Real Life

Emma Gilmour shares her drive to succeed

Emma Gilmour is a force to be reckoned with on the race track. She shares the things that rev her engine.
Emma Gilmour

“Growing up around cars – my dad Alistair was a mechanic – it’s no surprise that in my thirties, I’ve ended up becoming a rally driver. Little did I know back then that my passion would put me on the map as one of the top drivers in the New Zealand Rally Championship!

“I wasn’t interested in driving until I was in my early twenties, having spent my teenage years horseriding. I became involved in motorsport through being a co-driver for my sister Monica and cousin Gwynn. My first rally driving attempt was in 2002, after my partner at the time encouraged me to give it a try.

I’d always enjoyed driving – just not as a sport. I took to it like a duck to water. Like horse riding, I was in love with the speed and that buzz of adrenaline you get as you dance the car from corner to corner. It’s very addictive!

Although motorsport is considered dangerous, the adrenaline junkie says it’s much safer than people realise.

“From day one, people have taken notice of my smooth, yet aggressive driving style. I’ve always turned heads as a woman in this industry but it does help that people remember your name. I placed runner-up in three consecutive championship finishes between 2010 and 2012, and earned the ranking title of world’s best female rally driver.

I’m also widely regarded as the fastest female in the world, which I love because I think it inspires other women to see what they can achieve in the sport. Second place is old news, so this year, my goal is to win a championship round.

“I was the first female to participate in the Red Bull Global Rallycross last year, alongside fellow Kiwi Rhys Millen. Rallycross is a mix of motorcross and rally, where cars race wheel-to-wheel on a dirt track that’s been built up inside a stadium – it’s much more of a spectator sport, with jumps added for extra thrills.

“Rallycross was very different to what I was used to, but it was such a cool opportunity. It felt like we were in a video game, racing against other cars and flying over jumps – it was insane! When I’m behind the wheel, nothing else matters. I’m so intently focused on what I’m doing – there’s no room for error when you’re averaging speeds of 140km/hr.

Emma is paving the way for other female drivers in rallycross, a dirt track sport which features spectacular jumps.

“People often perceive it as a dangerous sport, but in reality, it’s much safer than your daily commute, with all of the safety equipment we have in place to protect us. That’s not to say it isn’t without some risk – in 2007 I had a bad accident during an event in Whangarei. We left the road and barrel rolled off the track after taking a corner at high speed. My seat broke, so I came loose and cracked my helmet. I was knocked out and it took me some time to recuperate. There was a silver lining, though, in the media coverage it generated. It made TV3’s sports news and local support helped me to get a replacement vehicle back on the track.

“I’ve yet to make being a driver my career. Around my rally events, I work full-time at the family business, Gilmour Motors in Dunedin, which I bought off my parents in 2010. It does take

a bit of juggling to manage the business with the travel demands of international and national competitions, but it’s such a great challenge.

Emma turns heads being one of few females in a male-dominated industry.

“I hope my involvement in what is traditionally considered a ‘guy’s thing’ will encourage more women to give it a go. In reality, it’s not an easy sport to get into, no matter whether you’re a man or a woman, mostly due to the financial demands.

Sometimes, though, I don’t think women rate their abilities as much as they could, and I hope to show them there’s no reason they can’t get behind the wheel if they really want to. Of course, there are always going to be stereotypes about women drivers, but I don’t take them personally – I’ve got the results to show I’m a great driver, regardless of gender.”

As told to Laura Weaser.

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