Stage 1 spelled early disaster for Damien and Simon Taft, when a brief mistake on the first left-hander sent their Bowler 90 onto its side. ‘I was egging him on,’ admitted Simon. ‘I said there was a corner, but I didn’t say it was a 90 left.’ The Tafts TDCi engine suffered, and ran on three cylinders until Stage 9 the following day, scoring them default times up to that point, and giving the pair an understandably stormy atmosphere. ‘The engine had over-run, so the oil had probably got where it shouldn’t have. We think the DPF will have been blocked up, and it just took a lot of temperature to clear it. I was on a bit of a downer to be honest,’ Damien admitted afterwards. ‘I was really looking forward this event. It’s very rough out there, but I like it this way. It’s what I’m used to.’ The early mishap knocked them back to sixth among the Bowler 90s, but it wasn’t enough to knock them off the final podium, and the Tafts still earned enough points to secure 3rd place in the championship.
Also bringing home the silver were Race2Recovery’s unflappable duo, Ben Gott and co-driver Stephanie Boddez. Earning second place in the championship with their fifth consecutive second place, they've been the most dependable Defender Challenge team of the season, staying consistently out of trouble, avoiding mechanical failure. How have they done it? ‘Ben’s very fast, but I know he’s also very safe and won’t take unnecessary risks,’ says co-driver Stephanie. ‘I keep telling him that the important thing is just to get to the finish line every time.’ And they did. ‘To be giving that car back at the end of the series in the same condition to how we received it, is something I’m very happy about,’ added Ben.
And yes, taking centre stage on the podium were the blisteringly quick Edd Cobley and co-driver Jonathan Harford. After a problematic Cambrian Rally, when their 90 ended up on its side on Stage 2, this was their decider: Edd had to win to secure overall victory from the clutches of Race2Recovery. Following his usual tactic of going pell-mell in the early stages, building up a lead, then relaxing for the remainder, Edd set an overall time of 2hrs 50mins 18secs, with R2R following 8mins 26secs behind.
‘Mentally I enjoy the first couple of stages, because everyone’s on a more level playing field,’ says Edd, ‘and I always go better in the morning. It was working for me in the morning of the Cambrian Rally, but then I started looking at people’s times, and I’ve never done that before. I did lots of things differently that day - even different boxer shorts – it’s the little things!'
Third place at the weekend went to Land Rover's own team of Lynfel Owen and co-driver Charles Evans.
The prize for best crew was awarded to Steve Richards and Kevin Handley, in recognition of their commitment to every event (and the fact that it’s the car, rather than the driver and co-driver, that scores the points).
Bursting with autumnal colours and soaked from previous rain, the forests of south-west Scotland presented the teams with a blend of smooth gravel tracks and seriously gnarly terrain. This was a proper hillrally, rougher and more punishing than the smoother, faster stage rallies. Deep water presented its own challenges, coming over the bonnet of the 90s in places, and calling for regular emptying of air filter boxes. 'If it wasn't for the Khumo tyres and Bilstein suspension, we'd be in low box for some sections - it really has been that rough,' said Cobley.
Neverhteless, the Bowler 90s survived with relatively few scars until Stage 11, when Cambrian victor David Johnston lost the back end of his 90, and with it, his chance for a top-three finish for this event. The damage was impressive, ripping the rear propshaft out of the diff, but the roll cage remained rock solid and no one was hurt. ‘It was on quite a fast section,' said David. 'We just stuck a wheel too far over to the left, then the right, and we were passengers for a good while. But we’re fine. A bit gutted though, because we were going quite well! We should have started at the beginning of the season rather than the end…’
So what’s next for the Defender Challenge? Man at the top, Drew Bowler, confirmed that the series will be back next year, probably taking place over seven events again, and running similar 90s to this year. Mark Cameron, Jaguar Land Rover's Global Brand Experience Director, has also confirmed that additional events in Europe are in the pipeline.
Although this weekend’s Borders Hillrally wasn’t open to spectators, many events in the rally calendar are. If you haven’t been before, do give one a try. It’s a great chance to witness some gnarly machinery in action, fill your ears with the thunder of tuned V8s, and to meet the guys and gals who build and race them.
Results for the Defender Challenge by Bowler – Round 7, Borders Hillrally
1 Edd Cobley & Jonathan Harford (Team Harford), 2hrs 50mins 18secs
2 Ben Gott & Stephanie Boddez (Race 2 Recovery), 2hrs 58mins 44secs
3 Lynfel Owen & Charles Evans (Land Rover team), 3hrs 12mins 4secs
4 Henry Catchpole & Jon Chester, 3hrs 20mins 56secs
5 Steve Richards & Kevin Handley, 3hrs 37mins 7secs
6 Damien Taft & Simon Taft, 4hrs 0mins 49secs
Land Rover Owner International is proud to have been the official media partner of the 2014 Defender Challenge by Bowler.