At the start of the Mid-Wales 55-Mile Stages in Newtown, Powys, all the Bowler team wanted was to see all five Land Rovers back safely to the finish. Some of the competitors in the first round of this LRO-supported championship had only collected their Bowler-prepared Defender 90s in the days before the event, with drivers that had never set foot on a rally stage, and co-drivers who’d never used a rally tripmeter before. As learning curves go, it would be a steep and slippery one for them.
Lining-up in torrential rain were experienced rally men Edd Cobley and Allan Jackson in car number 301, Richard Hayward/Matt Lister in no.302 (the actual 90 that features on our April 2014 issue cover), ex-Camel Trophy contestant Damien Taft with cousin Simon making his navigator debut in no.303, Stephen Richards/Kevin Handley in no.304 and Andrew Wicklow/Simon Armstrong in no.305.
After the first two stages at Pikes Peak and Myherin, everyone was buzzing with excitement as they came in to the Sweet Lamb service area, where keen spectators included Top Gear presenter Richard Hammond. Damien Taft told us: ‘It’s awesome, a total adrenaline rush. I think I held my breath throughout all of the first stage!’
Cobley and Jackson’s experience showed, being more than four minutes faster than the others over the first two stages, although they had some ‘navigation issues’ approaching a couple of hairpins in sixth gear. Edd was working the brakes hardest too: ‘It’s smiles all the way from me,’ he said. ‘It’s fun catching some of the Mk2 Ford Escorts I tell you!’
Two stages at Sweet Lamb and Hafren followed, but Richard Hayward/Matt Lister had an off near the end of the Hafren South stage and parked their 90 in a ditch against a tree. Although the crew was unharmed, the Defender suffered a dented front wing, smashed alpine light and transmission damage. It looked like they’d have to start the final stage without a fully-functioning clutch, but the time lost getting out of the ditch meant they were over their time allocation and weren’t allowed to continue the rally.
At the finish, Cobley and Jackson were almost 12 minutes clear of the Tafts in second-place, with Andrew Wicklow/Simon Armstrong less than a minute further back in third. Edd Cobley was delighted with the result: ‘There were a few interesting moments on some of the hairpins but we had a really good day. I think we surprised a fair few people by nipping at people’s heels on the stage. In these wet conditions the Defender was in its element.’
Defender Challenge by Bowler – round 1
Mid-Wales 55-Mile Stages
1 Edd Cobley/Allan Jackson – 66min 16.5sec
2 Damien Taft/Simon Taft – 78min 13.5sec
3 Andrew Wicklow/Simon Armstrong – 79min 5.9sec
4 Stephen Richards/Kevin Handley – 96min 58.9sec
5 Richard Hayward/Matt Lister – DNF
Full results Defender Challenge by Bowler.