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Normally, retirement on the final special stage of a rally would leave Emma Gilmour bitterly disappointed. This weekend, however, the Dunedin driver’s spirits are high despite parking up her Suzuki Swift Maxi rally car just a few kilometres from the end of the International Rally of Whangarei.

The event was the first competitive outing for the radical new machine, and the story of the rally for Gilmour was one of ever-more competitive special stage times as she gained experience with the car and her team fine-tuned its handling. These culminated with a second-fastest time through the 11km Waipu Gorge test, followed son afterwards by a third-fastest time on the 19km Wairere test, before a broken cv joint forced Gilmour out.

“As predicted, this event was very much a learning curve with the car,” Gilmour said. “We started off setting times just inside the top ten on leg one before retiring earlier than I would have liked. When we returned on leg two we quickly moved into the top five with our stage times and then – as we gained confidence and really got into it in the afternoon – with those two great times.”

Gilmour’s bid to complete all of the opening leg was thwarted by a broken steering arm after two stages.

She re-joined the rally for Sunday’s second leg, starting well, before clipping a bridge and breaking a wheel on the third stage of the day. Two stages later everything came together with a second fastest time, only 10.7 secs slower than eventual national rally winner Hayden Paddon, and equal with Finnish ace Esapekka Lappi, who went on to win the Asia-Pacific component of the rally.

That effort, along with her third fastest time two stages later, showed that Gilmour’s new car has what it takes to be at the forefront of national competition once the long process of developing its performance and handling potential to the maximum is further advanced.

“This season is all about developing the car, while next season is the one in which we will have a really serious crack at the national title with it,” says Gilmour. “You learn a whole lot more doing an event like this than in testing, and after this weekend I am happy to say we are right on track.”

Gilmour’s next event with the Suzuki Swift Maxi will be the Daybreaker Rally in the Manawatu at the end of June.

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