South Africa’s San­dra Labuscagne and Emma Gil­mour im­press in the Ital­ian Baja.

The Witness - Wheels - - FRONT PAGE - CHAR­MAINE FOR­TUNE

EMMA Gil­mour and San­dra Labuscagne, who were orig­i­nally se­lected for the FIA Women in Mo­tor­sport and QMMF cross coun­try ral­ly­ing project, con­tested last week­end’s Ital­ian Baja, com­plet­ing the event with some com­pet­i­tive times de­spite a roll in the open­ing stage of the event.

The rookie cross coun­try crew were in­vited to con­test the event by Nasser Al At­tiyah, mul­ti­ple rally and cross coun­try cham­pion, as well as dou­ble Dakar Rally vic­tor, the Qatari keen to sup­port the devel­op­ment of women in mo­tor­sport.

From the deserts of Qatar, the fourth round of the FIA World Cup for Cross Coun­try Ral­lies in north­ern Italy was a very dif­fer­ent af­fair. Com­pet­i­tive sec­tions were run in dried up rivers and as a con­se­quence, boul­ders and large stones lit­tered the route, along with big jumps and wa­ter cross­ings, the lat­ter re­sult­ing in some dra­matic driv­ing con­di­tions for the all-fe­male crew.

“Un­for­tu­nately on the first main day, the first real stage, 50 kilo­me­tres in I got caught out. With the dust and brak­ing I tipped it over, we rolled and couldn’t get the car back on its wheels,” said Gil­mour . “For­tu­nately it was just cos­metic dam­age and the team did a great job to fix it and get us back out in the af­ter­noon. The only prob­lem was there was no wind­screen any­more and we had to wear gog­gles; there were a lot of wa­ter cross­ings and mud splashes so we got very very wet and very very muddy! But we had heaps of fun, it was amaz­ing.”

Be­cause of their open­ing sec­tion mishap, the crew — who ul­ti­mately fin­ished sixth in the T2 class — were seeded right at the back of the field for the sec­ond day and strug­gled to over­haul slower cars. Stop­ping to change a tyre in the last sec­tion also didn’t aid their charge. “We were set­ting third fastest T2 times but we were among much slower cars and they didn’t like pulling over for girls in a hurry!” added Gil­mour. “… we would eas­ily have been third in class. I think sec­ond would have been a push, but it’s hard to know how much we were be­ing slowed up with all the traf­fic we had to keep get­ting past, so def­i­nitely it would’ve been a podium for sure.”

For Labuscagne, the fast pace nav­i­ga­tion over tight and twisty sec­tions was en­joy­able, but the lure of the longer en­durance events re­mains for the South African. “Nav­i­ga­tion at the Sealine Cross Coun­try Rally was more chal­leng­ing and this was a huge dif­fer­ence to our ex­pe­ri­ence in Qatar, but it was re­ally en­joy­able,” she said. “It was ex­cit­ing driv­ing with Emma; she is very tal­ented and her ex­pe­ri­ence is a valu­able as­set. We worked very well in the car to­gether. And I re­ally ap­pre­ci­ated the sup­port from Matthieu [Baumel, nav­i­ga­tor to Nasser Al At­tiyah]. He is a role model for me with loads of ex­pe­ri­ence and I have learned a lot from him. I would love to con­tinue par­tic­i­pat­ing in cross coun­try ral­ly­ing; the ul­ti­mate dream re­mains one day to par­tic­i­pate in the Dakar Rally.”

Michèle Mou­ton, pres­i­dent of the FIA Women in Mo­tor­sport Com­mis­sion, was also in Italy to sup­port Gil­mour and Labuscagne-fol­low­ing the gen­er­ous in­vi­ta­tion by Al At­tiyah and the Ital­ian Baja or­gan­is­ers.

“Emma had good speed, but things change once you have rolled and you’re not in your nor­mal po­si­tion,” she said.

“There are slower cars in front that you have to keep pass­ing, there’s dust and cars that don’t let you through. But it was an­other big chance for them to have a good ex­pe­ri­ence and I just said they had to make the most of it.

“The team did a fan­tas­tic job of get­ting them back out af­ter the roll and worked re­ally hard for them, this was im­por­tant for them to gain more ex­pe­ri­ence and con­fi­dence.

“A big thanks to R Team — Ral­liart Off Road Italy for that and wel­com­ing us all so warmly. Of course, we also have to thank the or­gan­iser for the en­try, and Nasser for his fan­tas­tic help.

“He has given the girls an­other op­por­tu­nity to ap­proach this dis­ci­pline and they like it. I think the big­gest les­son is that you don’t drive these kind of ral­lies the same way; you have to read the road and be pre­pared to lose some sec­onds to keep the car run­ning well and out of trou­ble. It’s dif­fer­ent to stage ral­ly­ing, both for driv­ing and nav­i­ga­tion, but it has def­i­nitely gone in the right way.”

In con­clu­sion, Gil­mour and Labuscagne con­curred: “It was very spe­cial to have Michèle come and sup­port us and we thank her, Nasser and Matthieu. We … had a won­der­ful week with a sup­port­ive, friendly and help­ful team and to see Nasser and Matthieu win was fan­tas­tic.”

PHOTO: MO­TOR­SPORT SA

PHOTO: FIA.COM

San­dra Labuscagne and Emma Gil­mour.

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