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New Zealand’s top woman rally driver, Emma Gilmour, is keenly counting down to the start of her 2007 season, which will roar into life at Easter’s Race to the Sky International Hillclimb, and continue the following weekend at the opening round of the national rally championship.

There’s a familiar look to Gilmour’s 2007 challenge: she is sticking with the ex-Subaru factory team Impreza WRX STI she used to such good effect in 2006, and is delighted that Vantage Aluminum Joinery is continuing its long-term association as her lead-sponsor.

Although she has not contested an event since lining up against some of the stars of the World Rally Championship in the Bettega Memorial Trophy event in Italy late last year, Gilmour has kept her focus on rallying over the summer.

Most recently, reigning Asia-Pacific Rally Champion, Cody Crocker, paid a flying visit to Dunedin to help Gilmour fine-tune her car’s handling for the 2007 season.

“We tried the latest electronic programming for the car’s centre differential, and made some adjustments that really seemed to improve the overall package,” Gilmour says. “Of course Cody couldn’t resist the chance to give me a few driving tips either, which has helped sharpen my mind for the year ahead too.”

Gilmour’s focus for this year is the six-round New Zealand rally championship. She will be using the Race to the Sky event in the Cardrona Valley as a shake down for the series, which opens with her home event, the Dunedin-based Otago Rally the following weekend.

Last year Gilmour finished sixth overall and top woman at Race to the Sky. She then went on to become the first woman to lead a heat of the national rally championship outright at the Otago Rally, and eventually finished fourth in the series. Along the way she also contested four rounds of the WRC and selected other events.

Her aim for next month is to have another strong run at the Race to the Sky – where her Vantage team-mate and former WRC star, Kenneth Eriksson, will be a top prospect for victory – and then mount her own bid for victory at the Otago Rally.

“It is my home event, I led last year, and I am more confident in both my own ability and the car this time, so my aim is a pretty straightforward one: to win,” she says.

Just as 2007 brings new goals, so it brings greater responsibilities for Gilmour, whose role as ambassador for Vantage takes on additional importance now that the company has signed up as naming-rights sponsor for the national championship as well.

“Emma’s standing as an ambassador – not only for us but also for rallying – was affirmed last year when she was awarded the prestigious Rally Founders Trophy,” says Vantage boss Craig Vincent. “That makes continuing to support her a very easy decision.”

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