Posted Sunday, March 18, 2012 at 2:29am

O’Sullivan & Putnam move back into the limelight

The team moves into a tie for the Super Production Championship

At this time of the college basketball year, everyone is aware of a team that started the season poorly, made some corrections in playing style, then started winning. Their record may not be great but they’re strong and able to win at whatever they go after.

That’s the best way to describe the rally team of Lauchlin O’Sullivan and co-driver Scott Putnam. They both have success in their past. O’Sullivan was the 2002 U.S. 2WD rally champion. Putnam is a veteran co-driver who’s been trained by World Champions and led teams to numerous wins. In 2002 he co-drove for a driver who became Rookie of the Year in American rallying.

That brings us to the second event in the 2012 American rally championship, Rally in the 100 Acre Wood based in Salem, Missouri February 24-25.

O’Sullivan and Putnam came to the event with a great team but a troubled car. The car gave them problems at the season opener a month earlier in Michigan. The crew, however, was able to overcome those issues allowing the team to finish second in their Super Production category to last year’s class champions Travis and Terry Hanson.

You see the parallels here? The competition wasn’t worried about O’Sullivan and Putnam yet. The champions were out there ahead of everyone; O’Sullivan and Putnam lost to the Hansons by 15 minutes in Michigan. But not everyone believed in the potential once the car problems were chased down and eliminated.

Starting the 100 Acre Wood Rally those car gremlins were still being chased. The fight saw O’Sullivan start the last two stages .4 seconds behind the Hansons. But at the end they were 43.9 seconds ahead.

Something clicked for O’Sullivan and Putnam over the last two loops of the two-day 100 Acre Wood rally. The team fought minor issues all weekend with their car including engine ignition and tire problems. The biggest problem, though, might have been faulty brakes that were constantly going soft in the middle of the stage. That’s not a good thing on the high speed stages on 100 Acre Wood, considered the fastest in the U.S. rally championship. But those issues apparently were resolved. In the last two loops of stages O’Sullivan and Putnam were faster than their main rivals, The Hansons, on six of the last seven tests finishing third overall in the last four stages ahead of several faster cars including one driven by a former Polish and European rally champion.

“We had a lot of issues with the car especially the brakes'” said Putnam. “We had to replace the calipers and the brake discs.” Bad brakes in a performance contest is bad enough. O’Sullivan said there were several stages where the brakes would disappear altogether and the pair had to compete on high speed roads, some of the fastest in the U.S. championship, with no brakes at all! But everyone was working in the background to resolve these issues. “Once we got those things worked out it was much better,” Putnam continued. “The last two stages we had a proper working car.”

“The last two stages we actually worked out our brake issues,” said O’Sullivan. “The service before that we were able to rid our rough running engine. A fuel injector was bad. So we had a full car again. We were able to put in some good times. We were able to run where we should have been running all day. We were in the top three overall in the last five stages.”

Being in the top three is significant. The only two faster cars were being driven by some of the fastest in the American championship. The eventual winner of the event was World Rally Championship veteran Ken Block who got his sixth victory at 100 Acre Wood. In second was David Higgins who teaches rally driving and won rally championships all over the world including the U.S. last year. Significant for O’Sullivan and Putnam was the presence of their rival team, The Hansons, behind them unable to keep up.

“Fourth overall (and first in class). We really feel good about that,” O’Sullivan said. “I loved the roads. The roads were awesome. They were so much fun.

“Last year we got involved with a car that wasn’t very good. We always finished. But It was a real bad year last year. This year we have a chance to prove we are one of the fastest teams around.” Putnam echoed O’Sullivan’s confidence.

“We had a lot of stuff that was going wrong the last two days but we were able to deal with it,” he said. “I’ve got to say we are pleased with the finish, just to get this far. With Lauchlin we seem to do well in the finishing department. Hopefully we can convince people of that importance.”

Organizing at mid-season for a great run to the finish is what all sports observers look for from a team. Wins are great. Championships are better. That’s the general consensus in sports. O’Sullivan and Putnam are hoping they’re set, now, for that championship run. After two events they’re tied for first in the Super Production points standings. There are only six events in the American championship. Any bad outing has double the pain because there just aren’t enough opportunities in the calendar to make up those lost points in a championship run.

“Lauchlin was driving the car one way for three-quarters of the event then all of a sudden the speeds come up and he had to drive it differently,” Putnam went on. “I think Lauchlin had to change his driving style because of that but you’d have to ask him about that.”

The last few stages went well. What was amazing was that you take an event like Sno*Drift and there wasn’t much attrition. You come up here and people were going out. I’m just pleased. I’m very tired. Now I remember how the fast guys feel!

“I have a lot left in me,” O’Sullivan continued. “Ken Block and I are the same age. He’s running well. And I sure feel that I have a lot more to give. There’s a lot more to be had from me. With a descent car I can make it happen.”

Will they have the decent car before Portland early in May? That’s unclear right now. But there’s time now to work that out. To borrow for another sport, O’Sullivan and Putnam have a bye spot in the calendar to let some fine tuning happen.

“Getting back to the top of the podium is really important especially in the highly competitive Super Production category,” O’Sullivan said. “We’re very fortunate but we worked hard for this and I’m happy.

“That’s the way we roll! A little smack talk is warranted when you win. I guess that’s OK!”