A record nine Bowler Motorsport-built Land Rover Defender 90s lined up at the Somerset Stages Rally in Minehead for the first round of the 2015 Defender Challenge, as 2014 driver’s champion Edd Cobley set about defending his title.
As if rally-prepared Land Rovers mixing it with World Rally Championship refugee Subarus, Mitsubishis and Fords isn’t unusual enough, Bowler’s brace of rally raid support trucks gave an especially surreal and spectacular vista at the seafront service area (right opposite ice cream parlours and amusement arcades).
After 11 challenging stages through Exmoor National Park, from the tarmac of Porlock Hill to the dusty gravel tracks in woods around Dunster and Luxborough, all of the Defenders returned to Minehead in one piece at the end of the day. With more than two-thirds of the field returning from 2014, you’d have expected those guys to dominate the sharp end. But championship newcomers pushed the more experienced crews hard.
Making his Somerset Stages debut, Land Rover Experience East of England instructor and LRO off-road expert Edd Cobley posted fastest times on every stage, co-driven by John Tomley, but debutants Gareth Carruthers/Wallace McKay in the Land Rover Media 90 were less than a handful of seconds slower on five stages. The pair’s hillrally experience (Gareth is a previous winner of both Scottish and Northern Ireland Hillrally championships) clearly paid dividends.
Northern Ireland Racing’s David Johnston/Joseph Monaghan, who won the 2014 Cambrian Rally encounter but spectacularly rolled their 90 at the season-closing Borders Hillrally, were quick too, so even a relatively slow fourth-fastest run through the long SS6 Croydon stage couldn’t keep them off the podium.
Series newcomers Brian Palmer/Calum MacPhail posted a terrific third fastest time on SS6, and ended the event in fourth, just 28 seconds behind Johnston/Monaghan. That’s a brilliant result, especially bearing in mind Palmer’s previous motorsport weapon was a very un-Land Rover-like Caterham 7.
Team Harford’s Jonathan Harford co-drove in 2014, including for Cobley, but stepped up to driver duties in the 2014 championship-winning 90 in Somerset. Fifth for him and first-time Defender Challenge co-driver John Boughton was well-deserved.
Uncharacteristically low down the order in sixth was the Taft Motorsport crew of ex-Camel Trophy competitor Damien Taft and his cousin Simon. They enjoyed two second places and two thirds in 2014, but also put their 90 on its side in the last two rounds of the season. Damien was raving about the new steering box in their Defender before the Somerset event got underway, but just getting to the finish in one piece was an important step towards rebuilding their confidence on the stages. Their pace will return, we’re sure of that.
The Defender Challenge’s first international team, Christian Femont and Peter Janssen, originally from Belgium, would have finished ahead of the Tafts, and Land Rover engineers Lynfel Owen and David Harlow, but a one-minute time penalty for checking in to a time control too early cost them two places.
Edd Cobley is having his own Defender 90 built for the rest of the season, sponsored by Sturgess Motor Group of Leicester, but although the Somerset result will count towards his driver’s championship scores, the win also gifts team points to Team Richards (Stephen Richards/Kevin Handley), who usually drive the 90.
Defender Challenge by Bowler – Round 1
Somerset Stages Rally, Minehead, April 18
1 Edd Cobley/John Tomley, 51min 43sec
2 Gareth Carruthers/Wallace McKay, 53min 25sec
3 David Johnston/Joseph Monaghan, 54min 55sec
4 Brian Palmer/Calum MacPhail, 55min 23sec
5 Jonathan Harford/John Boughton, 56min 41sec
6 Damien Taft/Simon Taft, 57min 40sec
7 Lynfel Owen/David Harlow, 57min 55sec
8 Christian Femont/Peter Janssen, 58min 28sec (1min penalty)
9 Richard Hayward/Matt Lister, 1hr 3min 24sec
Team championship standings: 1st, Richards; 2nd, LR Media; 3rd, Northern Ireland Racing; 4th, Palmer; 5th, Harford; 6th, Taft; 7th, The Defenderists; 8th, Femont; 9th, Hayward
May 2-3: Welsh Hillrally, Sweet Lamb Motorsports Complex, Llangurig, Powys, SY18 6SY (welshhillrally.com)
Land Rover Owner International is proud to be the official media partner of the 2015 Defender Challenge by Bowler. For more details on the championship see: bowlermotorsport.com