Gilmour going cross country rallying in Italy

thumbMEDIA RELEASE: New Zealand’s top female rally driver Emma Gilmour has been selected to go cross-country rallying again – this time competing in the Italy Baja this month.

Following her successful selection in the FIA Women in Motorsport and QMMF cross country rally project, and her debut in April’s Sealine Cross Country Rally in Qatar, Gilmour and South African co-driver Sandra Labuscagne have been given the opportunity to contest the Italian Baja (June 24-26).

It is the fourth round of the FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies.

Nasser Al Attiyah, who is a multiple rally and cross country champion, as well as double Dakar Rally victor, has invited the rookie cross country crew to become part of his winning team for this event. He will support the duo as they continue to hone their skills in the world of cross country rallying.

Dunedin-based Gilmour and Labuscagne will drive a T2 production class Mitsubishi Pajero run by Ralliart Italy in this month’s event, with the support of the Italian Baja organiser who is providing a free entry for the all-female crew.

“Doing the Sealine Cross Country Rally in Qatar gave me a taste of what these longer format events are like and I loved it. It will be great to team up with Sandra and see what we can achieve. I am extremely grateful to Nasser for giving us this chance and to the Italian Baja event organisers for giving us a sponsored entry,” Gilmour says.

Al Attiyah says he met all three female crews, as well as Jutta Kleinschmidt – the first and to date only woman to win the Dakar Rally – and world-class co-driver Fabrizia Pons, at the Sealine Cross Country Rally this year.

“I saw how excited everyone was before the race. So I said, ‘ok, we need to give another chance because I think it’s important we see females continue to develop in motorsport’,” he says.

“Like in Qatar, I will help Emma from the driving point of view because cross country is not just about speed; you need to think about the car, the tyres and to manage to finish without problems.

“Matthieu [Baumel], my navigator, is already in touch with Sandra to help teach her more about cross country, because it is totally different to rallying where you recce the stages and have pace notes; you need to work together closely inside the car. I am very happy to give my support to everyone.”

Even though Gilmour and Labuscagne were not paired together for the Sealine Cross Country Rally, FIA Women in Motorsport cross country project mentors Kleinschmidt and Pons considered them to be the best all-round performers in the deserts of Qatar, hence their selection for the Italian Baja.

They will now team up for a very different type of cross country challenge in northern Italy where the competitive sections are run in dried up rivers.

Boulders and large stones litter the route, along with some big jumps and occasional water crossings. One of the biggest challenges will be to balance caution with speed over the rough and rocky terrain.

Gilmour says to keep the original cross country rallying project’s momentum going is such a boost for females wanting to participate in this sport.

“Competing in Nasser’s team is sure to be a huge asset to Sandra and I. He won the 2015 and 2008 Italy Baja and his knowledge and experience racing in cross country events will be valuable for us to learn more about this racing discipline,” she says.

Sandra adds: “This is a great opportunity and I would like to thank Jutta and Fabrizia for all their support, and Nasser for making our dream a reality. Being able to participate in cross country rallying is a privilege for me and I am looking forward to sharing this new experience with Emma.”

President of the FIA Women in Motorsport Commission Michèle Mouton was equally enthusiastic about this unexpected opportunity.

“This is an incredibly generous offer by Nasser and something we never dreamed could happen. For Emma and Sandra to have the chance to learn from one of the greatest drivers in this discipline really is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and Nasser’s knowledge and experience will be invaluable to their ongoing development,” she says.

The Italian Baja starts on Friday, June 24 with a night prologue stage of 12 kilometres. Saturday’s route takes in two selective sections of 85.96 competitive kilometres each, while Sunday includes two runs over a 75.21 kilometre test before the finish in Pordenone.

In total, the route takes in 334.34 competitive kilometres in a total distance of 560.21 kilometres.