Emma Gilmour is looking forward to chasing the coveted first Kiwi home prize in her Vantage Team Subaru Impreza WRX STI when Rally New Zealand roars into life next Friday, 17 November.
The 26-year-old Dunedin driver was the second New Zealand finisher on this country's round of the world championship last year, and believes she has every chance of going one better on this year's event, which runs out of Hamilton from 17-19 November.
Her strongest rivals in the three-day dash for local honours will be reigning national champion Richard Mason and former champion Chris West, who like Gilmour will be driving Production Class Imprezas. Mason and West, though, have been granted wildcard entries into the Production Car World Championship section of the event, and so will be able to run further up the field and on higher-performance rally fuel than Gilmour.
"I don't see that as a huge issue, because there are also some advantages associated with running outside of the championship group," says Gilmour. "I have been working hard on fine-tuning my car with the guys from Possum Bourne Motor Sport, and I am confident that the improvements we have made will have it handling and performing better than ever before."
"The aim is certainly to go one better than last year with our result, although the length of this rally means things are rather less predictable than on the national championship rounds we usually contest in the car."
The opportunity to write full pace notes for the event with her co-driver Chris Cobham is another factor that sets Rally NZ apart from other events in this country, and one that Gilmour is fully-conversant with in 2006 having already contested the German and Finnish rounds of the WRC. She is also looking forward to the challenge of the many new special stages that have been introduced for 2006, the first year in which the rally is based out of Hamilton rather than Auckland.
This will be Gilmour's fourth start on Rally New Zealand as a driver, and her sixth in all (before taking up driving, she co-drove on the event twice).
She is relishing the opportunity to showcase her driving talent in front of the crack overseas teams that are in the country for our premier motor sport event of the year. They include the Subaru WRC team which will run cars for former world champion Petter Solberg and for young Australian ace Chris Atkinson, whose co-driver Glenn Macneall is Gilmour's partner.
Huge interest will also surround the appearance of motorbike racing superstar Valentino Rossi. A long-time rallying fan, Rossi will drive an ex-factory Subaru Impreza WRC on this, his second start in a world rally championship event.