Emma Gilmour means to start the six-round 2016 Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship the way she ended last year’s season – by winning stages.
New Zealand’s top female rally driver will be running her compact but convincingly fast 1600cc Vantage Windows and Doors Suzuki Swift Maxi again, which was reaching its true potential last year after a development period.
Emma finished fifth overall in the 2015 championship, took a podium finish in the season’s last round and won the final stage.
“We mean to build on that positive momentum from the end of last season. Going into 2016 we feel excited about the continued development we have achieved with the Suzuki, which puts us in a stronger position,” Emma says.
Sponsors are the vital part of Emma’s rally campaigns and she feels fortunate to have retained major backers Vantage Windows and Doors and Suzuki New Zealand again this year.
“This is my 12th season with Vantage and it is fantastic to have such a top New Zealand company supporting me and my team for such a long time. Suzuki have been on board since we began the car’s build four years ago and their support allows us to focus on getting the most out of the car,” Emma says.
Her team began building the Suzuki from the ground up in 2012 and Emma initially competed in two incomplete national rally seasons – firstly as the car’s build was completed in the later half of the 2013 season and the following year she missed rounds due to contesting the Global RallyCross Championship in the United States.
Emma says the Suzuki was always going to be a long-term undertaking.
“It’s a really big project developing a car from scratch. We didn’t have an unlimited budget and time, like a works team, so that restricted the amount of testing we were able to conduct. Often we would make changes between events and the only opportunity to find out if they were taking us in the right direction was on-event at a rally round.”
Her build-up for this season included a shakedown at the local Morris Saddle Hillclimb, run by the Eastern Southland Car Club in February. Emma won the event and was able to use the short runs as an ideal testing programme.
“I’m really enjoying driving the Suzuki and it ran faultlessly all day during the hillclimb which is encouraging leading into this season.”
Since then the Suzuki has undergone its annual rebuild and preparation for the season ahead. This includes a striking new paint job resulting in the Suzuki’s eye-catching livery.
Inside the car there are no changes on the co-driver front, with Brisbane’s Anthony McLoughlin continuing his duties.
“It is great to have this continuity going forward with Anthony. He is super professional and we have a lot of laughs as well,” Emma says.
The duo is looking forward to beginning their season at Emma’s local event – the Rally of Otago next weekend (April 8 – 10) around Dunedin. It is her favourite event location due to the wonderful home-town crowds and the incredible stages.
After a premature ending to last year’s Rally of Otago, Emma has redemption in mind come next weekend’s two-day, 17-stage event.
“I’m looking forward to showing my sponsors and fans just how awesome this wee Suzuki is out on some of the best rally stages in the country,” Emma says.
There won’t be much down time for her after the event as she leaves two days afterwards for the 1650km Sealine Cross Country Rally in the desert landscapes of Qatar from April 17 to 22.
Emma won an international competition last year to find a female driver and co-driver to contest the tough sand-based event and will have Lisette Bakker from the Netherlands doing her navigation. The duo will have their entry fully funded. Competing in a production vehicle ”like a Nissan Safari or a Toyota Prado”, the pair will attempt to conquer stages of 300km-400km per day, equipped with a 300L fuel tank.
”It’s going to be a big challenge and a real eye-opening adventure,” Gilmour says.
Emma would like to thank her sponsors Suzuki NZ, Vantage Windows & Doors, Gilmour Motors, Koba Batteries, Rothbury Insurance Brokers, PPG Paint, Castrol, Dunlop, Hella, Vortex Racewear, Interislander, NGK Spark Plugs, Custom Signs, Modena Race Gears, E&S Head Systems and Webdesign for supporting the team again.
Emma’s 2016 Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship calendar:
Round 1 Rally of Otago (April 8 – 10)
Round 2 International Rally of Whangarei (April 30 – May 1)
Round 3 Rally of Canterbury (June 4 – 5)
Round 4 Rally Gisborne (July 2)
Round 5 Rally Coromandel (August 20)
Round 6 TBC