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Women's cross country adventure continues

New Zealand rally driver Emma Gilmour and South African navigator Sandra Labuscagne have been given a second opportunity to demonstrate their skills in the spectacular discipline of cross country rallying.

Following their successful selection in the FIA Women in Motorsport and QMMF cross country rally project, and their debut in April’s Sealine Cross Country Rally, Emma Gilmour and Sandra Labuscagne have been given the opportunity to contest the Italian Baja (23-26 June), the fourth round of the FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies. Nasser Al Attiyah, multiple rally and cross country champion, as well as double Dakar Rally victor, has invited the rookie cross country crew to become part of his winning team for this event and will support the duo as they continue to hone their skills in the world of cross country rallying. The crew will drive a T2 production class Mitsubishi Pajero run by Ralliart Italy on next month’s event, with the support of the Italian Baja organiser who is also providing a free entry for the all-female crew.

“When I met all three female crews, as well as Jutta and Fabrizia, on Qatar’s Sealine Cross Country Rally this year I saw how excited everyone was before the race,” said Nasser. “So I said, ok, we need to give another chance because I think it’s important we see females continue to develop in motorsport. Like in Qatar, I will help Emma from the driving point of view because cross country is not just about speed; you need to think about the car, the tyres and to manage to finish without problems. Matthieu [Baumel], my navigator, is already in touch with Sandra to help teach her more about cross country, because it is totally different to rallying where you recce the stages and have pace notes; you need to work together closely inside the car. I am very happy to give my support to everyone.”

Even though Gilmour and Labuscagne were not paired together for the Sealine Cross Country Rally, FIA Women in Motorsport cross country project mentors Jutta Kleinschmidt and Fabrizia Pons considered them to be the best all-round performers in the deserts of Qatar, hence their selection for the Italian Baja. Now, though, they will team up for a very different type of cross country challenge in northern Italy where the competitive sections are run in dried up rivers. Boulders and large stones litter the route, along with some big jumps and occasional water crossings, and one of the biggest challenges will be to balance caution with speed over the rough and rocky terrain.

“I’m really excited to have the opportunity to continue following my cross country rallying dream,” said Emma. “Doing the Sealine Cross Country Rally in Qatar gave me a taste of what these longer format events are like and I loved it. It will be great to team up with Sandra and see what we can achieve. I am extremely grateful to Nasser for giving us this chance and to the Italian Baja event organisers for supporting our entry. To keep the original project’s momentum going is such a boost for females wanting to participate in this sport.”

Adding to her comments, Sandra said: “This is a great opportunity and I would like to thank Jutta and Fabrizia for all their support, and Nasser for making our dream a reality. Being able to participate in cross country rallying is a privilege for me and I am looking forward to sharing this new experience with Emma.”

Michèle Mouton, President of the FIA Women in Motorsport Commission, was equally enthusiastic of this unexpected opportunity: “This is an incredibly generous offer by Nasser and something we never dreamed could happen. For Emma and Sandra to have the chance to learn from one of the greatest drivers in this discipline really is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and Nasser’s knowledge and experience will be invaluable to their ongoing development.”

The start of the Italian Baja takes place on Friday 24 June and is immediately followed by a night prologue stage of 12 kilometres. Saturday’s route takes in two selective sections each of 85.96 competitive kilometres while Sunday includes two runs over a 75.21 kilometre test before the finish in Pordenone. In total, the route takes in 334.34 competitive kilometres in a total distance of 560.21 kilometres.