One of the great things about Morrie’s Automotive Group is that we have a a wide range of truly interesting and amazing sales consultants. Amongst the large percentage of our staff could be considered genuine “car people” with petrol pumping through their veins, we have a handful that are heavily involved in motorsports as well. For instance, Scott Putnam, our fleet sales manager at Morrie’s Minnetonka Subaru is also a co-driver with Lauchlin O’Sullivan. Together, they are 2-time national Rally America Super Production champions, having won in 2012 and again in 2015. Scott has been co-driving in various rally cars with his CPD Racing team for over a decade and living the old adage “Race on Sunday, Sell on Monday.”
With Morrie’s Minnetonka Subaru sponsoring the #90 CPD Racing 2010 Subaru WRX STI for the 2016 Rally America season, Joseph (video lead for Morrie’s Auto Group) and Alex (a content specialist for the group) flew out to Traverse City, Michigan for Sno*Drift Rally, the first round of the 2016 Rally America championship. Because rally races such as these predominantly take place on public roads that are closed for the day of the rally, most of these events happen in small towns and are spread out across the community in a number of stages. Sno*Drift consists of 17 stages, most of which take place in the forests surrounding the picturesque town of Atlanta, Michigan.
We met up with Scott and Lauchlin at a workshop just outside of Atlanta where the car was undergoing some shakedown and testing runs on some private land. “Whiskers”, the crew chief for the team, would send Lauchlin out on different sets of snow and ice tires to get a sense of which tires they’d want to use on the snow and ice-covered logging roads the following afternoon. After 4 or 5 laps of their own little test track, a decision was made to run on a special set of snow tires. These tires are much, much softer and therefore are able to provide grip on glare ice. With a tire decision made, the crew finished up the last few set-up changes and we went back to the hotel to rest up for race day.
After a few more practice runs the next morning, the team brought the car out to Parc Expose in the heart of Atlanta so fans could meet the drivers and co-drivers and check out the cars up close. 42 cars were on display along the banks of a picturesque, but frozen over, lake. Red bull sponsored the event and had a massive truck on hand with a DJ in the back to pump out tunes for the fans while a few backpack-clad women handed out free cans of the energy drink. All in all, it was a great event for the fans and we enjoyed the opportunity to talk with some of the other teams and check out their cars. While the majority of the field was made up of Subarus in various shapes, sizes, and years, we also saw a handful of Ford Fiestas, some old Vokswagen Golfs, a new Toyota RAV4, a Honda CR-Z, and even some muscle cars. Having won the Super Production championship twice and finishing 2nd overall just behind the Subaru factory team last year, Lauchlin and Scott were fan favorites and most people were betting on the #90 CPD Racing team to win this weekend. Because of that, CPD Racing would be leading the rest of the pack out on the first stage so we had to leave Parc Expose early to make sure we got to the first spectator area in time to see Scott and Lauchlin go by.
Each stage has a designated spectator area to keep fans safe since most of the time, the rally cars go sliding through the corners quickly, just barely on the edge of control. These spectator areas also usually coincide with some of the most exciting turns on the stage and give the drivers a good spot to show off a bit for fans. Unlike going to a race track to watch a race, most rally fans will only get to see each car go by once and in terms of getting any useful photos or video footage, there’s really only about a 5-10 second window to see each car before it goes scurrying off down the road, kicking up rooster tails of snow and mud as it passes. Although the weather was unseasonably warm for this time of year in northern Michigan, we were still surprised to see just how many fans and spectators there were at each stage doing a mix of drinking, grilling, and cheering on the cars.
Throughout the first day of the rally, Lauchlin and Scott were clearly dominating the rally. Although each car starts the stage in one minute intervals, it didn’t take long for CPD Racing to build up a healthy lead – almost 5 minutes over the nearest competitor – after the first day’s stages. After arriving at the service area halfway through the first day, it seemed Lauchlin was very happy with the car and their pace. Scott was just glad Lauchlin had driven smoothly and kept the car out of the snowbanks and ditches so far. While they took a quick breather before the night stages, the crew hurriedly mounted a set of ice tires, checked all the fluids, and removed the packed snow and ice from the wheel wells and underside of the car. Again, we left service early to get out to another stage to try to see the car race by and under the light of the moon and stars, we saw Lauchlin gracefully slide the car through a tight left-hand bend, carefully avoiding the telephone pole and fence hidden within the snowbank at the exit of the turn, and rocket off into the inky darkness just a split second later.
The next morning, we packed up a little earlier and headed out to a big gravel pit to watch the first of the day’s special stages. This gravel pit had more of a clearly defined course that each car would race through twice. Again, Lauchlin drove carefully, avoiding the hay bales and snow banks that could easily suck in a wheel or two and slow the car down. The car’s tight lines and finesse around the course weren’t as flashy or exciting as some of the other cars, but raw speed is rarely shown in extravagant ways.
After the first three stages of the day, CPD Racing still carried a significant four minute lead before heading back out into the forests. Unfortunately, that’s when things took a turn for the worse. On the 13th stage of the rally, the car hit an unaccounted for patch of ice on the exit of a corner and spun nose-first into a snowbank. The Subaru was immediately stuck and after a failed attempt to dig the car out, a competitor stopped and snapped their tow strap trying to unstick the car. Eventually, another competitor stopped and was able to free the #90 car but their chance at an overall win were all but dashed.
Getting underway again, Scott realized that while trying to dig the car out, he’d badly sliced his finger open. With blood quickly covering his racing suit and stage notes, he had no choice but to direct Lauchlin with hand signals, spraying blood around the cockpit in the process. They finished the stage four and a half minutes behind the leader in 7th place and an on-site medic wrapped up Scott’s finger for the time being. Not wanting to drop out of the rally, the team pushed on, clawing back time stage after stage. During the last four stages, Lauchlin made a harrowing run and setting the fastest time in each. They made up two of their lost positions to finish 5th overall and 2nd in Super Production class. The celebration was short-lived however as Scott was quickly rushed to the hospital to receive six stitches in his finger. Lauchlin was solemn about the results but acknowledged that mistakes happen and that all it takes is one to ruin a rally. Despite leading 15 of the 17 stages of the rally, they wouldn’t go home as winners.
The team is looking forward to the next rally – 100 Acre Wood – near Salem Missouri on March 18th. And as usual, Scott was back at work on Monday, happily selling cars just like the one he raced just days earlier.