Forming part of the 2015 JLT Tempest Rally, held on November 7 in and around Rushmoor Arena, in Aldershot, the penultimate round of the Defender Challenge witnessed another closely contended battle between the front-runners.
Consisting of 45-miles with 10 stages, 90 per cent of which were off-tarmac, conditions were ideal; howling gales and driving drizzle that got into every bone. The slippery conditions suited the Defenders, especial Championship leader, Edd Cobley, and his co-driver John Tomley, who once again dominated the Land Rover field from the outset.
After stage one, Gareth Carruthers and Wallace McKay were just eight seconds adrift from Edd and John, in ‘Skippy’. But, despite valiant efforts throughout the remaining nine stages, neither Gareth and Wallace nor any of the other teams were able to close in on ‘Skippy’.
Paul Mansfield, in car 17, had never driven the Bowler-prepared Defender in competition before this morning, but his years of comp safari experience paid dividends as he steadily reduced his stage times over the course of the day. However, he, like everyone else had a few glitches along the way. Longmore 1 and 2, stages three and four, at over eight miles long, gave Edd the opportunity to really stretch his lead over Carruthers and McKay, adding 93 seconds in total to the gap between ‘Skippy’ and car 16.
Despite the slippery conditions, all 10 Defenders made it back to the first service after stage five. Unfortunately, Stephen Richards and Kevin Handley in car 25 were unable to continue due to ‘vehicle failure on SS5’.
After a very rapid service, which mostly comprises of safety checks and filter changes, the remaining nine teams vanished from Bowler Motorsport’s very impressive service.
By mid-afternoon, the teams returned to the service area for another quick check-over and re-torqueing of wheel nuts. The only vehicle with any damage was number 21, driven by Jonathan Harford, which had got a little too close to the scenery. The minor scuff to the nearside front wing and additional ventilation in the roof above navigator, Gavin Bull’s head are not enough to prevent them from completing the event.
So, as the teams look forward to the final round in the Borders Hill Rally, in Dumfries on November 21 and 22, Edd Cobley and John Tomley appear to have an unassailable position.
Driver Q&A with Paul Mansfield
How did you get involved in the Defender Challenge?
I’ve been driving Defenders and competing off-road for 20 years, including proper fast off-road competitive safari motors. I’ve known Drew Bowler for 15 years; I used to service his cars as a kid. I went to Dakar with him in 2007, running the big service truck, looking after all the Bowler Team vehicles and we’ve carried on from there. And then, recently, I was invited to drive this Bowler Defender in the Tempest Rally.
How does this compare to comp safari motors?
This morning, I was a bit cautious this morning to see how it went. It was only the second time I’d got behind the wheel of a Bowler Challenge Defender; the very first time was last night, driving to scrutineering.
It’s going very well. It’s getting a bit slippy out there now, and a few ruts are digging out a bit, which we like. There’s a lot less power than my comp safari motor, so you’ve got to carry your speed. You’ve got to keep the momentum going and keep it upright. It’s remarkably throw-able. You can come into corners and throw it around and get it to slide; the old Scandinavian flick. The suspension makes it very stable.
What’s it like driving to pace notes?
It’s been many years but I did some rallying 10 years ago, only for 12 months though. Taking instruction from a navigator is very interesting, there’s a lot of information to take on board. Fortunately, I’ve got a really good navigator with me today, Richard Mills. He’s very good. Everything is bang-on. He tells me when I’m wrong and he tells me when I’m right. We’re working together really well.
2015 Defender Challenge by Bowler Round 5, November 7
Tempest Rally, Rushmoor Arena, Aldershot
1 Edd Cobley/John Tomley
2 Gareth Carruthers/Wallace McKay
3 David Johnston/Joseph Monaghan
4 Paul Mansfield/Richard Mills
5 Brian Palmer/Calum MacPhail
6 Christian Femont/Peter Jannsens
7 Jonathan Harford/Gavin Bull
8 Richard Hayward/Matt Lister
9 Thomas Bell/Noel Dancy
Nov 21-22: Round 6, Borders Hill Rally, Forrest Estate, Dumfries, Scotland.
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