Launch of the Bowler Defender Challenge 2022 | Articles
Land Rovers were never meant to be fast. And they were definitely not meant to be thrown down high-speed forest tracks. But that’s exactly what was happening at the Forest Experience in Mid Wales when crews competing in the 2022 Bowler Defender Challenge got behind the wheel of Defender racers to get a first taste of the vehicles they will be competing with this season. .
Twelve crews will take part in the 7 rounds, over a variety of terrains, from gravel rallies to off-road safaris in modified Land Rover Defender 90s. The P300 models they will race in have rolled off the production line and been transformed into off-road racers by the experts at Bowler Motorsport, now part of Land Rover’s Special Vehicle Operations division.
Changes have been made to the entire vehicle, the most significant being the introduction of a full internal roll cage and bracing that makes the already stiff unibody body even stiffer. Other safety-related changes have been made and vulnerable items – in terms of rallying – like the twin auxiliary radiators and lower door sections have been removed. You can read more about the changes in our October 2021 issue.
And it’s a good thing the changes have been made, as after a safety briefing the first riders got out in the vehicles on the slippery stage of the Welsh Forest Rally. Although it is a practice day, race director Jon Aston runs it like a full competition; Motorsport can be dangerous, as the saying goes.
And after a few races, a message plays on the radio that one of the riders hasn’t passed a marshals checkpoint, so the course is closed and recovery teams and an ambulance are dispatched. One of the drivers misjudged the turn and slid into a tree stump, removing the front bumper and denting the heavy-duty steering guard. It’s a good job that the auxiliary radiator was removed as part of the build – it would have been punctured on impact.
The crew is fine; the Defender is extracted and after a thorough check by Bowler mechanics, is back, although it looks a bit more battle-scarred than it started the day.
“I’ve been interested in motorsport since I was 15 or 16. I used to watch a lot of rallies and then I got more interested in circuit racing and Formula 1, but it’s always been on my to-do list.” Gareth Bent
The crews are made up of two people – driver and navigator – and there is a real mix of experience, from those who have never raced in motorsport, to others who have many rallies under their belt. And there’s a wealth of knowledge at the crew’s fingertips, from Dave Marsh and John Coburn in the driver’s seat and Jon Aston and John Tomley from the navigator’s perspective. And, of course, the mechanics to explain to the crews how to operate the vehicles – if they have a problem on stage, like needing to change a wheel, they will need to know how to do it safely.
They also need to know what to do in the event of an accident or to be the first on the scene of an incident at a scene – and event marshals are roped in to act on what might happen.
Dave Marsh shares wisdom: “A fire extinguisher is only there to buy you time getting out of the vehicle – it is unlikely to put out a burning vehicle.” Get out and move away from the vehicle.
Jon Aston sets the scene with a “crushed” Defender, explaining the roles of the crews. “Once you are sure the vehicle is secure,” the paramedic explains, “if there is still someone in the crashed vehicle, approach them from the front.” If you approach from the side, the occupant may try to turn their head to speak to you, which could aggravate a neck injury. Sound advice that also applies if you are the first on the scene of a traffic accident.
Once the ‘victim’ has been safely extracted, Debbie from Maverick Recovery demonstrates how to recover the Land Rover.
It might seem like a lot of non-racing, but it’s essential for crews to complete the events – everything from kit and transport to road book marking and lines to follow is covered. And the unpredictable Welsh weather makes driving just as unpredictable. Low sun blinds drivers exiting the corners, a light snow shower makes the track even slippery, but not as slippery as the second day of the event, when early morning ice is a factor, thawing to let a muddy surface.
“It’s been a great two days, the customers are having a great time with the car, learning about it.” I think people realize how good and solid the car is. There was quite a steep learning curve for some of them, but they progressed quickly because the car is so good; it’s very controllable, it’s very predictable in its behavior. Calum McKechnie, General Manager, Bowler Motors
Dave Marsh has tried to incorporate a bit of everything into the practice course, with fast sections, tight corners, rocks, water, forest – everything competitors should expect when on the trail. acts to participate in the series. Which is just as well – the first round, a Bowler Defender Challenge-only event, takes place at Walters Arena on March 5-6. And after that they will compete in:
March 26, 2022 North Wales Rally
25-27 May 2022 Welsh Borders Rally
June 18, 2022 Kielder Forest Rally
23-24 September 2022 Trackrod Rally Yorkshire
October 29, 2022 Cambrian Rally
19-20 November 2022 Scottish Hill Rally
So you’ll be able to get around and hopefully see some of the action.
For more details on the Bowler Defender Challenge, check out Bowler’s website.