by Bill Wood
There are items on a wish list, items on a bucket list and items that should be drowned at the bottom of a bucket.
It’s the items in that third category that struck 2012 American Super Production rally champions Lauchlin O’Sullivan and co-driver Scott Putnam Friday before the 100 Acre Wood Rally even started.
On the Shakedown Stage Friday morning O’Sullivan and Putnam launched down the road to get in a little practice before putting their 2008 Lucas Oil Subaru WRX STI into competition at one of the fastest rallies in the American championship.
But without warning, the rear end of the Subaru “stepped out” and could have continued but a tree caught the car and ended the crew’s weekend.
“We were two turns into the Shakedown Stage when, all of a sudden, the car came unglued,” Putnam said. “The thing just went sideways right into a tree.”
O’Sullivan, an ex-factory driver for Mitsubishi and former American 2WD champion, said he was disgusted with himself after the accident.
“It was a cold car and we were going pretty good and it seemed like the rear end locked up,” O’Sullivan said. “It happened so quick. It was the first time we really got into the brakes pretty good. It was like I pulled the handbrake pretty quick. The rear end just stepped out. Everything happened wrong.”
It was a high speed corner on the Shakedown Stage about two-tenths of a mile after the start.
O’Sullivan and Putnam won the Super Production category at the Sno*Drift Rally, the first event of the 2014 season last month in northern Michigan. They were able to overcome an ill-handling machine at that event. The pair said the service crew worked on the car Thursday night after it was prepared in Southern California.
It’s unclear what went wrong but the accident took O’Sullivan and Putnam out of the event before it even started Friday afternoon.
“It was a pretty massive hit,” Putnam said. “It’s all part of the deal. Nobody tries to do this. It’s just part of the sport.”
After their championship in 2012, O’Sullivan and Putnam won the Super Production category at the Rally in the 100 Acre Wood last year finishing third overall. But they had troubles last season when they rolled this same car in Oregon and missed much of the season having it rebuilt.
Changes in the rear-end at Sno*Drift last month were constant to get the car fast on the snow and ice covered roads traditional at the only winter rally on the American championship.
“It’s fixable and we’ll be at Oregon Trail in May,” said Putnam. “We didn’t drive it down to the Shakedown Stage. We just hopped into it and drove it. Maybe it happened because the car was cold. Lauchlin said the car felt good until it all came apart.”
The car now will be sent to a shop in Minnesota where the body work will be done before it returns to Southern California where it’ll be prepared for Oregon May 2-4.
There are items on a wish list, items on a bucket list and items that should be drowned at the bottom of a bucket; items like this accident on a fast flowing road outside Salem, Missouri Friday morning.
by Bill Wood
by Bill Wood
2012 Super Production champions Lauchlin O’Sullivan and co-driver Scott Putnam led the Super Production category throughout the 2014 season-opening Sno*Drift Rally in northern Michigan.
After a terrible 2013 season, O’Sullivan and Putnam took this important victory as they launch into what they hope is another championship run.
“Winning is a hell of a lot better than balling your car up that’s for sure,” Putnam said with a laugh after the Victory Circle celebrations in Hillman, Michigan Saturday night.
“It’s cheaper too! And you can quote me on that,” Putnam continued.
The first rally in the 2014 American championship came to a close Saturday night in bitter cold outside the Hillman Community Center. Sno*Drift this year featured up to eight inches of snow in the region and temperatures on Saturday that fell to four below zero with the wind chill. It was an icy and snowy event befitting the name Sno*Drift Rally.
O’Sullivan and co-driver Putnam led their Lucas Oil/Wolf LED Rally Team to a dominating victory. They led the entire way despite an ill-handling 2008 Subaru WRX STI. Their Service Crew worked hard throughout the event. Even getting to Sno*Drift proved a battle. The tow vehicle broke down Thursday and a rental vehicle was necessary to go the last ten hours. Some of the money won at Sno*Drift will be needed to cover expenses just to get the car back to Southern California where it’s prepped by Doug Nagy in his Streetwise Professional Parts and Preparation shop.
Changes made Friday improved handling tremendously. O’Sullivan said the AWD car was pushing through the corners meaning the rear of the car was pushing the front end on the glare ice at Sno*Drift. Changes in the rear ride height “improved handling 30 percent,” O’Sullivan said Friday. “I’ve been using the handbrake to make the car turn on the tight corners.”
Saturday’s problems were different, though. Putnam said the rear ball joint on the passenger time caused evil handling problems and slowed the car considerably in Saturday’s eleven special stages.
“We didn’t want to hammer that too much. They were going to replace it at the last service (Saturday afternoon) but we didn’t get to it,” Putnam explained. “I don’t know if it was cold or they couldn’t get to it.”
“The rear end was going all over the place and we had to compensate for that,” O’Sullivan said. “We knew we were slow but people weren’t getting ten seconds on us. It was calculated. It was just a smart move.” It worked. They were building a gap even they were going slow. “Guys would gain four seconds then spin and lose 15 seconds.”
Putnam explained that the effort to minimize problems slowed the crew considerably on Saturday. “We had some time in hand so we weren’t pressing as hard as we could have.”
The times on Saturday’s stages saw O’Sullivan and Putnam as far back as eighth fastest on SS12 and SS18 where they were usually among the three fastest on Friday. The worst times were on the Super Special spectator stages 13 and 15 where the runs were shorter and the turns were quicker. O’Sullivan was driving to preserve a substantial lead and not risk losing everything with the wrong move hampered by a balky balljoint.
There’s another important factor for this “new” Subaru. This is only the fifth event for the car including the round where they rolled it last year in Oregon. You could argue this is still a new machine.
“This is a special event,” O’Sullivan said. “Sno*Drift is real easy on the car because it’s sliding around and the speeds are relatively slow. The car will get a makeover now and we’ll have it ready to go with the upcoming gravel season.”
Second in Super Production was 2009 2WD champion Dillon Van Way who stepped up to the faster SP cars late last season even winning the category at the 2013 final round at Lake Superior Performance Rally. But not this weekend. Van Way and co-driver Andrew Edwards were in a 2013 Subaru WRX STI serviced by Vermont Sports Car, the same team that runs the factory supported program led by David Higgins and Craig Drew. Van Way has run his own program until late last season. He ran this Subaru at the Ojibwe Rally, LSPR and the Tall Pines rally in Canada last year. This weekend he took it to fourth overall 2m23.5secs short of O’Sullivan and Putnam when the separation Saturday morning was only about 1m30s. It’ll be a great season in the category.
Also in the Super Production battle this year is 2013 Rookie of the Year Nick Roberts who ran with Rhianon Gelsomino at Sno*Drift. This weekend Roberts and Gelsomino put their 2013 Subaru WRX STI into sixth overall and third in SP 1m53.2s in back of Van Way and Edwards.
The Super Production battle this season will also include 2013 champion David Sterckx and co-driver Karen Jankowski who went out Friday night. It was originally reported it was with electrical problems but while the lights were flickering Sterckx went off and hit a tree branch. He was able to continue and get points Saturday under special SuperRally rules.
“This tells you there are four really fast guys in Super Production and they all got to the finish with points this weekend,” O’Sullivan explained. “Nobody’s gained a lot of points on anyone. It makes for a pretty exciting championship.
“Scott’s from Minnesota and I’m from California,” O’Sullivan said with a smile, “so everyone’s always said a California guy wouldn’t do well back here at Sno*Drift. I’m glad to represent and come out on top.”
In all, a successful start to the American rally season for O’Sullivan and Putnam. The next event is the tricky fast Rally in the 100 Acre Wood, February 21 – 22 in Salem, Missouri.
by Bill Wood
2012 Super Production champions Lauchlin O’Sullivan and co-driver Scott Putnam had a 2013 season to forget. And after Day One at the 2014 season opener at the Sno*Drift Rally in Central Michigan, forgetting 2013 is getting easier and easier.
O’Sullivan and Putnam in their 2008 Subaru WRX STI are fighting snow, ice and a balky car to move to a more than 1:30 minute lead over Dillon Van Way and co-driver Andrew Edwards in a 2013 Subaru WRX STI. Van Way is the latest winner in the Super Production category but that was last fall at the Lake Superior Performance Rally where he also finished on the Podium in that event.
A key challenger in the competition had electrical problems and missed the Friday night stages. 2013 Super Production champions David Sterckx and co-driver Karen Jankowski left service but had to return after SS6 when they had problems with the lighting system on their 2011 Subaru WRX STI. They’ll continue Saturday under what’s called SuperRally rules that give competitors a chance to continue after problems but with considerable time penalties on their scores. The Sterckx and Jankowski departure opened the gap between O’Sullivan/Putnam and Van Way/Edwards.
This weekend, however, it’s O’Sullivan that are having the good run after nine of 20 special stages in the Sno*Drift Rally. Earlier Friday afternoon, however, O’Sullivan and Putnam were fighting a pushing condition in their Subaru. In short, the car didn’t want to turn and, on icy snow covered roads, that’s a dangerous condition.
“It was just a big sheet of ice down the center of the road,” he said Friday afternoon. O’Sullivan and Putnam started fourth on the road Friday and moved up to third when another competitor spun into a snow bank and couldn’t continue.
“Big time push,” O’Sullivan said. “We need to find some oversteer.”
He said the car is supposed to turn with the front end and the rear end is supposed to follow. When the rear end doesn’t follow that’s called understeer or push. The rear end is pushing the front end off the road.
The team’s service crew made changes that included raising the rear of the car to help with weight transfer during a turn. That helped considerably on the Friday night stages.
“The suspension changes on the back helped quite a bit. They probably helped 30 percent so the car is much more comfortable. But there’s still a lot of handbrake necessary to get the car around some of the tight corners.”
“We feel we’re going slower than pond water,” Putnam said. “We just have to keep from making mistakes. We’ve had no mechanical issues other than the handling.”
“We’re pretty happy for the most part. If we get too aggressive we start to slam into snow banks. We have to keep a steady pace tomorrow.”
O’Sullivan said Sno*Drift exaggerates the problems with the suspension. He said it shouldn’t be so pronounced on gravel roads upcoming on future events. But it’ll have to be corrected certainly before the next event, the high-speed 100 Acre Wood Rally in Missouri next month.
A forecast of up to three inches of snow in Central Michigan Friday night should cover some of the icy stages and that might provide some traction over the polished ice on the roads Friday night. Snow has more grip than glare ice.
How does O’Sullivan relax for the eleven stages on Saturday?
“I don’t do much,” O’Sullivan said. “I try to settle in, talk my wife and baby, get as much sleep as possible and go at it again tomorrow.”
There’ll be about ten or twelve hours to sleep tonight before the car must be in what’s called a Parc Expose. That’s sort of a car show for spectators but the crews can’t work on the cars during this period. That starts at 8:30 in the morning. The first car is scheduled to start the first special stage Saturday morning at 10:18 am.
When Rally America returns to the pine-filled forests of northern Minnesota for the Ojibwe Forests Rally, it’s pretty safe to say no one will be happier than Lauchlin O’Sullivan, driver of the Lucas Oil, Wolf LED-sponsored Super Production Subaru WRX STi, and his co-driver and team owner, Scott Putnam.
For Putnam, it’s a chance to compete on the national stage in his home state once again. And for both guys, it will be the culmination of a huge effort to rally back to the series with a rebuilt car after a rollover at the Oregon Trail Rally.
That story is an interesting one, and worth telling here.
It’s all about the Gs baby. No, we’re not talking about the rap song by Big Bang. We’re talking about the measurement of gravitational forces acting on objects such as the human body.
At launch for example, the Space Shuttle astronauts experienced 1.7 Gs.
In a rally car rollover, such as the one Lauchlin O’Sullivan and Scott Putnam endured at the Oregon Trail Rally, they experienced 2 Gs, and for a brief time, exponentially more than that.
There is in fact a mathematical formula to measure this combo platter of G-forces, kinetic energy and violent speed changes the two Rally America competitors and their Subaru were subjected to.
Notice the difference in how these cars come through this particular corner. Subaru’s David Higgins comes through cleanly, we have a flat on the passenger side rear which causes our car to be very loose. The flat tire shredding is what is tearing the bumper skin off.