Posted Wednesday, May 13, 2015 at 9:38pm
2012 Super Production (SP) champions Lauchlin O’Sullivan and co-driver Scott Putnam are overcoming the demons that have plagued them at the Oregon Trail Rally, the longest in the American rally championship.
The team went to Oregon with the idea of finishing and logging points toward a second SP championship in 2015. Instead, they fought car issues again. And, with the help of a crew all-nighter on Saturday that kept their 2009 Lucas Oil/Wolf LED Rally Team Subaru WRX STI working, they won the Super Production category by 15mins48secs over Garry Gill, the SP points leader coming into the event. Gill and co-driver Terry Hanson were in a 2007 Subaru Impreza.
It didn’t hurt that 2013 Rookie of the Year Nick Roberts and co-driver Rhianon Gelsomino, rally leaders going into Sunday’s final six stages, had problems on the 14th of 18 special stages and had to retire. Roberts is considered a challenger for the SP championship with O’Sullivan and Gill.
“It’s not how you want to win,” Putnam said after the Podium celebration. “You don’t want to see someone go down because of mechanical issues. But we’ll take it!” O’Sullivan agreed.
“Definitely different ball game with Nick on the sidelines,” he said after the event. “We experienced the same deal (a Roberts/Gelsomino DNF) in 100 Acre Woods this year and did not take full advantage.” O’Sullivan and Putnam finished second to Gill at the 100 Acre Woods event. “It was great to get our first win, especially on an event that has not been kind to us the last few years.”
O’Sullivan and Putnam have rolled their car in Oregon, blown an engine, suffered through engine fires and more at Oregon Trail. It’s their Achilles Heel in the series.
“The entire race was just finishing,” said Putnam. “Especially considering how unkind it’s been to us in the past. We just wanted to finish. That was our intention all day Sunday.”
“Have to give kudos to our team,” O’Sullivan continued. “Scott called a great rally and the boys stayed up all night fixing our issues after Saturday’s stages. The car worked like clockwork after their all-nighter Saturday night.”
Oregon Trail wouldn’t be Oregon Trail without problems for the O’Sullivan/Putnam team and this 2015 edition was no different. A major problem was a slipping clutch that got worse during the long, fast stages on Saturday. It turned out, however, the problem wasn’t the clutch but a transmission seal that failed allowing transmission oil to cover the clutch with oil.
“Amazing that it lasted all day long, a hearty thanks to (sponsor) Exedy Clutches!” O’Sullivan said. “After a transmission change overnight and suspension tweaks, the car was great to drive and the stages were a blast.”
Putnam agreed the car was flawless on Sunday. “The only thing, it was really hard on tires.” And that could have been a function of the roads. Competitors consider Oregon Trail three events in one. Friday was at the Portland International Raceway where the stages were largely paved or well groomed gravel.
Saturday’s stages were long and extremely fast with top speeds approaching 120 MPH between chicanes designed to slow competitors for safety. Sunday’s six stages were different again with tight, technical stages requiring accurate notes and busy navigation inside the car.
“We could get into an incredible rhythm and do this dance through the woods,” Putnam said after the event. “It was fun.”
Attention now turns to the Olympus Rally in Washington in three weeks. The roads there are different again with mountains, and heavy forests with exposures (dropoffs). Does O’Sullivan feel the team has momentum headed to Olympus?
“I feel great about the event. I love the roads up there, too,” he said.
The Olympus Rally, May 16-17, is the fourth round of the national rally championship. The roads have plenty of “gotcha” or surprise moments for competitors.
The Olympus Rally was part of the first U.S. rally championship held in 1973. It later became a World Rally Championship from 1986-1988. From 2009-2011, the Olympus Rally moved to Ocean Shores, WA on the Olympic Peninsula utilizing scenic coastal stage roads as the only coastal based event in the championship. This year the roads are based around Shelton, Washington at the south end of the Puget Sound.