Why New Zealand’s female entry numbers are so high

40% of last weekend's Otago Rally competitors were women, but that's no surprise as Emma Gilmour explains

IMG_20220408_175917 CR BECKY LADBROOK

Emma Gilmour doesn’t really get it. It’s just New Zealand. And it’s just what New Zealand women do.

As you’ll have seen through March, DirtFish is committed to equality in rallying and off-road competition. We’re constantly looking for ways to improve levels of female engagement at every level.

Last week’s Otago Rally is already there. Across the ENEOS Otago International Classic, the Winmax Otago NZRC Rally and the Classic 4WD rally, 40% of the entry was made up of female drivers and co-drivers.

“It really is a great thing to see that number of female competitors,” said Gilmour, who had been running third in Otago before she was slowed by a brake problem which dropped her to fifth at the finish.

“But it’s a strange thing, I just don’t see it. To me, it’s just competition and competitors, women or men. It’s not a gender thing and that’s how we’ve always looked at it here in New Zealand. It’s part of our heritage, really.

“If you look back in time, you’d see that when the men went off to the war, the women carried on running the farms – that sort of thing has just never fazed us at all. We just get on with things and now we’re getting on with competing in rallies.

“The number of women drivers and co-drivers is great. I’ve been around for a while now, but don’t forget we’ve had female New Zealand champion co-drivers with Sara Mason.”

Gilmour’s own profile was raised when she joined McLaren’s Extreme E squad for this season.


“It’s a great opportunity to be back on the international stage,” she added, “and it’s more important for gender equality. That’s something that’s massive for Extreme E, having men and women competing on an equal footing.

“It’s never been done in motorsport or any other sport, it’s very, very cool. And it’s showcased that women are just as capable as men.”

Otago Rally public relations manager Roger Oakley agreed that the event reflected Kiwi culture – but that’s more than just about levelling off the gender bias.

“We have 40% of our crews as females,” he said, “but we’d love to see more. We had eight of the top 20 co-drivers in the national championship as females. That’s really positive.

“One of the aspects of the event that we try to promote is the potential for adventure and for making memories in a rally car. I think that’s why we see so many family crews out as well.

“We have grandfather and grandson [David Taylor and Arthur Broughan] competing. We’ve got Sean Haggarty co-driven by his 14-year-old daughter Bella and we have a competitor aged 76. It’s truly a sport for all ages – it’s a sport for all.”

Words:David Evans

Photography:Becky Ladbrook, Geoff Ridder