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Emma's triple dose of rally action

 

Three countries; three rally events in three weekends covering two continents - that is the challenge Dunedin's Emma Gilmour has just completed.

Starting with her debut to the Fiesta Sporting Trophy class (FST), Emma used her Dream Drive rally scholarship along with support from Castrol to contest the back-to-back WRC events Germany and Finland.

Opting for the Ford Fiesta over a four-wheel drive car, Emma's motivation was to use the available budget in a way that gave her maximum distance while staying with a competitive series.

A newbie to the Ford Fiesta 2.0L, she had never driven the identical specification car that Mark Tapper used at the Hella International Rally of Rotorua in late May. Taking the wheel for the first time at an abandoned airfield in the UK, Emma had lessons with driving school legend John Haugland before taking it to Germany.

"It's a really cool car to drive on gravel. Germany probably wasn't the best tarmac event for the car as the whole event was made up of very slow junctions. I think the cars strength is when up to speed: It is great in the higher and medium speed roads," said Emma.

Emma's first event; the WRC Germany, was a whole new challenge, with Germany's picturesque countryside overshadowed by the number of junctions.

"To be fair, I didn't have a hydraulic handbrake fitted and the event was all junctions, including some very very tight ones. It wasn't just a matter of driving around them slowly; it often involved backing up to get around the corner. Also, the reconnaissance is so slow compared to rally speed it didn't really emphasise how busy the roads would be at rally speed."

"The roads are narrow - but that didn't make them difficult, the changing conditions made tyre choices a lottery and the amount of mud pulled out on the road was unbelievable."

"The military ranges were so rough - rougher than a gravel rally. The car was just rattling away over the broken concrete. The stages were still enjoyable, especially with all of the spectators."

Completing the event with steering damage, a puncture and a broken drive shaft, Emma was able to take heart from some fastest split times on a couple of stages.

Part of the large WRC group heading north for the following event in Finland, there was basically 36-hours between the finish of the German event and the start of the following weekend.

Surprised by the condition of the Finish roads upon taking a look, Emma described how passionate the fans are at what is described as their 'national sport'.

"The crowds are amazing. There are just so many people everywhere and they are all having a great time, so it makes for a great atmosphere."

"The roads themselves are very challenging; the whole stage is made up of crests, with no let up at all. When I was writing notes I didn't fully comprehend how fast we would be going at rally speed and how many crests were actually jumps."

The biggest shock came with Emma's honest opinion of the road condition compared to what she is used to in the New Zealand Rally Championship.

"I couldn't get over how rough the roads became - it was the roughest rally I've ever done. They portray it as having these hard fast roads - which there are, but there are also these amazingly rough and narrow roads. The nature of the road can change so much. One JWRC got stuck on the start line as the ruts were that big."

Setting a number of fastest stage times on what could be regarded as some of the most difficult stages in world rallying, Emma also beat the local Finnish Fiesta drivers. Unfortunately through nature of the roads took their toll with the cars sump becoming punctured and losing its vital engine blood.

Heading directly home to be ready for her third consecutive weekend of rally driving, she arrived in Masterton for Thursday's start to the penultimate round of the NZRC.
Putting in two solid days of consistent results in her Subaru Impreza, she finished fourth overall and improved her championship placing to be third in the series with one round to run.

"New Zealand has a very competitive championship that runs on some of the best roads for rallying in the world. I really believe that we have a series to promote to international teams," she added - her thoughts motivated by the number of overseas competitors who could afford to run in a New Zealand series.

So what's next?

"I don't know. I haven't really had a chance to stop and think. I made quite a few contacts while over there, so will be following them up in the next couple of weeks. I'd be keen to do the Fiesta Sporting trophy in Europe. I think it's a really good championship and it'd be hard to pick a cheaper path to international competition."

"There is the opportunity to perhaps do rally Great Britain in the Fiesta in December. I haven't got my heart set on it yet as we will still need to find a budget to do it."

A graduate of the 2005 Elite MotorSport Academy, Emma firmly believes it has helped her in achieving the level she is now at: "Absolutely - I think the academy has played a huge role. There are so many things the academy provides. I've had sports psychologist Carol Goodlass helping me the last couple of years and it has definitely made me a stronger competitor."

And its help for when she competed overseas?

"It's your one shot to prove you can do it. It's being able to go out there and perform - it's damn tough and I have new found respect for Kiwi rally and race drivers who have gone overseas and made it."


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