Last week we woke up to the history making news that our very own Emma Gilmour has become a McLaren Racing driver and the first woman to earn this position. No one seemed more surprised than Emma Gilmour herself. While it may have felt like winning the lottery, there is no comparison. She has earned this role through hard work and resolve, with an enviable domestic and international competition CV coupled with well-developed media presence, skills and experience.
Ask Gilmour about how her domestic rallying has gone over the last couple of seasons and she will draw a deep breath. That, is the sound of character that has been built from adversity.
It is difficult to remember the last NZ Rally Championship event when her team have celebrated finishing a round and put the car on the trailer in one-piece. This is not because of a driver that has continually crashed out or been hard on equipment. More, it has come down to a series of niggling problems that has seen the car constantly retire.
Be careful of delving too deep on this subject because Gilmour and the team have made some major wholesale changes but unfortunately, it is like her Suzuki AP4 car was built on a ‘Friday’.
Look more closely at the individual Special Stage times and one will find that Gilmour is very quick. Surprising? No, not at all. What makes her good is that she is constantly quick, stage after stage.
Take for example the opening round of the 2021 NZ Rally Championship, Rally Otago. Gilmour was second fastest to Hayden Paddon in the first two Special Stages before retiring in SS3. She rejoined the rally for the second day and completed four stages before retiring with steering issues, finishing third, fourth, second and fourth fastest, in the first four stages of the day.
Her international experience ranges from competing in Rally Finland, the Asia Pacific Championship, Rally X in the USA with Rhys Millen, cross country rallying in the Middle Eastern Desert and this season participating in Extreme E.
The immense passion and pride at now being a Kiwi driving for McLaren Racing is evident in Gilmour, and sets her apart.
The team that Bruce McLaren established to compete in Formula One, F5000, IndyCar and Can Am has only had three male Kiwi drivers. Denny Hulme drove for the F1 team, after winning the 1967 World Championship, between 1968 to 1974 before retiring. This also included competing in Can-Am between 1967 to 1972.Chris Amon never drove for McLaren in F1 but did Can-Am with the team in 1965 and 1966 before he left to become a Ferrari driver.
So, Gilmour now is officially a McLaren driver, has the uniform and the Extreme E car to co-drive with American Tanner Foust in 2022.
She is a great fit. A Kiwi, regarded as one of the best female rally drivers in the world with the right competition CV and McLaren have recognised this. But maybe above all this and what sets her apart is that underlying passion which she brings to McLaren. Something a Kiwi can only understand and, for those closest to her, a resolve that has grown out of those times of adversity.
We now stand back and wait to see if, once back home in Dunedin, her drive car switches from a Suzuki to something more exotic.