Emma Gilmour has been forced to settle for fourth overall in the 2006 New Zealand rally championship after a mechanical failure halted her strong challenge for the lead of heat two of the season-ending Nelson Rally.
The 26 year old Dunedin-based driver had just won her first stage of event and was only 15 seconds off the lead when she suffered a differential failure on her Vantage Team Subaru Impreza WRX.
The fault led to her first retirement of the 2006 national season. But while disappointed to retire just as the battle for the lead was looking promising, Gilmour is still upbeat about her performance in the second heat at Nelson, and in the national series.
The weekend did not start so well for Gilmour, for the combination of thick gravel and extreme tyre wear made it difficult to make an impression at the head of the leader board on Saturday's early stages. Despite claiming second-quickest time on the final stage of the leg, she had to be content with seventh place, a mere 10.3 seconds short of a time that would have allowed her to claim fourth place.
"Normally we would have tried to even out tyre wear by swapping the front and rear tyres around between stages, but the time allowed for touring between the competitive special stages was incredibly tight, so that was not possible," Gilmour said. "It was certainly a disappointing day, but I did feel I had done my best in difficult circumstances and finished the heat with a second-fastest time."
Gilmour carried that pace through to Sunday, finishing second on the first stage, and then winning the second before suffering her first retirement of the national season. Gilmour was left with a trio of fourth placings, on the Otago, Whangarei and Wairarapa rallies as her best results in the series. At Otago she also became the first woman to lead a heat of the New Zealand Rally Championship.
Her fourth-placing the final series standings behind Richard Mason, Brett Martin and Sam Murray is an improvement on her fifth placing in 2005.
"While chasing a top championship result has been one of my aims this season, another has been to get as much experience as possible, and to increase my pace," she said. "Even though I missed the podium result I was hoping for at Nelson, I can look back and say I achieved all of those goals."
"I'd like thank Chris Cobham for the great job he has done as my co-driver, and the guys at Possum Bourne Motorsport for the work they have done. Before the car stopped, it felt the best it has done all season, which is great platform from which to build for Rally New Zealand in early November."
Before Rally New Zealand, this country's round of the world championship, Gilmour will contest next month's Dunlop Targa New Zealand tarmac rally, but in a different car. The details of that vehicle will be confirmed in a couple of weeks' time.
Overall victory at Nelson, based on the results over both heats, went to Dean Sumner, the driver Gilmour was chasing for the lead before she retired. Overall championship honours had already been secured by defending champion Richard Mason, who did not contest the Nelson event.