Land Rover is getting back into off-road motorsport with the launch of the Defender Challenge, using Defender 90s competition-prepared by Bowler Motorsport.
The series, which kicks off in 2022, will see competitors compete in seven rounds, from gravel rallies to off-road hillrallies in the UK, and can be a stepping-stone to bigger events around the world.
The Land Rovers – all P300 Defender 90s – will be standard models which will be stripped down, all superfluous kit removed and then built-up in rally spec. This includes a full internal roll cage, bucket seats and harnesses, and fire suppression equipment, but other changes have been made too.
As the Land Rovers will need to deal with a variety of terrain, including rocks, a substantial under-tray skid plate has been fitted, which wraps around under the sills. The lower edge of the doors – which normally wrap under the vehicle – have been removed to accommodate this, but crucially for a bit of comfort, the door seals have been retained.
The two auxiliary radiators have been removed. ‘We don’t need these Defenders to be able to tow 3.5-tonnes and the radiators were in a vulnerable position when it comes to rallying,’ explains Adrian Gregory, Bowler’s lead engineer – and the reworked grille means there is increased air-flow through the standard radiator.
The spare wheel has been removed from the rear door and attached to the roll cage inside, to reduce strain on the door and hinges, while a standard Land Rover accessory raised air intake helps draw in clean air. Additional bonnet-mounted washer jets will help keep the screen clean.
The engine and gearbox are standard, using the 300PS (296bhp) 4-cylinder petrol engine, but a turret brace – which bolts to the roll cage – brings additional stiffness to the body. The roll cage itself is fitted as close as possible to the contours of the Defender to maximise protection and room inside the vehicle. ‘If you have a falling out with the navigator, you can still be in your own space,’ laughs Dave Marsh, Bowler’s test driver and head of motorsport.
The curt-down dashboard has been re-worked to ensure everything is in reach – and it even retains the air conditioning, which will be handy for warmer climates.
The smaller steering wheel hides a paddle shifter for the 8-speed automatic gearbox – unlike the steering wheel mounted ones fitted on the V8 Defender models, the single paddle is mounted in a fixed position to the side of the steering wheel and can be configured for the driver.
The suspension has been upgraded with coil-over Fox Racing dampers. The Defenders leave the production line as coil-sprung models, but the factory units are removed and replaced with the Fox dampers. Additional bracing is given to the subframes to handle the abuse the vehicles will inevitably get, and the Defender will run at 25mm higher than off-road height.
18-inch Bowler wheels are fitted with 265/60 R18 BFGoodrich All Terrain KO2 tyres, giving strength and durability.
'The principle of this was: "how little do we have to do to the car to make it an exciting entry-level competition vehicle, that will still give us the safety and regulatory compliance and give us the engaging side of competition", but looking for a wide range of competition capabilities,' explains Calum Mckechnie, Bowler's general manager, 'people coming in who have never raced before will still feel at home in the series as some of our existing customers who have been off racing Bulldogs and stuff. Yes, they’ll perform at different levels but the car is still capable of supporting the high-end experienced person, as well as the first-timers.'
The Bowler Defenders first outing will be at the Iceland hill rally on 6-8 August and they will also be at a few more events through 2021.
The Defender Challenge will start in March 2022 and will consist of seven rounds at different venues around the UK, with up to 12 Bowler Defenders competing. Packages start at £99,500 which includes a Bowler-prepared Defender Challenge car, entry into the 2022 series and event support
Further information on the Bowler Defender Challenge can be found at bowlermotors.com