After the wettest winter on record, the sun shone on Minehead for the second round of the Defender Challenge; the one-make rally series created by Bowler Motorsport. This round was bolted on to the 132-mile Betta Somerset Stages Rally.
For three of the teams this was going to be their first event of the series, having missed the Mid-Wales Stages in March – including team 79 from Race 2 Recovery; Dakar veteran Tony Harris, who was due to have Belgian Stephanie Boddez as his co-driver.
Unfortunately, the Belgian motor sports association wouldn’t issue Steph with a competition licence due to her being a double amputee – a stance not shared by the UK MSA – but at the last minute complete novice Richard Mitchell jumped into the fray learning how to read pacenotes at breakfast, with a driver who had never driven the vehicle before.
By the end of the first stage newcomers Robert and Jonathan Harford were in joint first place with team 77, Damien and Simon Taft, but they entered a time control too early, receiving a two-minute penalty. A similar fate would catch out Richard Hayward and Matt Lister on stage six.
Meanwhile Tony and Richard went from strength to strength; despite regularly losing their place in the pacenotes and simply following the dust and arrows, and led the class in all of the final eight stages for an overall win. The Tafts were 26 seconds behind with the Harfords clawing their way back up to third place – they would have won by just five seconds without the time penalty.
All seven Defenders completed the event, testimony to what great vehicles Land Rover and Bowler have built.
Defender Challenge by Bowler – round 2
1 Tony Harris/Richard Mitchell – 59min 44sec
2 Damien Taft/Simon Taft – 1hr 0min 10sec
3 Robert Harford/Jonathan Harford – 1hr 1min 39sec
4 Matt Mills/Jon Chester – 1hr 6min 7sec
5 Simon Armstrong/Aynslie Morrow – 1hr 6min 56sec
6 Richard Hayward/Matt Lister – 1hr 7min 10sec
7 Stephen Richards/Kevin Handley – 1hr 8min 46sec
Full results Defender Challenge by Bowler.