Posted Thursday, September 27, 2012 at 2:37am

Olympus Rally

Ending a Championship Season

A decade ago Lauchlin O’Sullivan was the best 2WD, production-based rally driver in America. That includes the 2002 Group 2 title in the SCCA Pro Rally series. Last weekend at the Rally America season ending Olympus Rally in Washington, O’Sullivan returned to the top spot on the Podium with enough points to claim the 2012 American Super Production title with co-driver Scott Putnam.

Actually the championship moment came halfway through Olympus when the closest competitors, second place rivals David Sterckx and co-driver Karen Jankowski rolled their car on SS3 and failed to finish Olympus. There was no champagne popping, no yelps of happiness and no hugs and grins. That was SS3. There was still a rally to run and winners don’t stop until they’ve won or can’t continue trying.

“It’s pretty wonderful,” O’Sullivan said after the rally. “It’s one of the things we planned on doing when we got here.” Rally competitors can be pretty focused during an event.

“This was the first event in a couple of years that there were no major mechanical issues or dramas, which was very nice,” said co-driver Putnam. “Everything was there. Brakes, turbos, headgaskets and suspension were all there and contributing to the effort. All we had to do was race.”

With early season wins at the 100 Acre Wood Rally in Missouri and the Susquehannock Trail Rally in Pennsylvania, O’Sullivan and Putnam only needed to start the Olympus Rally to gain at least a tie for the 2012 championship. But when Sterckx and Jankowski had their problem, nothing was in the way of the championship.

“It’s been a lot of work over the year,” Putnam said during the lengthy break Saturday afternoon. “It feels good. It’ll make me sleep a little better eventually!”

Dry conditions in the region south of Puget Sound near Olympia, Washington forced rally organizers to institute a crazy schedule for the weekend. There were four stages early morning Saturday followed by an eight hour break before another five stages Saturday night. There was one closing stage Sunday morning, actually a repeat of the 20.01 mile SS4 run Saturday morning. This was done to control access to the forest roads during a time of high fire danger midday.

The real blaze, though, actually came from O’Sullivan and Putnam who were fourth overall and first in the Super Production category Saturday during the lengthy break. However, solidifying the championship Saturday morning didn’t damper their resolve the Saturday night. During the night stages, the team grew their category lead over Byron Garth and co-driver Chrissie Beavis from 40 secs to 2:41.5.

“This was the only event in seven years in which I told Lauchlin to slow down,” Putnam said later. “There was a section on the SS6 Taylor Towne stage that was suffering from an extreme case of hanging dust where you couldn’t see 10 feet in front of the car. There we were barreling along and I had visions of finding something in the dust, kinda like we found the rock in Maine. Hence the ‘Slow Down.’ Did he? It didn’t seem like it.”

Championship drivers generally know only a championship speed.

“We still have a couple more things we wanted to do when we got here,” O’Sullivan said before Sunday’s final stage. “We needed to be clean and safe but we’re still learning the car. We weren’t taking much risk at all.”

SS4 and SS10, Nahwatzel 1 & 2, was a 20 miler that fit O’Sullivan’s tastes, evidently. He drove to third overall on the stage Saturday morning beating several of the more developed, faster Open category cars and drivers in the process.

“Things were ramping up the correct way,” O’Sullivan continued. “The car has so much more in it. In the beginning I was overdriving the car being too aggressive with it. With the Mitsubishi (the car they used during the season) you had to drive it that way. There’s a different driving style with the Subaru (the car they used at Olympus).”

Those who were cheering for O’Sullivan and Putnam all season were almost as frustrated as they were at the continued car problems that plagued them all year. They’d approach turns at great speed only to find there were no brakes. The turbo failed several times. There were overheating issues on several events. But the perseverance of the team and the hard work of its supporting crew during service breaks kept them in events to keep earning points toward the championship. Putnam hinted many of those problems will go away next year when the team tries to defend this title.

“What are we going to be running next year?? It’s White, not a Mitsubishi and it will lead an exciting life. That’s all for now.”

Does the tenth anniversary of his first national driver’s championship have any resonance for O’Sullivan after Olympus?

“We feel we’ve got it. Put us in a proper car and we feel we can go places,” he said with a driver’s smile. “We seem to overcome the tiny things like no brakes. It’s not an issue.” It must not be. O’Sullivan and Putnam battled through myriad problems all season to earn the Super Production title.

“We wouldn’t be here without Lucas Oil,” Putnam added. “Several times during the course of the season I would be randomly stopped by people while wearing my Lucas Oil Motorsports t-shirt. After being asked if I worked for Lucas Oil, I was usually told that ‘I have used Lucas Oil products for years and swear by it.'”

Winning a championship isn’t easy. Overcoming car problems, road problems, rally conditions and competitor challenges are all necessary to get a title. Winning one in the highly competitive Super Production category is even more difficult. You can’t buy your way into a title with more money and resources. To paraphrase the old television commercial, you have to earn a championship. And O’Sullivan and Putnam earned this one.

Winning in the Super Production category demands focus and commitment. Their championship proves that O’Sullivan and Putnam share more than a sponsor/team relationship with Lucas Oil. They share the company slogan: They both work.