Tough weekend at Whangarei for Emma


Emma Gilmour and co-driver Ben Atkinson round a corner in the Suzuki Swift Maxi at the VINZ International Rally of Whangarei at the weekend. Photo credit Euan Cameron.

“Character-building” is how Emma Gilmour has described her trying weekend competing in the two-day VINZ International Rally of Whangarei – the opening round of the Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship (NZRC).

Although, despite the varying issues she and Australian co-driver Ben Atkinson encountered over the 14 special stages, they recorded six, top five stage times and finished the event.

“Ben did a fantastic job as did the team, overcoming the various challenges we faced over the weekend,” Emma says.

The first leg started well on Saturday on the fast flowing rural roads in the Far North district but shortly into the second stage, Emma’s Suzuki Swift Maxi began losing power. Fearing terminal engine failure, she and Atkinson stopped to check and although they were thankful it was just a blown boost pipe, they lost up to 15 minutes in the stage. They limped through SS3 and had the problem fixed at the midday service. 

Emma’s luck did not improve, as her gear stick broke in SS4, which required some kiwi ingenuity to get them through the next two stages.

“We put a screwdriver into the transmission and cable tied it in,” Emma explains.

Once the gear stick was replaced in service, she was able to set the fifth and fourth fastest times in the NZRC category, during the double run through the night-time Hella Pohe Island Super Special stages.

Sunday’s six remaining special stages took teams south of their Whangarei city base and Emma and Ben clocked the third fastest time in day two’s opening stage.

Bucking weather predictions for rain this weekend, dust and heavy gravel were the two varying factors facing the nine car international field – that headed a contingent of 38 New Zealand teams. Emma and Ben experienced the dust first-hand on SS10, when limited visibility caused them to hit some rocks on the inside of a corner, resulting in two punctures. In the following stage, catching the dust of a car that had rolled was also an issue, costing them about 25-30secs, Emma estimated.

Lady luck was not finished with Emma yet and the boost pipe came off again in the penultimate stage. She rounded off the day with a third in the 27.43km final run, despite a spin – summing up a frustrating weekend that still managed to reveal a few silver linings.

“Aside from the disappointments it was really encouraging to see the Suzuki has the pace and can finish an event that was high in attrition,” Emma says.

The NZRC component of the rally was won by Masterton duo Richard and Sara Mason. While defending Asia Pacific Rally Championship (APRC) champion Gaurav Gill, of India and co-driver Glenn Macneall held off Jan Kopecký from the Czech Republic, for victory in the 2014 FIA APRC category, also taking the overall rally victory in 2hours: 11mins:39.7secs.

Emma knows the team has a few things to work on before her home event Rally of Otago on May 10 and 11, so she can show her local fans just how fast her radical Suzuki can be.

Emma thanks Suzuki and Vantage Aluminium Joinery as her primary sponsorship partners, plus supporting sponsors Gilmour Motors, Metalman, Supercharge Batteries, Castrol, PPG Paint, Pfitzner Performance Gearboxes, Hella, Apparelmaster, Interislander, Rothbury, Dunlop, Rock radio station, Metalspray, Endless Brakes and Arai helmets.


About The Author


The New Zealand Rally Championship is this country’s premier nationwide rally championship. It attracts New Zealand’s best drivers to compete in numerous categories for the prestigious MotorSport New Zealand-sanctioned rally championship titles. In 2024, there are six NZRC rounds, each with a unique character reflecting the diverse regions – from Northland to Invercargill