My First Rally: DirtFish’s Romain Beaulieu

He's our beloved photographer with motorsport family connections, but what made Romain take the rallying plunge?


Romain Beaulieu is our very own, very beloved DirtFish photographer. You may have seen him popping out of bushes or laying in the mud, camera raised and covered in dirt because no matter what, he gets the shot.

Romain knew the language of rally thanks to his grandfather; a French radio announcer who commentated on rallycross, but who had never competed himself. It fell off his radar until he met a friend, Sage, who rallied, and Romain pulled out his camera.

Eventually, the time came for Sage to replace his BMW E36 324 M3 with a new rally car, and he set about selling it. First, a message to the friends’ group chat. Romain didn’t think too hard about it – he was busy applying to be a photographer at DirtFish. But then, he checked back in with Sage. No one had bought it yet. Romain says: “I had no intention of buying a rally car. None at all. But no one else was taking it… So, I thought ‘maybe I’ll be the one to make the stupid decision’. And then I bought a rally car”.

The car needed some work.

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“I started working on it in January, and quickly became very thankful that I took it apart before taking it on stage. It took me three months”.

But then, Romain was ready to race – he signed up for Olympus. He began studying all of Sage’s road books with his new co-driver – another friend. They became immersed in it. Then the co-driver had to back out… and Romain began to panic – the rally was in a month.

“The good news is that I work at DirtFish. Michelle [Miller, DirtFish senior instructor] was able to hook me up with some participants from the OZ Rally Pro co-driving class (run by Rhianon and Alex Gelsomino), and Lauren [Purkisher] accepted.

“Lauren and I had never met, but Michelle promised her I was an ‘okay’ person – that was seemingly enough for her to trust me with her life. I would not have done the same. I find her courage… legendary.

Lauren was amazing, and it destressed me by about 1000%. I thought ‘there’s actually a chance I could get out of this alive’ Romain Beaulieu on his first rally experienece

“Suddenly I had a car and a co-driver. At that point, nothing was going to stop me.”

Romain and Lauren were able to find a test day to shake the car down. This is Romain’s top piece of advice: “If you are ever able, find a test day. Do it with your co-driver. It was invaluable, Lauren was amazing, and it destressed me by about 1000%. I thought ‘there’s actually a chance I could get out of this alive’”.

Then, it was time to rally. The first stage was great. Romain and Lauren were able to get a feel for the car and found their rhythm as a team. Then came the second stage. Romain says: “On the second stage, I started taking a few more risks. The car was feeling good, I was feeling good, Lauren and I were working well together. So, obviously, I crashed.

“It was a left two with a slight crest. I was taking it very easy on the brakes… found some grip, hit the power, made it over the crest… and nothing. No grip. Absolutely none.” Very slowly, they slid into a bush.

After getting pulled out by the sweep team, they got right back to it. Romain took a new lesson into the next stage: “I very quickly learned how important it was to read the surface of the road”.

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The sun was setting, and the next stage was Nahwatzel: 11.09 miles. In the dark. At this point in our chat, despite the intensity of that stage in the pitch black, Romain’s voice lit up: “Oh my god. That was amazing. My notes weren’t good enough and there was just so much I couldn’t even see, but it was incredible. Absolutely incredible to be laying down the hammer in the dark”.

The sun came back up and Sunday morning’s parc expose revealed a little surprise.

“We suddenly realized we had a wheel bearing loose on the car. Lesson learned. Even if your friend’s car is broken, maybe give your own car a look over before helping them”.

Unfortunately, the night before, Sage had lost his clutch and Romain spent most of the night trying to help him get back on track. Sage wasn’t able to finish the rally, but they both hold the memory of scavenging and working well into the night after a mad Nahwatzel stage.

Upon discovering the loose wheel bearing, Romain had to make a decision. “Well,” he says, “I just decided to go for it. And be careful turning left”. In terms of the wheel bearing, it worked. But on the last run of Wildcat (and the last stage of the rally), something different started happening. “About three quarters through the stage, I started hearing something.

It was the worst noise I’ve heard in my life. Ever. But I just wanted to get to the finish line Romain Beaulieu

“Then I started feeling a vibration anytime I was on throttle. I thought I knew exactly what was wrong – the radiator mounts must have popped out – I told Lauren that I thought we could just pull off and I’d fix it really quickly. I opened the hood… that wasn’t the problem. The radiator was exactly where it should have been. So we closed everything back up, strapped back in, just trying to get back on stage, just trying to make it to the finish line. We could smell that finish line.

“But all that happened was the noise getting worse and worse and every time I was on the power the whole car would just shake.

“It was the worst noise I’ve heard in my life. Ever. But I just wanted to get to the finish line”.

Once again, Romain and Lauren were forced to answer a question – quickly: “Could this just explode in our faces?”


“Quickly we realized that it wasn’t safe”. It was the right call. But a difficult one… they were four miles away from the finish line at their very first rally.

Romain laughed, “we ticked all the boxes. Everything that could have happened, happened. In the scheme of things, they happened in a pretty nice way.”

Despite ticking those boxes, though, Romain isn’t done. He wants to tick some more.

“There is so much left on the table in terms of speed, pacenotes, everything.”

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Hearing Romain tell this story, despite his disappointment in not finishing, left me smiling. He’s invigorated. He may not have planned to buy a rally car, but I can tell very clearly that we won’t be getting him out of it anytime soon.

We love having Romain on our team as a photographer. We love seeing him jumping out of bushes and crouched on hillsides to get the perfect shot.

Mostly, though, we love having him around for all the traits you can find in this story. He doesn’t quit. He doesn’t panic. He doesn’t run. He just keeps going.

This is the story of his first rally, but it won’t be the last time you’ll hear about our favorite French photographer sliding his red M3 in the woods (with a smile on his face and dirt in his teeth).

Words:Josie Rimmer