The upcoming Arctic X-Prix in Greenland will mark the Extreme E debut of Emma Gilmour, the Kiwi rally driver who also enjoyed a spell racing in Global Rallycross with Rhys Millen’s factory-backed Hyundai team in 2014.
She won’t be the first late entry into XE, but as one of just two designated reserve drivers selected by any team, she is somewhat unique. Not like surprise sub Kevin Hansen who jumped into Jenson Button’s seat at the Ocean X-Prix, or Jutta Kleinschmidt who came off the official subs bench to fill in at Abt Cupra.
But while Gilmour’s debut in the all-electric off-road series has always been a possibility due to her Veloce Racing team’s regular driver Jamie Chadwick having commitments elsewhere, racing in XE was very nearly a certainty.
“Last year I basically signed with a team for a full-time drive and so I was really excited about taking part in the series,” she revealed to DirtFish. “It was all like, wow, it’s going to happen.
“Then that team never made it to the start line, so I was sort of left on the side of the dance floor without a dance.”
Being one of the world’s top female drivers, it was a crime that she’d been left out of a series that actively promoted competition between genders. Nevertheless, it opened the door for a deal with Veloce, one that no other team could realistically provide.
“When Veloce approached me, I think they were aware of what was potentially going to happen with Jamie and her commitments to the W Series,” Gilmour said.
“They’d already signed up a reserve male driver and I was never guaranteed that I was going to get a race because obviously with COVID-19, you know, calendars change and anything can happen. But as it panned out, they’ve been able to call on me, which I’m really excited about.
“I’ve been sort of learning the series and watching from afar [so far].
“I think, with the way travel is at the moment and also the way the XE series is, there’s not a lot of people on site at the events, so the series itself has its own spare drivers. So if the worst had come to the worst at those previous two events where I wasn’t present, they could have called on either of the male or female reserve driver, I guess, like what happened with Jutta in Senegal.”
Of course, the pandemic has complicated travel matters for much of the motorsport world, not least for Gilmour who, coming from New Zealand, has had to leave one of the strictest nations on the planet when it comes to pandemic-caused border restrictions.
“In New Zealand you can’t just fly back in, you have to have an isolation hotel booked for you, there’s only so many of them available and at the moment for the next four months, they’re all fully booked,” she said.
You've got a good team there and they know how to play the game. A podium is definitely the aimEmma Gilmour
“Thankfully we booked once we knew that I was going to be in the car for Greenland, we sort of had enough of a window that I could still secure a hotel going back.
“So I head back to New Zealand not too long after Greenland to go back into isolation.
“But if I was just trying to book something now for October, that would prove to be problem because there’s no hotels available get back into the country.
“Likewise, when I booked the travel to come, because I booked it so early, I thought I was going to be isolating for 10 days in the UK when I came in, but it ended up changing in the time since I booked it. So I’ve ended up having a really long holiday in London, which I’m not complaining about. It’s been amazing!”
At the time of our conversation, Gilmour’s been in the UK for four weeks, and as well as enjoying the new scenery, it’s also given her ample time to adjust to her team having not been able to attend the previous two races in person – although there’ll still be plenty of learning to do on-site in Greenland thanks to XE’s stringent testing regulations.
“It’s a really good team environment at Veloce and it’s all about wanting to see the team do well so everyone’s being very forward with how they find the car and what they’re learning,” she said.
“But I suppose I feel a bit the back foot coming in having not driven the vehicle before, but it’s not like the series itself has lent itself to people getting lots and lots of test time anyway.
“Everyone in the series has probably had quite limited seat time relative. So it’s still sort of a learning game, at each event, getting the car set up with such little track time and testing time before.”
Gilmour’s XE bow will mark the first time she’s raced wheel-to-wheel since the 2014 GRC season finale in Las Vegas as well. She has seldom raced wheel-to-wheel with other cars in recent years, but she’s not at all fazed about having to get her elbows out once again.
“I did the GRC and then [I’ve] largely done rallying and the cross-country stuff since then,” she said.
“I suppose the wheel-to-wheel happens sort of quite later in the piece. The qualifying and the practice is just effectively like rallying or time trialing, and then it’s back to the wheel-to-wheel on the Sunday.
“It will be interesting going back there, but yeah, it doesn’t faze me. It’s just another exciting part of motorsport.”
Looking ahead to Greenland, Gilmour is hoping she can help Veloce to a second consecutive podium finish after Chadwick and Stéphane Sarrazin’s heroic second place in Senegal – which came after a torrid season opener in the desert where the team failed to complete a single lap.
“A podium’s definitely the aim, we have to be realistic about where we’re starting from, with me having such little seat time before Greenland,” Gilmour said.
“But I think as Jamie and Stéphane proved in Senegal, playing that long game and [having] a smart racing strategy can definitely play off as well.
“You’ve got a good team there and they know how to play the game. A podium is definitely the aim.”