Land Rover rallying aces Edd Cobley and John Tomley showed why they’re the class of the 2015 Defender Challenge field with a gritty performance on the season-ending Scottish ‘Borders’ Hill Rally at the weekend. Not only did they seal the Bowler championship title for Team Sturgess Land Rover, but also claimed the 2015 British Hillrally Championship, and finished the event fifth overall, fastest production car and fastest diesel – only beaten by purpose-built petrol V8-powered Milner specials and a five-litre V8 Defender 110.
Coming in to the event as favourites for a second consecutive title, but under pressure from Lookers’ Gareth Carruthers/Fraser Ward, the Sturgess duo went hard out of the box: 37sec quicker over the first three stages. Edd was ruing the decision not to renew the 90’s rear pair of Cooper Discoverer STT tyres: ‘We should’ve put new tyres on all four corners, the rears are sliding around a lot.’
A couple of timing card errors had fired-up Edd, making him think he’d need to make up for two minutes lost time to overhaul the ‘leading’ Lookers duo. But, unaware that the times were corrected before SS4 started, he drove ‘Skippy’ the 90 flat-out over uncomfortably rough terrain.
Three more bumpy, icy and slippery stages later, the Sturgess 90 was up to fifth place overall, with Northern Ireland Racing’s David Johnston/Joseph Monaghan battling Brian Palmer/Calum MacPhail for third in the Defender Challenge class. Calum was enjoying it: ‘It’s good fun, but I’d forgotten I’d need a kidney belt for this. It’s very rough!’ Most of the dozen Bowler Defenders were returning to service with smashed-in steering guards.
As darkness started to fall, Gareth Carruthers went a few seconds quicker than Edd on the event’s shortest stage, SS7, before repeating the feat on the 12-mile-long SS8 night stage – the last of the first day’s competition. Of the Defender Challenge cars, only Edd and Gareth made it all the way through SS8 before news came in that car 29 had rolled: the Northern Ireland Racing Bowler 90.
Thankfully David Johnston and Joseph Monaghan were okay, but the stage was stopped and their 90 was recovered to the Bowler service area. It looked beaten up, but the Bowler mechanics were confident they could get it back in the event, and ‘DJ’ was in good spirits: ‘It was a left hander and we perhaps went a little too left. The next moment the right rear lost grip and we went round. We’ve been here before, so we knew what to do…’ The pair had an almost identical roll at this event last year.
The 90 had been on its roof, but the roll cage appeared intact, so one of the first jobs was to make sure oil hadn’t found its way into the turbo and intercooler. Then, straightening the roof to get a new windscreen in, and getting the doors to open and close properly. Within a few hours the 90 was rally fit again, and after the scrutineers had checked it over it lined up for day two.
After SS9 Edd was up to fourth overall, and going as fast as he dared: ‘We’ve reached the limit of how fast we can go without causing harm to the car,’ he admitted. Gareth went faster on SS10, but Edd and John pulled out another 20 seconds over the Lookers pair on the final three stages to claim victory by 1min 48sec.
The Defenderists’ hard-charging Lynfel Owen was determined to beat the V6 development 110 being driven by motoring journalist Ollie Marriage, which had a 46sec advantage with two stages to go. With a rallying cry of: ‘Let’s have him!’, he and Charlie Evans did it, by 41sec.
A deserving winner, and champion, LRO’s off-road driving expert Edd Cobley said: ‘This year feels even better than last year. With the support of Sturgess Land Rover, Pro-Trax, John… we knew we would be up there, but Gareth has driven exceptionally well. The events were perfect, the camaraderie was there and Skippy has performed faultlessly!’
Throughout the season the rally-prepared 90s have reinforced their reputation for toughness, and next year will see even more Defenders join the action. Bowler is planning a class for its supercharged Jaguar V6-powered Defender 110s, as well as allowing Defender Challenge-spec vehicles to be built from a kit of parts. The season is due to kick-off on March 5-6 at the Mid-Wales Stages, the first round of the 2016 MSA British Rally Championship.
Bowler Motorsport brand director Jon Chester said: ‘We’ve had a brilliant year. The series is growing, the profile is growing, the racing’s getting better and it’s developing into something really fabulous. We’re really proud of it, and everyone involved. We’re 100% committed to the Defender Challenge. It will continue for at least another two years in exactly the same format, and grow and get bigger and better.’
Defender Challenge by Bowler - Round 6, November 21-22
Scottish ‘Borders’ Hill Rally, the Forrest Estate, Dumfries
1 Edd Cobley/John Tomley (Team Sturgess) – 2hr 30min 51sec
2 Gareth Carruthers/Fraser Ward (Team Lookers) – 2hr 32min 39sec
3 Lynfel Owen/Charlie Evans (The Defenderists) – 2hr 45min 2sec
4 Brian Palmer/Calum MacPhail (Team Palmer) – 2hr 48min 33sec
5 Bas van Driel/Prosper Voncken (Team Bas4Cars) – 2hr 50min 1sec
6 Richard Hayward/Matt Lister (Team Hayward) – 2hr 54min 20sec
7 Christian Femont/Peter Janssens (Team Femont) – 2hr 56min 5sec
8 Matthias Malmedie/Niki Schelle (Team LR Media) – 2hr 56min 58sec
9 Stephen Richards/Kevin Handley (Team Richards) – 3hr 7min 17sec
10 David Johnston/Joseph Monaghan (Team Northern Ireland Racing) – 3hr 13min 28sec
11 Thomas Bell/Noel Dancy (Team Bell) – 3hr 34min 6sec (inc. 5min time penalty)
V6 development 110
Fourth on the road, but ineligible for Defender Challenge: Ollie Marriage/Quinn Evans – 2hr 45min 43sec
2015 Defender Challenge Championship
1 Edd Cobley/John Tomley (Team Sturgess)
2 Gareth Carruthers/Fraser Ward (Team Lookers)
3 Brian Palmer/Calum MacPhail (Team Palmer)
Land Rover Owner International is proud to be the official media partner of the 2015 Defender Challenge by Bowler. For more details on the 2016/2017 championships, see: bowlermotorsport.com or call 01773 824111.