Emma Gilmour is looking forward to giving her radical Suzuki Swift Maxi a full competition debut at this weekend’s Rally of Whangarei.
The turbo-charged four-wheel-drive Swift completed just a handful of special stages at last month’s Otago Rally, running a modest pace as one of the course-opening zero cars rather than as an official rally entry. Further tests since that event – the most recent completed on Saturday – have the new machine ready to take to the stages as a fully-fledged entry for the Whangarei event.
“We still have a way to go in developing the car to the full, but are now at the point where we are confident of being able to showcase its potential in competition this weekend,” says Gilmour. “Naturally I am hoping we can be fully competitive against the fastest of our rivals, but our main aim is to try and complete both days of the rally, and so maximise it as an opportunity for further development.”
The Swift is the first of a new generation of machines prepared to a Super Rally formula that many pick will be the future of the sport in this country. It started life some months back as a stock-standard Suzuki Swift Sport road car, but has now been completely re-engineered as a state-of-the art rally car.
It has had a 170mm stretch in wheelbase to provide dimensions that maximise handling; structural strength and occupant protection is provided by over 47 metres of chrome molly tubing, fabricated into a massively strong roll cage; key sub-frame and suspension components have come from overseas, as has the car’s competition gearbox and front and rear limited slip differentials. There’s also an astonishing change in the engine bay, where the 1.6-litre non-turbo engine removed from the donor car has returned as a 1.8-litre (courtesy of an increased stroke) with a Garett turbocharger and custom-made exhaust manifold, radiator and intercooler.
Gilmour and the new car have been seeded fifth in the national championship component of the event, which also counts towards this year’s Asia-Pacific Rally Championship (APRC).
While the car is all new, it’s a case of back to the future in the cockpit, where Scottish international co-driver Claire Mole will sit alongside Gilmour as her navigator for the first time since 2009, when she played a key role in Gilmour’s run to runner-up honours in that year’s Asia-Pacific championship.
“We have enjoyed some great successes competing together in the past, so it is really special having Claire re-join me as I give my new car its proper competition debut,” says Gilmour.
On the other hand, Gilmour admits to feeling a little disappointed for her regular co-driver Glenn Macneall, who will miss out on being in the Swift this weekend as he is contracted to co-drive for top Indian driver Gaurav Gill on this year’s Asia-Pacific Championship events.
That means that this weekend Macneall will actually be competing against the car he has been instrumental in developing as part of Gilmour’s rally team.
Mind you, Macneall has not escaped direct involvement in Gilmour’s Whangarei campaign; it was he, along with Lindsay Tressler, who was charged with taking the Swift (towed on a trailer behind the team service truck) on the long drive north from Dunedin to Whangarei earlier this week.
After a ceremonial start at the Cameron Street Mall on Friday night, this weekend’s Whangarei Rally gets underway in earnest on Saturday morning. Competitors will contest 16 high-speed special stages totalling some 280km over the course of Saturday and Sunday, ahead of a mid-afternoon finish at the Quayside Town Basin.
Haydon Paddon is the top seed in the national championship component event, while Finnish speedster Esapekka Lappi heads the sixteen-strong Asia-Pacific championship contingent.
Photo by Euan Cameron.