Known for its combination of long, sweeping tracks and punishing rocks, Walters Arena provided a tough but beautiful venue for the weekend’s drama. Bowler’s 10 Defender Challenge 90s, plus its new V6 development 110, were joined by 16 other off-road competition machines ranging from mechanically standard Freelander 1s to Milner R5s.
Day 1: High spirits and a kaput transmission
The first crunch for the 90s came in Stage 2, when Steve Richards and Kevin Handley clouted a rock on a sharp left-hander, causing a minor off that sadly brought their weekend to a premature end.
But bright sun, minimal mishaps and quickening stage times meant spirits were high during the hours that followed. The Lookers-sponsored 90 of Gareth Carruthers and Wallace McKay suffered a particularly brutal landing on Stage 8, but a thorough inspection from the Bowler crew found absolutely no damage. ‘I’m going too fast,' said Gareth. 'Wallace has got to keep me calm now, but the red mist keeps coming down!’ He proceeded to complete the final stage of the day just three seconds behind 2014 champion Edd Cobley.
After the final stage of the day, Brian Palmer bounced out of his car, declaring it was the best day he’d ever spent in his Bowler 90.
But it wasn’t all good news. The afternoon ended with disaster for Car 9’s Ryan Cooke and co-driver Paul Mansfield, after catastrophic rear diff failure caused a shockwave up the transmission that sheared the intermediate shaft in the transfer box. (The Bowler 90s are running standard diffs).
Bowler’s technicians again demonstrated the spirit of camaraderie and determination that has come to characterize the Defender Challenge. After local Land Rover dealer Likes came to the rescue to supply the required transfer box, they worked into the night to repair the damaged transmission, aided by some of Land Rover’s own apprentices as part of a work experience exchange programme. By 10pm the car ready for the next day's competing.
Day 2: Mud and crumples
Heavy rain overnight turned the dusty gravel of Walters Area into a claggy mud that dripped off the Bowlers on their return from first stages of day 2. Mishaps became increasingly likely in the slippy conditions, with visibility reduced by flinging mud, and the terrain getting more rutted with each vehicle to tear across it.
The drama picked up on Stage 17 when Austrian motoring journalists in Car 27, Peter Schonlaub and Johannes Markhof, had a violent encounter with a tree after locking up on a bend. The buckled bumper was sawn off in the service area, the wing was stretched back into shape with a ratchet strap and patched up with gaffa tape, and the power steering pump – whose belt was damaged by the crumpled wing – was eventually put back in action.
As the technicians worked, Gareth Carruthers rumbled into the service area with two destroyed Copper tyres, which had been peeled from their rims as he slid off the track at speed, and Cobley reported having had one of his closest shaves ever. Dutch competitor Bas van Driel then said he’d passed Belgian competitors Christian Femont and Peter Janssens on their side, pointing the wrong way, having ‘taken out a load of trees.’
The damage was severe and the service area was getting busy, but fortunately the remaining competitors held it together for the final round. Congratulations to Edd Cobley and John Tomley who took home the trophy, with Gareth Carruthers and Wallace McKay coming a close second. In third place was Brian Palmer and Calum MacPhail.
Upcoming Defender Challenge 2015 events
This was the third round of six competitive events at which the Defender Challenge is appearing in 2015. Next up…
September 26: Trackrod Rally, Yorkshire
November 7: Tempest Rally, Hampshire
November 22-23: Borders Hillrally, Dumfries
Land Rover Owner International is proud to be the official media partner of the 2015 Defender Challenge by Bowler.