This month, coming off of Island X Prix in Sardinia, we continue with our Extreme E female drivers series. Replacing Jamie Chadwick whose commitment at the W Series clashes with Extreme E, Emma Gilmour represented Veloce in Arctic X Prix and Island X Prix. During Arctic X Prix, the duo of Emma Gilmour and Stéphane Sarrazin qualified 5th, but wasn’t able to make it into the Final through Semi-Final 1. During Island X Prix, the duo wasn’t very lucky in Qualifying 2, so only qualified 8th overall. Luck wasn’t on their side in the Crazy Race, once again the team didn’t make it into the Final. We talked to Emma before Island X Prix. Let’s see what she has to say about her amazing career as well as her experience with Extreme E.
All photos © Extreme E
Growing up in a family of mechanics with both her father and maternal grandfather being mechanics, Emma Gilmour developed a love for speed from a young age. Even though she did competitive horse riding first, fate eventually led her to car racing – first as co-driver for her cousin and sister, and later as a rally driver herself. “I was brought up around cars. My dad built race cars. Even when I was horse riding, I still loved driving and going fast and enjoyed anything that was fast. I would go on my dad’s motorbike. But originally I just never thought that motorsport was something to pursue because it was so expensive. When I got my license and finally had a go at it, I had people around me telling me I had the ability. They told me to get sponsorship, so it was that kind of early encouragement that pushed me to make it a career.”
Hailing from New Zealand, it wasn’t too difficult for Emma to find the racing scene, and she was also able to build a team around herself. However, getting on the world stage which is mostly in Europe, is another story. “In New Zealand, we’ve produced a lot of champion drivers in Formula one, INDY racing, across the board. We’re very lucky in New Zealand. We have a very strong motorsports association. Motorsport is actually relatively accessible. It is always expensive, but you could still just have a club car and go and do club events. I’m lucky that I can compete at a high level in New Zealand. I have my own team: I own my car, I own my service vehicle and all of the things related to running my car. But everything just costs more when you’re traveling and going overseas. To be able to bring the team I’ve created over many years and go overseas with it, you sort of need 3 or 4 times that funding. In addition, you don’t have the contacts already for relationships and for sponsorships. So it’s a big step to make and it comes down to money.”
In 2006, Emma won a scholarship to compete in Europe and she competed at WRC Rally Finland. She took stage wins in the Ford Fiesta ST Championship. Throughout the years, Emma has had experience racing in Qatar, Italy, Portugal, the US, and so on. Last year, when Extreme E was announced, Emma was first in talks with another team to be their lead driver. However, the funding didn’t come through in the end. But Emma’s journey with Extreme E didn’t end there. Veloce needed a reserve driver for when Jamie Chadwick has other engagements, so Emma finally had the opportunity to step in and get on the world stage again. “Someone shared a link with me about Extreme E and I actually thought it was a video game to start with. It seemed so futuristic that there was gonna be a male driver and a female driver in the same car. When I realized that it was actually going to be coming to fruition, it was pretty exciting because the opportunities to be a professional driver, especially in rallying, are very rare. There are not many opportunities at all. Unfortunately, my first team didn’t get to the start line. It all fell over before Christmas last year, all the other seats have been filled. It was a little bit like they left you on the side of the dance floor and everyone else has found a dance partner. I was really excited when Veloce approached me. It was a wonderful opportunity for me to get the experience and to help them out as well. It’s been amazing.”
Even though Emma missed the first two rounds, she didn’t really come with a lot of disadvantages in Greenland, as no one really gathered a ton of kilometers in the series. “I knew it was gonna be in the deep end. And I guess you just sort of have to call on your experience and know that I have all of the skills there. It should be able to be applied to what we were doing. One thing that makes it a little bit easier coming into the series is that none of the teams are getting a huge amount of driving anyway. It’s not like I’ve missed out on days and days of driving. The other thing that probably keeps it quite a level playing field is the race track. Everyone’s seen it for the very first time. And even just the fact that you walk it versus driving it also makes it a very level playing field for everyone.”
Not coming in with big disadvantages, Extreme E is still new for everyone after all. Through Arctic X Prix, Emma got more used to how the car is driven, compared to her previous experience in rallying. “Even watching on a video, you don’t quite grasp how physical it is inside the car, just how rough the surface is and how much the car moves. It’s quite violent inside the car. The majority of the rallying I’ve done in New Zealand were on surfaces like gravel or tarmac, they’re very smooth roads. You’ve got G-forces moving you inside the car, but you haven’t got that roughness on the surface. The Extreme E is a cross-country race. It’s a lot more like some of the cross-country rally I did in Qatar, for example. But I think Greenland was on rocky hard surfaces, which also made it rougher inside the car versus the previous rounds. But now I just know what to expect, which makes it so much more comfortable.”
Another new thing about Extreme E is the teammate format. It’s similar to endurance racing where multiple drivers share the car, but not quite. In the limited time the teams have with the car and with the track, the two drivers have to work together to bring out the best in themselves and in the car. “The thing I really like about it is that you’re working with a very talented peer. And you both want to win together. You both absolutely want the other driver to do a great job and you want to help develop the car to be as fast as possible. It’s a real contribution from both of you to be a winning team. I haven’t had a background in Le Mans which would be similar to this. But in Le Mans, they do laps and laps, and the track is always the same every single lap. The challenge at Extreme E is we have such limited time on the track. So you really have to work with your teammate because the track also changes as well. It’s really important to have that communication together and be working together.”
Outside of her racing, Emma has another career not far away from cars – she runs a Suzuki dealership back home. After years of hard work, Emma can leave the business for a few days to focus on her race weekends. And now that she is racing in Europe, her capable team is running the dealership’s day-to-day in New Zealand. “I’ve had the car dealership in the business for over 10 years now. I have done very well in motorsport in New Zealand, and through the relationships and my profile I had through motorsport, I was introduced to Suzuki in New Zealand and became a dealer for them. In the beginning, it was a big learning curve learning to run a dealership. It was scary at times when you take on all the debt to start with. I’ve probably done the majority of the hard jobs over the last few years to get the business a bit stronger. Now we’ve got really good people who helped me run the business. When I was back home racing, to allow me that time to focus on the business I’ve employed a company to prepare my race car for the events. It’s taken a lot of pressure off my shoulders. I can leave the business and go to the race event and get prepared before the event.”
Being the successful driver and successful businesswoman, we asked Emma to give some advice to young girls who are interested in motorsport in any capacity. “Just get started, go and get involved at whatever level. You don’t have to have a car, just go and join a local car club. People want to help, people want to see you do well, and it’s a really wonderful community. You make friendships for life with the people that you come across. There are so many different levels and cool ways you can get involved with motorsport, from being a competitor to being a volunteer and officials.”
Coming from the country where The Lord of the Rings was filmed, Emma also wanted future seasons of Extreme E to have a similar backdrop, when asked which region in New Zealand she would propose for the calendar. “Personally, I’d love it to be in the South Island because that’s where I’m from. There are some beautiful remote areas up near the Southern Alps where I think it would be like The Lord of the Rings. It would look pretty beautiful as a backdrop for Extreme E.”
Lastly, as always, we asked Emma to give us three words why people should follow Extreme E. She gave us three Es. “Exciting, equality, and environment.”
At the end of next month, Extreme E will conclude its inaugural season on the Jurrasic Coast in the UK. Before that, on December 5th, we continue with our Extreme E Drivers’ Series.