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New challenge for Gilmour

The roads will be familiar but the competition all-new for Emma Gilmour at next weekend’s Rally Whangarei, the third round of the New Zealand Rally Championship.

Although it will be run over special stages familiar from Rally New Zealand, the rally itself is new to the national series. So too is the format, which combines a conventional rally special stage on the Saturday with a spectator-friendly rally sprint on the Sunday. On the rallysprint competitors will have four runs on which to establish their best time before the fastest eight go forward to three sudden-death elimination rounds which culminate in a run-off for victory between two drivers.

Gilmour has fond memories of the roads from last year’s world championship Rally New Zealand, on which she was the second Kiwi home, but the Vantage Team Subaru driver admits the combination of a rally on the Saturday followed by a rallysprint on the Sunday is going to make this one of the least predictable events in this year’s championship.

“It is going to require some mental adjustment going straight from a regular rally, with stages up to 48km long to the intensity of a sprint over a single five kilometre stretch of road,’ says Gilmour. “The same number series points are up for grabs on both days, so the pressure is going to build on everyone at the sprint, especially heading into the elimination rounds. The section of road being used for the sprint is pretty unforgiving too, so the slightest mistake could be very costly.”

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Currently placed fourth in the national series, Gilmour became the first woman to lead a national rally championship heat outright at the first round of the 2006 series in May, and her aim for the weekend is to score a top-three placing. She was unable to challenge for such a result on the second national round in Rotorua due to mechanical problems, but is confident a recent change in her team will result in improved reliability and speed for her Impreza WRX.

“Following Rotorua we took the decision to give full responsibility for running the car to Possum Bourne Motorsport,” she explains. “They built this car originally, prepared it for the start of the season, and have been helping us all along, so this is a further step towards the professional footing needed to be competitive at the front of the national series.”

Gilmour will travel from Dunedin to Auckland to test her car with Possum Bourne Motor Sport in the week before the Whangarei event, on which Manawatu-based Chris Cobham will take his usual place in the co-drivers’ seat.

Defending national champion and current 2006 series leader Richard Mason, 2004 champion Chris West, former junior champion Sam Murray, and Mason’s experienced team mate Todd Bawden rank as Gilmour’s main national rivals heading for Whangarei.

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