Punta del Este - (URUGUAY) Sports Pundit caught up with Emma Gilmour, the first-ever female factory driver for McLaren Racing, to talk about her journey into the off-road all-electric series, Extreme E, discussing her successes and struggles, Formula 1 Academy, and all things motorsports.
The horsewoman, who never dreamed of becoming a racing driver, was born on 30 September 1979 in Dunedin, New Zealand’s seventh-most populous urban area.
Early in her twenties, Emma Gilmour left aside the dream of being an Olympic equestrian, changing her career path as motorsport became a passion in the life of a woman used to taking risks on and off the track.
She set off her career in the sport by chance when she agreed to be the co-driver for a friend.
In 2006, she made her international debut, building a successful career and business (owner - Gilmour Motors Suzuki Team), competing in rally, rallycross, and cross country.
In 2015, she claimed the prestigious FIA Women in Motorsport and QMMF Cross Country Selection.
A year later, she would become the first woman to win a round in the New Zealand Rally Championship, the Rally of Canterbury, moving on to finish runner-up in the NZRC over three consecutive years against a highly competitive motorsport field.
Towards 2021, the ‘Kiwi’ broke new ground, taking on a new challenge by joining the pioneering off-road electric SUVs, the Extreme E championship.
Gilmour entered the series’ inaugural season as a reserve driver for the Veloce Racing team, standing in for British driver Jamie Chadwick, who missed two events due to clashing commitments in the W Series.
In 2022, the New Zealander joined the NEOM McLaren XE outfit as a full-time driver, pairing American Tanner Foust to become the first-ever female driver for McLaren Racing, the team founded by motorsport icon and compatriot Bruce McLaren.
But no glory comes without overcoming adversity, which she had to face at an early stage of her career, suffering a big rally accident that knocked her out.
In an interview held last weekend in Punta del Este, Uruguay, at the Uruguay Natural Energy X Prix, she shared with us the lessons on dealing with success as with struggles throughout her journey.
“With everything in life, there are always disappointments and challenges, and all you can do is keep going forward; you always learn from what happens.
“I suppose what I took away from that is having good people around you. I had an amazing support group that allowed me to race again because it’s also a challenge in motorsports, it’s so expensive to keep going.”
The recovery process challenged her physically and mentally. She would have to learn to race on a new bumpy course, and sometimes it got a bit too sideways, testing her confidence, but as the skills were there, she caught it, crossing the finish line to continue focussing on the road ahead.
“Experiencing those absolute lows makes you realize you’ve got to enjoy the highs when you’re experiencing them because there’s both; it’s all part of the journey, and that’s what makes it so rewarding. It’s such a team sport.”
Alongside this, Emma gave insights into her role within McLaren in the season of the team’s debut at the all-purpose-driven racing platform.
The Energy X Prix staged in Punta del Este, delivered a thrilling Season 2 finale, in which Lewis Hamilton’s squad, X44 Vida Carbon Racing, finished third to secure their maiden title.
Meanwhile, ABT CUPRA XE came up on top, winning their first X Prix. The British team followed, achieving its first-ever podium as the duo Gilmour-Foust fiercely battled to cross the line in second place, ending the season on a high note.
Furthermore, Emma made history, reaching a new milestone, becoming the first female driver to score a podium for the Woking-based team.
“I’m super proud to be McLaren’s female driver. It’s such an amazing company to be part of and represent,” she reflects.
“It still feels like a fairy tale to me to be the first female driver; growing up in New Zealand, I never imagined driving for McLaren, I wasn’t going to be a Formula One driver, so I still pinch myself. It’s very cool.”
The innovative series combines top-level racing competition in remote locations of the planet at the hands of some of the best drivers in the world, promoting climate change awareness while discussing environmental challenges and solutions.
Another distinctive feature of Extreme E consists in promoting gender equality. Each team features a male and a female driver line-up.
Gilmour elaborates on the series by outlining: “I’m very proud to be part of Extreme E, especially as it’s gaining that momentum.
“What Extreme E has done for women in motorsport is just amazing, we’re competing 100 percent as equals, and I don’t think any other motorsport is doing that. We’re an integral part of the car, and we can see through the progression of the series how competitive the girls are gaining, just having that support to be at the top.
“And then, going to these remote locations that would normally never see a live sporting motorsport event like this, it’s very special. We’re showing that electric racing can be exciting and part of a bigger message.”
By mid-November, Formula One introduced to the world the F1 Academy, a new all-female driver category, which aims to act as a feeder series for higher levels of competition.
It will begin racing in 2023, featuring 15 drivers and five teams.
Digging deeper into the subject, Women in Motorsport, Sports Pundit asked the McLaren driver her opinion about the Formula One Academy for women.
“I think anything helping to get more women into motorsport is going to be a good thing. My understanding is that it’s more that grassroots level, which is gonna give more chance of getting to the top.”
“The fact we can’t overlook is that Formula One is super, super hard to get into, even for male drivers. It’s a challenge to get there. So when we do get a female there, which I do believe will happen, they’re going to be there fully on merit because of the battle to get them.”
NEOM McLaren Electric Racing is yet to confirm whether it will retain its driver line-up for the 2023 season.
The team finished its first year competing in the series fifth in the championship standings, scoring 52 points.
In that regard, Ian James, Managing Director NEOM McLaren Electric Racing, stressed: “It has been great to have witnessed the team perform so well from up close here in Uruguay. The progression seen throughout the inaugural season is testament to the quality within each element of the team.”
“This result was well-deserved and will provide a springboard into next season and beyond.”
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