Posted Sunday, January 26, 2014 at 6:13am

2014 Sno*Drift Rally – Saturday Update

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.