Her eyes light up, replaying the experience she’d never thought she’d have. An experience she’s aware she’s had, but hasn’t quite come to terms with yet. The experience of driving a rally car on a competitive stage.
It’s Monday – two days after the Tour de Forest Rally where Josie Rimmer took on her very first stage rally. The adrenalin has finally worn off, but reality is still taking its time to settle in.
“It just felt like you were on the edge, you know? It could go really wrong or it could go really right,” she says, caught in a daze as she tries to describe what it actually felt like.
“It was just exhilarating and… you know, there’s really no choice. You just do what you have to do. Man, I should have thought about this one, I don’t know how to put it into words.”
It’s a feeling that is seemingly impossible to describe. But no matter whatever happens in her life or her career, Josie will now always be able to say ‘I’ve done a rally.’ And there’s nothing cooler to say than that.
Although she describes herself as a “rookie”, driving wasn’t totally alien to Josie prior to Tour de Forest, given her spread of appearances in RallyCross events in her own Ford Merkur XR4Ti, lovingly nicknamed Lady Avocado.
Competition isn’t new to her either, given her roots in equestrianism. But putting the helmet on, tightening up the belts and putting her foot down during an actual rally opened her up to an entirely new world – and reminded her of an old one.
“Of course, I know that I love rally… but I didn’t realize how much I loved it until I got on stage. I love it even more now that I’ve done a stage – I didn’t know that was possible. I just want to do it again,” she says.
“Also, to be honest, one thing that felt incredible was just getting back into competition. I spent my whole life in the competitive equestrian world, and all of a sudden I was no longer competing. So just to be in a competitive atmosphere again was familiar and exhilarating.”
This time around Josie was competing with a fair few more horsepower than she used to, driving a Subaru BRZ. But she proved utterly adept, coming home third in the Limited 2WD class – a fantastic result, particularly on her debut.
However, she had an ace card up her sleeve. Unlike most drivers who will start out with a close friend, fellow novice or a mildly experienced navigator, Josie was joined by the reigning American Rally Association presented by DirtFish National champion: Rhianon Gelsomino.
How cool is that? But Josie and Rhianon have been friends for years, stretching back to 2018 when Josie’s brother, James, raced the Olympus Rally with Rhianon.
“They unfortunately had a really bad accident that ended the rally for them,” Josie remembers.
“My brother, who was banged and bruised up, drove back home with my dad, and Rhi and I took the car that my dad had driven there. So Rhi and I had a lot of time in the car, made even longer by the fact traffic was at a dead standstill. We spent a total of something like five hours trying to get home for what should have been a two and a half hour drive.
“On the way back home, sitting in traffic, Rhi went quiet for a second (which she doesn’t often do), and then said, ‘Josie, can I ask for a favor?’ And I’m saying ‘of course, of course!’ – she’s still in her racesuit, bruised, sore, just got out of a car that rolled three times over tree stumps, so I wanted to provide whatever favor she asked for. And she goes ‘can we go get a milkshake?’
“So we pulled off at a little diner and decided to avoid traffic for a while, gorging on milkshakes and french fries. We got really close then and stayed really close. We text almost every day, honestly.
I’d sent her a message asking if she recommended anyone, and she replied with ‘well… I’m free!Josie Rimmer
“She’s obviously been a HUGE advocate for the Women in Motorsport initiative we’re really pushing here at DirtFish – she’s one of the ones out there fighting the good fight.
“But even still, with how close we are, I would not have expected her to offer to drive with me. I’d sent her a message asking if she recommended anyone, and she replied with ‘well… I’m free!’ I was shocked.
“I remember I sent her a voice memo and I said ‘Rhi, you’re a professional co-driver, you shouldn’t have to sit with me, a total rookie!”
“But she’s a wonderful teacher and she loves to teach, and so I think it was great for both of us. She guided me so much – there was never a moment where I had to question whether I was in the right place at the right time, doing the right thing.
“I just felt so safe and comfortable with her in the car. Whenever there was a moment where I questioned whether I could push myself a little more, I felt comfortable doing it because I had Rhi.”
She proved to be a calming influence, but Josie never felt too daunted. She says she felt “80% excited, 20% nervous” on the lead-up to the rally, but those nerves were reduced significantly by Rhianon and her husband Alex Gelsomino who came along to unofficially act as the pair’s team manager.
“I think I do put pressure on myself,” Josie admits. “I’ve grown up in a competitive world, I’ve been competing from the time I was eight years old until I was 21, so the competition aspect is very normal to me… But of course, no matter what it is, you always want to do well.
“The nerves hit hard when I was inching up to the start-line of the first stage. I was thinking ‘oh my god, it’s actually happening'”, she laughs, “but as soon as the start-line volunteer did the five, four, three, two, one, all of the nerves went away, I was just driving the car.
“And that was the same feeling as what happened when I was showing horses. As soon as you walk in the arena, you get in a zone. There’s no other choice. You have what you have, and nothing else matters.”
Unfortunately, Josie and Rhianon only got to complete three of the four stages at speed as the event organizer could only run stages until 1pm due to fire risk in the area. “I just wanted to keep going”, Josie says.
It was an extremely complicated event logistically that meant the rally lost several stages. Not only that, but recce was cancelled. This meant a throwback to a different era – video recce or driving blind.
Josie got the chance to attack Deer Creek twice, and beat her time by 14.1 seconds on the second pass. Schumacker Creek, however, went less well.
“Me and Rhi have this code now, if she asks how I’m doing and I’m having a tough day, I’m just going to say ‘Schumacker’ and that’s going to mean I’m frustrated, because I don’t know what I did on that stage! In looking at that stage time, I was going so slow!” Josie laughs.
“But regardless of that, it was a great learning experience. I got to experience everything; so much dust that I had to trust Rhi’s notes blindly, roads rutting and revealing boulders, changing notes mid-stage. During video recce, we could see a ditch on one side of the road, so a lot of my notes for that stage were written as ‘stay in’ or ‘don’t cut’.
“As soon as we got out there, we realized that the calls had to change to ‘stay middle’ because if I ‘stayed in’ I would’ve been in the ditch. I think Deer Creek was more fun, but obviously it was shorter. I wished that it lasted longer.”
It’s clear then that this won’t be the last the world sees of Josie Rimmer in stage rallying.
“No!” she confirms. “I texted my brother this morning and I said ‘so what are we going to do?’ And he said ‘what do you mean?’ ‘Well, I think the next step is for you and I to go in on a car together and trade off who drives.’ He definitely agreed.
“But that’s the question, what’s the vehicle going to be? How can we make it happen? And can I convince Travis [Pastrana] to share his co-driver more often?!
“One big thing I do need to say is a huge thanks to this event’s organizers. It would have been so much easier for them to just cancel the race,” she adds.
“They had every reason to just cancel it, and they didn’t. So even though it was less stage miles, they made it happen, and that was huge.
“I would have been GUTTED if it was canceled. I know that they had a hellish day and night before the rally so I have to send big gratitude their way.
“And to my dad, Steve, for giving us the rally bug and trusting us to do it. He’s been at every single one of my competitions, for both forms of horsepower, and his support just never wavers.”
But above all else, Josie got to compete while further spreading the Women in Motorsport message that she’s worked so hard to push over the past 12 months.
“Racing with the Women in Motorsport livery was pretty amazing. To be completely honest, I went back and forth beforehand – and this is a testament to the mentality that women have been trained to have – I was hesitant to put those stickers on the car because I was worried that if I stuffed it, and I had Women in Motorsport all over the car, it would give people ammo to say ‘look, there’s a Woman in Motorsport… in a tree,’” she explains.
“There was that added pressure of the car being decked out in WiM, I just didn’t want to screw it up.
“But I spoke to the incredible Michelle Miller and some equally incredible male DirtFish team members about this, and they all said ‘but you’re doing it. The whole point of what we’re trying to promote is to do it, to get women in the car and competing’ and so they really helped me see it clearly. We’re doing it.
“The point isn’t the time that we lay down, at least not yet. The point is that it’s happening, so it felt pretty special to be sitting with one of the top women in the sport, in a Women in Motorsport car, to be another hand carrying the WiM flag – and we just started the DirtFish WiM branch last year. There was an amazing number of women representing at TDF – that was great to see.
“It’s an amazing community – I feel grateful just to be a part of it, and now to be one of the ones sliding sideways in the woods too.”