Paddon, Gilmour team up but still set for NZ Rally Champs duel

When you think of rally in New Zealand, you can't go past Hayden Paddon and Emma Gilmour.

The pair are the king and queen of dirt driving in this country, but not only are they going head-to-head in the national Rally Championship which begins in Otago next week - they're also teaming up.

“It’s awesome to have Emma as part of the team,” said Paddon.

"She’s, for me, the fastest female rally driver in the world - and that’s a big status!”

Gilmour is set to up the stakes this season; not only is the team at Paddon Rallysport running her car for the New Zealand Rally Championship but she’s also upgraded her ride to a World Rally model – a Citroen C3 Rally2 car.

From managing to prepping, Paddon’s team of engineers help their drivers get the most out of their rides.

“I feel super lucky,” said Gilmour. "Hayden's experience is just world class.

"I’ve never been able to call on that before - it's always, 'I’m the driver and I’ve got to work through with the engineers what I’ve got to change'."

For 20 years Gilmour has been competing in the New Zealand rally championships where she’s driven a Mitsubishi and a Subaru, but for the last 10 years it’s been her beloved Suzuki.

The decision to upgrade her car came last year when French team owners brought over the Citroen for German driver Armin Kremer to campaign at the 2022 Rally New Zealand, which Gilmour was able to test drive.

The WRC2 car is a big step up for Gilmour and is very different from anything she has driven over the years.

“It’s strange,” laughed Gilmour.

"Obviously, naturally, you’ve got the left hand drive so that's a bit of a change but they're a full-on racecar so there's a lot of different things you can play with.”

It seems in Gilmour’s 20th anniversary of competing in New Zealand’s top rally event, it’s all falling into place.

She has the world class car and Paddon’s world class team, but the big question is whether she can topple Paddon - who also doubles as the Otago Rally’s defending champion.

“We're all competitive people," said Paddon.

"Of course the business side is making sure the cars are reliable and fast but once we get on the stages, we let the driving do the talking no matter who it is!”