The MSA-approved Defender Challenge by Bowler, which LRO revealed Bowler was working on in our April 2013 issue, is sponsored by Land Rover. The series will start in March 2014, comprising seven rounds in the UK – a mixture of hill rallies and forest stage rallies.
Competitors will also be able to take part in comp safaris and hill climbs with their vehicles, as well as European and North African events such as the Tunisian Tuareg Rally with Bowler – the latter in order to qualify for the International licence needed for events such as the Dakar.
The £50,000 (+VAT) Bowler-built Defenders will all be brand-new FIA T2-spec 90 hard tops, with roll cage, fire extinguisher system, racing seats and six-point harnesses.
Their 2.2 TDCi motors have been tuned in conjunction with Bell Auto Services to give 175bhp (more than 50bhp up on standard) and 332lb ft (266lb ft as standard), mated to the standard six-speed gearbox and four-wheel drive system.
Under the skin, identifiable by a lightweight bumper, sills, and 18in Bowler alloy wheels with Kumho rally tyres, is a bespoke heavy duty rally suspension package incorporating remote reservoir dampers, new springs, anti-roll bars and bushes. An uprated brake package is optional.
The series will welcome experienced race and rally drivers, but also take those with no competition experience and develop them, enabling them to get a National B rally licence, then the experience needed to eventually tackle tougher rally raids such as the Dakar.
Drew Bowler, managing director of Bowler Motorsport, says: 'Rally customers coming to Bowler have changed – they're not all experienced racers, but people looking for excitement and adventure, and an achievable path towards world-class events.
'We're delighted to be offering this path in partnership with Land Rover and the MSA, and believe the format offers a new way to experience different rally disciplines in the UK and overseas, and prepare entrants for the rigours and realities of Rally Raid. We've really enjoyed developing the Defender Challenge car – it'll be a really fun championship.'
For £10,000 per season (plus the vehicle), experienced competitors get entry to all seven UK events, a dedicated service tent for each car at each event, access to the Bowler works team hospitality facilities, access to Bowler spares on events (at extra cost), tickets for friends, sponsors and family.
For £14,000 per season (plus the vehicle), novice competitors also get a set of race overalls, helmet, a BARS course to gain a National B competition licence for both driver and navigator, an introduction to rallying day with Bowler, a driver development day and introduction to navigating.
Although competitors can't build their own vehicles for the Defender Challenge, they are free to maintain and transport them themselves. Or, choose an optional £15,000 service package giving access to Bowler's works mechanics, plus logistics support including delivering the 90 to and from events (safety checked, cleaned and serviced each time), and storing it in between.
Provisional dates for the 2014 Defender Challenge by Bowler are:
March 2: Mid Wales Stages Newtown, Mid-Wales
April 12: Somerset Stages Minehead, Somerset
June 7: Dukeries Rally Southwell, Nottinghamshire
July 19-20: Welsh Hill Rally Walters Arena, Swansea
August 30: Woodpecker Stages Ludlow, Shropshire
November 22-23: Borders Hill Rally Dumfries, Scotland
Prizes will be awarded for 1st, 2nd and 3rd places at each event, as well as 1st, 2nd and 3rd in the overall championship. Prizes for best prepared car, most improved driver and Spirit of the Championship will also be given.
See here for more details.