The Olympic National Forest is so stunningly beautiful it’s said it could be home to the Gods. At the feet of the Olympic Mountain range sits Shelton, Washington, with miles and miles of perilous gravel roads that wind through the forest. Myth suggests that a hero is born when they overcome a great challenge. While there were many heroes at this year’s Olympus Rally, of course the one I interviewed for this article drove a BMW.

Gertie the BMW 3 Series rally car sitting in front of one of the Olympic mountain range peaks.

Now that we’ve set the stage, we must introduce our hero. A man named Lyle Gee and his steed Gertrude, a BMW 3 series (E46) built to rally specification by Cooper Autoworks. Lyle has volunteered at 13 rallies and this is what inspired him to take on the challenge himself. He had also taken a few classes at the Dirtfish Rally School which is what led him to wanting a rear-wheel drive rally car. “I always wanted a rear-wheel drive rally car, that was a non-negotiable because for me it’s more fun as a driver,” Gee said. “Then I talked to Cooper Autoworks and heard about the E46 builds. It’s a car with a solid and well-balanced chassis, plenty of room for me as a tall person, and I knew the team had great experience with building rally cars. It’s easy and fun to drive and control with perfect weight balance.”

Driver Lyle Gee and Co-Driver Lauren Olona are all smiles at the start of the Olympus Rally

Gee wasn’t taking on this challenge alone. He was supported by his service crew, including Calvin Cooper who built the car along with two other experienced crew members. His co-driver for the weekend was Lauren Olona. She is an experienced and cool-headed navigator, making her the kind of coach our hero would need beside him as they headed into battle. “As we rolled out of Parc Expose, it dawned on me that I was on my first official transit at my first official rally. It was surreal because It’s something I have wanted to do for years,” Olona said.

The first few stages Gee worked to get to know the new car and set a reserved pace. “The car felt stable, planted, and solid so it was just about building my confidence. Rally is a marathon, not a sprint. So as a brand new driver, there is a steep learning curve. The mental endurance to stay focused through a stage is going to take time and patience to learn,” he said.

After three stages and a refuel, the team started to feel like they were finding their rhythm. They headed back out to drive the same loop, but unfortunately the road had other plans for them. “I wanted to square the corner, but I put the right side of the car into the marbles (deep gravel on the outside of the turn) and that stuff didn’t let us go,” Gee recounted. “I’m doing what I know to do to turn a rear-wheel drive car in this situation, but the road took our car along for the ride.” The car headed for the ditch and bounced off a culvert before coming to a stop right before a tree stump. 

Everyone was ok, so the team took quick action to see if they could get the car going again. Unfortunately the car was immobile, prompting a call to the crew to recover the car. Crew arrived and triaged the situation. The front right corner of the car took a major hit registering a 7G impact. The radiator was saved by the massive steel skid plate, but the tie rod snapped and the heavy-duty control arm folded. After some quick field repairs, they were able to get the car on a trailer and back to service. The crew worked through the evening, replacing the broken parts and bending the fender back into shape. 

Gee assessed the situation, “Olympus was abusive; very different conditions even within the same stage. I’m familiar with those types of roads because I grew up in that area. I have never felt or driven on roads with terrain that difficult. You saw by all the cars that DNF (did not finish) and the damage. There were a lot of cars that did not make it.” In fact, 28 cars were unable to finish the first day of the rally, broken cars and parts were strewn all over the service area while swarms of crews rushed to perform repairs overnight.

 The next morning our hero arrived at the start, anxious about the day ahead of him. It had rained overnight and the forest stage’s would now be slick and muddy. As the cars lined up to begin their day of racing, a rainbow appeared in the sky as if to suggest a sign of good things to come. Ol0na, the co-driver, gave Gee a pep talk and the crew assured him the car was ready for battle. The team took each stage mile-by-mile, focusing on driving consistently and safely. “There’s a lot of nasty sharp corners and the rain had made everything wet and slippery but we were still able to shave time off stages and drive clean and comfortable,” Gee stated. 

After the first loop of stages, the car came in for a mid-day service. Things went much more smoothly and the car only needed a quick check-over and some mud scraped out of the wheel wells, which is as routine as a rally service can go. A quick refuel and the team was headed back out for the final loop of the rally.

“The moment it hit me that I was officially a rally driver is when we pulled into Parc Ferme after the event when we rolled through the final time control,” Gee said. “The crew was standing there and asked if I wanted to know my place. I assumed it was last place. When they told me it was a second-in-class and my euphoria kicked in, it was incredible.” 

Completing such a brutal event as a first time driver is a massive accomplishment worthy of recognition. The weekend was full of many firsts… Gee and Olona climbed atop the second-place step of the regional two-wheel drive podium and sprayed champagne while grinning ear to ear. A respectable finish to a difficult rally and a promising start to a new rally driver’s career.

The team stands proudly next to “Dirty Girtie” having completed a grueling weekend of racing.




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