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Emma Gilmour returns to Southland for new adventure

The last time Emma Gilmour drove the Southland region roads at speed, she had just switched from being a co-driver before starting her now long career that includes being an internationally acclaimed factory driver.

 

First taking to the wheel and the Southland roads in 2003 and again in 2004, she’s yet to finish the rally. Eyeing a change of fortune in 2024 with the Transport World Southern Lights Rally, it will also be the first time she pilots her Citroen C3 Rally2 car across its roads.

 

Joined by 2023 FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship winning co-driver Ben Searcy from Australia, Gilmour says she’s focusing on the excitement side of it: “This event reminds me of the rallying that I fell in love with – the adventure and travelling service park like a circus.

 

“In many ways, it will be a brand-new event – given it’s been 20 years since I last drove those stages, so I’m looking forward to the new challenge. Plus, the southern hospitality – they are a motorsport-mad region, so you know it will be a great turnout.”

 

Another aspect Gilmour is looking forward to is the challenge of the event’s dark stages.

 

“Rallying at night is fun because it’s a new or different challenge to what we are used to. I think with anything in a rally car, when everything is working well, adding night adds another level of challenge which adds to the satisfaction – or the other way around if it’s not working well.

 

“It also reminds me of the first time I tried my rally lights at a night stage – I thought they were amazing. Then you get to 150km/h and you’re wishing you had more light, to get that peripheral vision you’re used to in the day. So it becomes more of a challenge trying to identify braking markers and turn-in points.

 

“It’s more of a challenge for the co-driver as well. They will be reading off a map light and it’s something they’re not used to. Same with doing tyre pressures before you start the stage. Normally it’s light and everything is easier. It’s all those extra challenges.

 

“Now that I think about it, the very first rally I ever watched was a night stage – McIntosh Road of Otago Rally in about 1997. The anticipation builds even more when it’s in the dark – the senses are more aligned as you hear the sounds, see the lights, the glow of the brakes – as Joe McAndrew flies past.”

 

Intent on delivering the same thrilling experience to this year’s night-chasing spectators, Gilmour will join the rest of the top-tier field contesting the Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship. The pre-event ceremonial start begins at 4pm on Friday at the Bill Richardson Transport World. The first car leaves at 5pm for the Friday evening stage through the Pebbly Hills Forest.

 

The competition continues on Saturday with nine more special stages, including service stops in Winton and Tuatapere, concluding with a final stage at the Teretonga race circuit. This stage, a combination of gravel and tarmac, will lead to a track-side ceremonial finish at 5pm.

 

Spectators can enjoy the action with entry to the Transport World ceremonial start available for a $10 donation to charity at the door, while spectator entry for both the Pebbly Hills night stage and the ceremonial finish is also $10. Tickets can be purchased in advance from Invercargill’s Transport World, E Hayes & Sons, Auto Centre, and Harrison Supplies in Gore, or directly at the gate.

 

With daylight hours being the shortest of the year, from 8:31am to 5:05pm, the Southern Lights Rally will test the endurance and skill of every competitor, making it a true celebration of global automotive engineering and rallying spirit.

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