixth, she secured some class stage wins. Later in the year, she picked up more funding for her Fiesta campaign, and entered the Wales Rally GB, but did not finish. She was thirteenth in the Fiesta Sporting Trophy.

Back at home, she switched from Mitsubishi to Subaru power, and performed well in the Rally of New Zealand, posting top-three Production WRC stage times, and finishing 24th. Rotorua was once more a lucky event for her, and she was ninth. A third overall in the Targa New Zealand was another podium finish for her collection, and she was second in her class at the Race to the Sky. At the end of the year, she was awarded the Rally Founders’ Trophy by the New Zealand motorsport association, for achievements and sportsmanship.

She had a stellar start to 2007, coming second in the Otago Rally in the Impreza, her best result so far. At the Whangerei Rally, the second round of the NZ championship, she was on course to repeat this, having won some stages, but a major crash ended her involvement, and destroyed her car. She did not compete for several months, until winning another scholarship drive for September’s Rally New Zealand, in an Impreza WRX. Her final position was 33rd, 13th in the PWRC. This drive led to an offer from Subaru Japan to compete in the Rally of Japan, a WRC round, in a similar Impreza. She did not finish, retiring at the beginning of the last day.

2008 was a comparatively quiet year. Emma had her own Subaru back on the road, and entered the NZ championship. Her best result was a third place, in the Nelson Rally. Another run in the Rally of New Zealand gave her a 16th place. Away from the main championship, she was fourth in the Targa.

After this rather subdued season, she spread her wings again in 2009, entering the Asia-Pacific Rally Championship, in the Impreza. Her first event was the Red Devil Rally in Queensland, Australia, and she was fourth overall. She was fifth in the Whangerei Rally, third APRC finisher, and fourth in Japan. The Malaysian round gave her her best finish, second, in the jungle, and she was third and sixth in Indonesia and China. Her consistency was rewarded by second in the APRC championship. Despite her international schedule, she still had time for the NZ championship, and her string of top-five finishes, including another second, was enough for third overall.

Although 2010 was more domestic in nature for Emma, it was successful. She did everything apart from win in the NZ championship, scoring two seconds and two thirds, and was the fourth NZRC finisher in the Rally of New Zealand (17th overall). On the WRC front, she was second in the PWRC in New Zealand, and twelfth overall. This, and her runner-up spot in the NZRC, helped her to become the highest-placed female driver in the Castrol rankings for the year.

The following season, she stayed close to home again, and had another good year in the NZ Championship. Her best finishes were two third places, at Hawkes Bay and in the Rally of New Zealand, which was unfortunately no longer a WRC rally. She retained her runner-up spot in the championship.

In 2012, she was runner-up in the NZ championship yet again, after a second in the Rally of Wairarapa, a third in the Otago Rally and sixth at Whangarei. She was fourteenth in the Rally of New Zealand itself. Only the Gisborne Rally was a disappointment, ending in suspension failure.

2013 was spent developing the Suzuki Swift Maxi in New Zealand. In the one rally where the car made it to the end, Emma was eleventh: the Rally Wairarapa. The Swift had suffered repeated engine problems all season, which were only fixed right at the end.

The situation was similar in 2014, although it was the Whangarei Rally, the first of the season, rather than the last, that she finished this time. She was in 21st place.

She also took part in rallycross, racing in the Red Bull Global Series, in a Hyundai Veloster Turbo, alongside Rhys Millen. The team was also run by Rhys Millen, another New Zealander. Emma was driving in the Supercar class, and competed in the USA and Barbados. Her best finish was seventh, achieved at Austin, Texas. She was thirteenth in the championship.

In 2015, Emma rallied again, driving the Suzuki Swift in the NZ championship, after warming up for the season with a rallysprint in March. Mechanical problems again dumped her out of the Whangerei and Otago Rallies, but she was on the pace again at Canterbury, finishing fourth. She was then fifth at Gisborne, a disappointing 35th in the Coromandel Rally, and a strong third in the Rally Manawatu. This left her fifth in the New Zealand championship.

Setting her sights internationally once more, Emma travelled to Qatar to take part in the FIA Women In Motorsport Desert Challenge. This was an assessment and shoot-out, with a prize of a funded drive in the 2016 Sealine Desert Challenge rally raid. With navigator Lisette Bakker, she was the outright winner of the challenge, and will take up her prize-drive. 

Back the the familiar territory of the NZ Championship, she made history in 2016 by becoming the first female driver to win a rally outright. She won the Rally of Canterbury in June, in the Suzuki Swift. This followed a second place in the Rally of Whangarei. Although the Otago and Gisborne rallies ended in mechanical failures for her, she was still sixth in the NZ championship.

Her 2017 season in the Swift started frustratingly, with three retirements, but Emma got back on track later in the year. She was ninth in the Gold Rush Rally of Coromandel, then fifth in the Waitamo Rally. She was ninth in class in Rally New Zealand and 16th overall. 

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