From Dunedin to the desert

Dunedin’s Emma Gilmour has been selected to contest the           
2016 Sealine Cross Country Rally in Qatar from 17-22 April.          

Spending five days racing through a desert in 35°C plus temperatures might not be everyone’s idea of a picnic, but for Dunedin rally driver Emma Gilmour, it’s an exciting new challenge in her motorsport career.

Gilmour is taking part in the 2016 Sealine Cross Country Rally in Qatar, after being named the top driver at a desert rally training and assessment programme, jointly held by the FIA Women in Motorsport committee and Qatar Motor and Motorcycle Federation (QMMF).

The five-day programme featured 18 of the world’s best female rally drivers and co-drivers, with training sessions provided by Germany’s Jutta Kleinschmidt – the first and only woman to win the legendary Dakar Rally – and multiple rally and cross-country winning co-driver, Fabrizia Pons – of Italy.

“There were 85 applicants, so being selected was pretty great in itself,” said Gilmour. “To win was quite overwhelming.”

“Prior to heading over there, we hadn’t really been told what we would actually be doing. I thought it might have been quite theory based, with limited driving opportunities, but we actually got to do a lot of driving. It was like a dream come true!

“They had Nissan Patrols and Toyota Land Cruisers prepped for us, and we did five sand dune stages over three days. Now that I know more about desert racing, it’s really the only way they could have taught us –it’s completely different to traditional rallying.”

Top team

The drive is fully funded by the QMMF, and Gilmour will team up with Dutch co-driver Lisette Bakker – who was named the top navigator – to tackle the 1,700km grueling event, which runs from 17-22 April.

“We didn’t spend any vehicle time together during the programme, but we did get on really well within the group,” said Gilmour. “We’ll have plenty of time to get to know each other in the car, though!”

“The longest stage we did in training was 72km, but in the rally they’ll be 300-400km. We’ll be spending up to eight hours in the car and, while they are comfortable to drive, it’s mentally quite draining.”

She hopes that they’ll be given some extra training to gain more experience, comparing the step-up to be like going from kindergarten to university.

Gilmour said some of the biggest challenges are trying not to get lost or stuck.

“There are no roads as such. All the navigation is done via GPS, and you have to get to different waypoints. The sand dunes make it really tricky, because if you do get lost, they all look the same!” she said. “Getting stuck is also a challenge, because the heat makes digging the cars out exhausting."

Eyes on the prize

Gilmour is also hoping to contest another full season in next year’s NZRC, and is looking to build on the strong form she showed at this year’s final round.

“We’ve been working hard on developing the Suzuki Maxi over the past couple of years,” she said. “Because it’s a new car, it has taken time, and the process was interrupted by me being in America racing in the Global Rallycross Championship.

“The car’s running pretty consistently now. We’ll keep chipping away at improving it, and next year I’ll be aiming to win my first championship!”  

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