Kiwi star Emma Gilmour enters the brave new world of rallycross

It was a phone call "out of the blue" last October that changed Emma Gilmour's career - from being a successful rally drivers to being the first woman to compete in the global rallycross championship.

Gilmour had dreamed of having a career as a professional international driver, and had competed in the Asia Pacific rally championship. But late last year, she was satisfied that she could maintain a living in New Zealand as a rally driver.

That was until US-based Kiwi Rhys Millen rang Gilmour and asked her to join his global rallycross (GRC) team.

Started in 2009, GRC is what Gilmour describes as "the biggest thrills and excitement of a long rally stage compressed into a stadium".


The events are run with heavily modified production cars called rallycross SuperCars, take place in a wide range of venues - from Nascar superspeedways to street courses - and commonly feature a mix of dirt and asphalt.

GRC incorporates circuit racing with jumps and drifting on different surfaces, so has attracted drivers from many fields, including drifting and motocross.

Millen, son of famed New Zealand rally and off-road racer Rod Millen, is internationally known himself - not only as a Hollywood stunt driver. He was 2012 Pikes Peak International Hill Climb champion, 2008 Formula Drift world champion and 2005 USA drifting champion.

He also competed in the global rallycross championship for several years with his Rhys Millen Racing team and drives a Hyundai Veloster.

As the hatch-coupe was popular in the US with women customers, Millen wanted to add a female driver to his two-car team.

In October, he contacted women rally drivers from around the world but by December he'd made up his mind - he wanted Gilmour.

"I was so excited but I couldn't tell anyone because it wasn't going to be announced until [this week] in America ... there were also a lot of things to get organised before I went to California for the launch," she said.

Gilmour will compete in the 10-race GRC series that starts on May 18 in Barbados before moving to the USA.

She will also compete in the New Zealand rally championship this season in her modified Suzuki Swift Maxi and continue running her Suzuki dealership in Dunedin.

The 34-year-old has just returned from five days with Millen, and had her first chance to drive the Veloster Turbo rallycross car with a 600 horsepower engine - slightly bigger than her 400khp Swift rally car.

As Gilmour adjusts to driving the Veloster, she's also going to have to adapt to the different style of racing.

"The thing I like about rallycross is that we turn up before the weekend and that's the first time everyone has seen the track ... You have to be quick to adapt and work with the engineer - it's a new challenge each event."

She'll also have to adjust to circuit racing .

"I'm going to be wheel-to-wheel racing ... but I get the impression that rallycross is going to be a little bit more contact than I'm used to. But for me to get the experience it's going to be important to look after my car. If I go and damage it I'm going to have to sit out the season.

"It's going to be a case of keeping it as clean as possible but hold it on the track so the boys respect you."

As the first female to race in the series, Gilmour says it will be "interesting" to see how the male drivers react to her on the track.

"I've earned the respect of the guys in New Zealand through the 12 years competing and they see me as another competitor now, and I'm going to start again over there."

In preparation for the GRC, Gilmour will spend the next few weeks driving her Swift, including in the Rally of Whangarei from April 11, plus watching online GRC races. But don't expect to see her doing jumps around her Dunedin dealership.

"We jump rally cars all the time but it's out on a road and you don't expect to be jumping sometimes.

"But with [GRC], it's easier because as long as you get the right speed you can go for the jumps and you know you have a down ramp, unlike rally driving in the forests."