I’d been wanting to shoot the Olympus Rally for years. My mom got into rally when she bought her Impreza, and since Olympus fell on her birthday this year, I thought it would be an awesome birthday present to take her with me. She’s a David Higgins fan for sure, but when she heard Ken Block would be there she got even more excited!
But then things started to unravel. Because of an unusually long dry spell throughout the state, all of the stages would be closed to spectators. No racing would be done during the hottest part of the day, so the morning stages were pushed forward and the afternoon stages were pushed into the night. Sunday would consist of just one stage in the morning, for a grand total of only ten stages. Saturday morning’s Parc Expose at the Capitol was cancelled to make time for the morning stages. Wouldn’t it have been cool to have all the rally cars parked here?
My mom ended up getting sick and couldn’t even come to the rally, but I promised to give her Impreza a proper rally christening. Eric Delaney, who has been sending us stories from the Midwest, came out to Olympus with the Noble Star Rally team. We headed out to Cougar Flats before dawn and waited for the first cars to finish Dayton Peak and head on over.
I was hoping for some fog or drizzle to make it interesting, but this was perfect racing weather.
We got in position and Patrick Richard and Darren Garrod gave us our first taste of rally dust for the day. I can’t say I miss the stuff between rounds, but there’s a certain satisfaction to getting covered in it.
Some people are happier to get covered than others.
Ken Block and Alessandro Gelsomino came next. They were not in contention for the title since Ken is often busy doing other things, but he sure is doing a lot to make Ford Fiestas a cool car.
Crazy Leo and Carl Williamson never disappoint, though I think Leo has room to be a little crazier. They were third overall going into Olympus.
Antoine L’Estage and Nathalie Richard were second in points and just had to keep it together to stay there. Crazy Leo would have to do something really crazy to pass him.
David Higgins and Craig Drew had a guaranteed season win, with not enough points available for L’Estage and Richard to take the championship from them.
To celebrate they showed up with the Subaru all white, which was Higgins’s usual livery back home.
Lauchlin ÓSullivan and Scott Putnam were leading Super Production and were likely to stay in the lead if they stayed on the road.
Adam Yeoman and Jordan Schultze were back in their second round in their new STi they built after crashing in the Susquehanna Trail Performance Rally. Despite the crash they were still in a good position at 4th in Open.
Not all Fiestas are AWD like Block’s. The normal ones run in the 2WD class, like this one piloted by Chris Duplessis and Alexander Kihurani all the way to 2nd in the class.
Andrew Comrie-Picard was in the lead for the 2WD title, and you know he was going to try his darndest to keep it.
We left Cougar Flats and headed over to the hairpin on Nahwatzel to catch the top cars again. Just in time for Richard to fly by.
Block ran a little wide and bounced around in the ditch for a second. He pulled out of it like nothing happened.
This particular section wasn’t that dusty, but the cars were making plenty of dust further down.
L’Estage had a good pace going. Fast enough to stay ahead of Crazy Leo but slow enough to stay on the road.
Eric couldn’t take the dust and tried to shoot himself in the face.
FY’s new car proved to be a competitive machine, with Yeoman and Schultze finishing only a minute behind L’Estage and Richards.
ACP was keeping Duplessis off his tail so far.
Not sure if this is what Scion had in mind when they designed the xD.
After a two-year absence Lars Wolfe was back in Rally America, but this time in a Subaru instead of an Evo. That was kinda weird…
Derik Nelson picked up some firewood and carried it to the end of Nahwatzel. The E36 looks like it’s smoking a cigar.
The Audi Quattro almost gave Olympus a Group B feeling again. In case you didn’t know, WRC ran on these same roads from 1986 to 1988.
The Ford Sierra Cosworth also invoked some nostalgia on these lonely gravel roads.
But my favorite historic rally car is always the red Saab 96. It’s a thing of beauty even if it’s far from the fastest car out there.
As primarily a drift photographer it’s a little weird for me to see Corollas in the dirt, but they actually fit right in.
During the 6-hour midday break I went back to the hotel to unload my card and pick up Alex, who had driven all night long to get to Olympia. He stayed in San Francisco to shoot the space shuttle flyover and then stopped by Sonoma to shoot a little WTCC practice before making the 12 hour drive up. What a boss! We came back to the Ridge Motorsports Park in time for the Special Stage.
This was the only stage with spectating allowed. How to beat the crowds? Climb a tree of course.
The Ridge kind of reminds me of Gatebil, minus the big rocks and smokey Supras.
This track would be awesome for drifting. It has some really long, high speed turns. I hope someone makes it happen soon.
Block extended his lead over Higgins to almost four minutes after the Ridge.
Higgins made a little tire smoke on his way through the course. It looked like he was having a good time for sure.
It must have been fun to drive straight into the setting sun. It’s one of my favorite things to do and I know I’m not the only one.
Shooting into the setting sun, on the other hand, can make a boring scene epic.
Chris Harrington came to Olympus to shoot ACP for Scion Racing. It was cool to find other people I know there.
I hope he got the shot.
Remember the crazy spinning GoPro mounts a bunch of people had at Formula D Vegas? Those are called Vectra Mounts. Anyway, I let FY Racing use mine, and I can’t wait to see how the footage turned out.
The cool thing about the Special Stage is that it’s so easy to get around. Not like out in the woods where you have to drive all over the place and then hike in from wherever you can park the car.
Pretty soon it was completely dark. There was still a little ambient light at the track, but out in the forest on Taylor Towne and Cloquallum, there were only headlights. And dust. If you’ve ever driven at night through fog, it was just like that but worse.
Ken Block was first car out on each night stage, and since he was the only one running in clean air he opened a huge lead, so the Rally America officials decided to start the cars at longer intervals so the dust would have more time to settle. The other teams were lucky to go half as fast as they were used to. The unlucky ones crashed out.
Most of the media didn’t even bother trying to shoot in the dark, dusty conditions. Chris Harrington was content to have a cup of tea with me and read the London Sunday Times, featuring his series of photos of Jeremy Foley’s big off at Pikes Peak.
Most cars came back to the Ridge for service after Cloquallum, but Crazy Leo left the course and slid down a hill and Adam Yeoman hit a tree and had to be towed in.
After having to clean up the carnage and with the prospect of the rally running hours behind schedule, they called off Talor Towne 2 and Cloquallum 2, the last stages of the night.
Though they were denied two whole stages, I’m sure the teams appreciated the extra time to service the cars and rest before the morning.
Even teams that didn’t crash had plenty of work to do. Rally is hard enough on the cars when you can see where you’re going.
After a good night’s sleep (yeah right) we headed back to Nahwatzel in the morning. Alex hadn’t shot this stage yet so he hiked in from the finish while I hung out with the finish line crew. The chief of controls had his dog in a safety vest. What a caring owner!
After some time shooting the breeze, Ken Block came blasting through flying finish and up to the finish line, the first car to finish the rally. Good thing he’s not Finnish or I’d have to mention that. Oops.
Never missing a photo-op, Ken opened his door and let me shoot him right in the face.
My mom got a kick out of her car chilling at the end of the last stage of the rally. How many people can say their Imprezas have been to a place like that?
Next was Higgins, who, although he was already the season champion and could afford to take it easy, beat Block’s time by almost 16 seconds.
No big deal, right?
Alex and the workers at the flying finish were down there in the dust cloud somewhere. L’Estage didn’t care. He made it through the rally.
ÓSullivan and Putnam pulled off the Super Production win.
But ACP and Wimpey fell back to 2nd in 2WD by almost a minute.
We headed back to the hairpin since Alex hadn’t been there yet. The dust clouds make awesome sunbeams.
I hope I get to see the Quattro more. The thing is seriously awesome.
Verena Mei and Leanne Junnila managed to finish their first Rally America season in one piece.
There’s an orange ’72 Volvo 242 in this dust cloud somewhere.
By the time Alex and I got back to the Ridge, the podiums and champagne for Open and Super Production were already over.
We did get to see Chris Duplessis get crazy with the champagne though.
I’m sad that I didn’t get to see this Lancia Scorpion in action.
Maybe next time.
Photos by Bohan, Wong, and Delaney