Posted Saturday, January 25, 2014 at 6:01am
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.