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Tom's Hardware Talks To Champion Rally Drivers About Technology

Lucas Oil-Wolf LED Rally Team Driver: Lauchlin O’Sullivan

With their finish at the Olympus Rally, Lauchlin O'Sullivan and co-driver Scott Putnam locked in a 2012 Super Production Class title.

Tom's Hardware: New driver assist technologies, such as lane departure, braking, and active park assist are becoming more mainstream and accessible. As a "driver's" driver, how do you feel about these high-tech nannies?

Lauchlin O’Sullivan: Yeah, there are some incredible driver aids coming out at this time. In addition to the ones you mentioned, I've been testing night vision, cruise control stop-go, and assisted braking. But the key word, I believe, is aid. I’m a bit worried that people are going to be in their car, in the driver's seat, but not actually driving. Way into the future, yes, cars will drive themselves. But until then, the driver should be alert and engaged. As long as drivers are driving and not texting, and we all still know how to park our cars, then I’m all for new advances.

Tom's Hardware: Would you trust those technologies to keep your vehicle in control over your own driving capabilities?

Lauchlin O’Sullivan: Many of these technologies don’t translate well into the sport of rallying. Unlike road racing, rallying is on a loose surface. Many driver aids assume you want the car to stay in control, without slipping or drifting. Even though ABS can do an extremely good job, a professional driver will still out-brake an ABS system. Depending on the surface, you may want to build up a bit of gravel or snow in front of the tire to slow you quicker through locking up the wheel. Also, because surfaces change all of the time within the same racing mile, a good way to test the new surface is to find at what point the tires lock up. Then you know your maximum braking up until the surface changes again. Do I like new technologies on my regular ride though? Of course.

Lauchlin O'Sullivan (left) and co-driver Scott Putnam (right)

Tom's Hardware: Technology takes so many different forms, and GPS, communications, data acquisition, and even mechanical design can also be tech-oriented. Can you walk us through some of the tools you use to help you do what you love even better?

Lauchlin O’Sullivan: I’ve been in the sport more than 20 years, and it’s incredible how far we have come. Even though I’m in a stock vehicle and class, we are able to still use new technologies that are now the norm. We are allowed to piggyback a tuning module to give us more control (and feedback information) over our tune. Of course, this gives us more power and torque over the factory tune. Also, this allows us to use an anti-lag system, which overcomes turbo lag by dumping fuel into the engine, even when your foot is off the accelerator. So, when we get back on the gas, the turbo is already spooled up, giving us the immediate power we need to get through the next corner.

We also get to play with launch control, which gets us off of the start line at maximum speed, and with grip. In our class, we have to use the stock transmissions. The Open class gets to use sequential and dog box transmissions, which I have used in the past. They shift much faster and, even more important, allow you to left-foot brake without needing to dance too much on the pedals. You don't need to engage the clutch when you down-shift, leaving your left foot free to work the brake. We are allowed to use an active center differential, however, if the car is originally sold with it. This ACD collects inputs from various sensors telling it if a wheel is slipping, adjusting from full open to full lock very quickly, depending on what's needed. That's quite helpful on loose surface. We are also able to program it depending on the surface, and we can switch on the fly. These rally cars are quite advanced, with many trick devices that have been used on very high-end sports cars. The rallying/racing community trickles them down to more accessible mainstream cars.

Tom's Hardware: We do a lot of performance testing with some of the racing games out there like DiRT and F1. Do the physics and handling characteristics of the most popular game titles come anywhere close to what you experience behind the wheel?

Lauchlin O’Sullivan: There are some great driving games out there, but I have yet to experience a title that gives you that same feeling of flying through the forests with a proper navigator at your side. They sure are fun, though.

Tom's Hardware: Are you a gamer yourself? If so, what are you playing?

Lauchlin O’Sullivan: Not much. I have fun with games over a buddy’s house, for example. But with the arrival of the new baby, there's not much gaming time left on the schedule.

Tom's Hardware: What pieces of technology do you have on you at all times?

Lauchlin O’Sullivan: My iPhone.

Tom's Hardware: What's your daily driver?

Lauchlin O’Sullivan: With the new baby, we got a black 2011 Audi A3 TDI. It's an awesome car. My work car was given to me when I was a factory driver for Mitsubishi, a Montero sport. It goes without saying that I have much more fun in my rally car!

  • C12Friedman
    Not an article I expected to read at Tom's but an excellent article none the less!
    Nice photography
    Reply
  • amuffin
    Ken Block WR8 FLUX!
    Reply
  • tuanies
    9540426 said:
    Not an article I expected to read at Tom's but an excellent article none the less!
    Nice photography

    We try to spice things up and it was a good and fun opportunity.

    I felt a little inadequate running around with a micro 4/3s camera (Panasonic GH2) and a couple primes (Olympus 45mm & Panasonic 25mm) while everyone had D800s, but quite happy with the photo results.

    9540427 said:
    What?! No Bill Caswell?

    He wasn't at the Olympus Rally.
    Reply
  • tiret
    Quote: "Rally Enthusiasts Are A Lot Like PC Enthusiasts..."

    as these rally enthusiasts are all apple fan boys and Toms regulars are mostly not, I'm not so sure about that sentiment.

    good article though.
    Reply
  • Yuka
    Nice, nice, nice, nice.

    Kudos, Toms!

    Cheers!
    Reply
  • Ken Block a rally driver? LOL. Take a look at his WRC competition record and have a laugh. He should stick to making videos that wow the masses sheeple who don't know that real drivers have no need for such spectacles.
    Reply
  • Wisecracker
    The quality of **stuff** available these days to racers at all types of levels and skills is amazing.

    Even better: You can race anything anyhow around where I live. Most places have renegade classes, too, with claim rules to keep folks honest :)

    I do miss the old-style hill climbs (hint-hint game devs ...). Too much tech, maybe?


    Reply
  • RodolfoKSP
    What about the game Richard Burns, how could you not mention?! Are you being payed to mention Dirt and F1. F1 and why not iRacing?
    Reply
  • tuanies
    9540435 said:
    What about the game Richard Burns, how could you not mention?! Are you being payed to mention Dirt and F1. F1 and why not iRacing?

    Because Richard Burns Rally was last released in 2004, and Dirt and F1 are have more recent releases. And no we're not getting payed to mention Dirt or F1, they're just two recent racing games we at Tom's Hardware quite enjoy. Nothing against iRacing, its really cool and all but not as recognizable to the average PC gamer.
    Reply
  • tuanies
    9540434 said:
    The quality of **stuff** available these days to racers at all types of levels and skills is amazing.

    Even better: You can race anything anyhow around where I live. Most places have renegade classes, too, with claim rules to keep folks honest :)

    I do miss the old-style hill climbs (hint-hint game devs ...). Too much tech, maybe?

    Call me crazy, but I would love to rally a manual Subaru Justy 4WD for shits and giggles.
    Reply