Pheeep! The marshal’s whistle is the only warning you get that one of the Defender Challenge Land Rovers is hurtling towards you. While the historic rally cars the Defenders are sharing the stages with bark out their enthusiasm, the Defenders hum along happily.
And the driving style is different too. A rear-wheel drive Ford Escort Mk I will oversteer on corners so drivers have to opposite-lock the steering and drift round corners; the Defenders understeer, so corner less flamboyantly.
Putting the two kinds of rally cars through the same stages makes for interesting viewing – and that’s exactly what spectators were treated to at Trackrod Rally Yorkshire ’15.
Kicking off with two night stages through Dalby Forest, competitors in the Armstrong Massey Driffield Land Rover Challenge had no time to acclimatise to their Defenders in daylight before lining up at the start.
Two groups of Defenders were slugging it out. Competitors in the Defender Challenge were driving 170bhp 2.2-litre Defender 90 TDCis, while those in the Armed Forces Rally Team were in 111bhp 300Tdi Wolf Defender 90s.
‘It’s good to have the Armed Forces here,’ explains Drew Bowler, head honcho of the Defender Challenge, ‘our drivers are getting to know how they compare to the others in the Defender Challenge – but the military are unknown, so it’ll create fresh competition.’
The Armed Forces Rally Team, however, do have an advantage: they concentrate on stage rallies, while the Defender Challenge series also includes hillrallies. And there’s a huge difference between the two. Navigators are unfairly described as ‘ballast’ in hillrallies, but they come into their own on stage rallies, reading the road book and telling drivers what’s coming up. But a relative lack of experience with road books hindered the Defender Challenge drivers a touch.
That wasn’t a problem for Edd Cobley in the Sturgess Defender ‘Skippy’. John Tomley, his navigator, competes in lots of rallies, both day and night, so is used to navigating from a road book: ‘It’s all about getting the timing right so you don’t give too much information really, otherwise he’s just coming back to you wanting to know what you’ve said again.’ Mind you, the driver has to listen, too.
‘On the first stage I didn’t listen to John enough,’ admits Edd, ‘the Lazer Lamps are just too good, lighting up the stage and I was braking too late and locking up. It was amazingly slippy, but I got it together for the second stage – changed the notes and distances and really started to get on well – and John’s notes were spot-on perfect. Then we started seeing the Army Defender in front of us and very kindly Alan Paramore pulled over and didn’t slow us down, so we took a couple of minutes out of him, and we caught a TR7 as well, so a really good stage.’
Edd isn’t the only one impressed by the Bowler;s night time illumination. ‘The lights on the Bowlers are superb,’ says Alan Paramore (AFRT), ‘we do need to investigate that. The light they were throwing out was truly impressive; we’re going along with candles on and they’re literally lighting up the stage.’
Alan was also enjoying the extra competition between the groups: ‘We’re absolutely delighted that we’re having a good ding-dong with the Bowlers – there are one or two extremely well driven Bowlers we have absolutely no answer to. All we can do is hang in there and try and pick off some of their mid- and back-markers which is what’s happening at the moment. I’ve certainly got no answer to Edd Cobley – I’m doing my best and slightly over driving the car to try and keep up with him and he’s just killing me every minute!’
Rebecca Jackson was driving the guest Bowler, with Ann McCandlish navigating. ‘The best part of the night stages was where the spectators were – I wasn’t expecting such a huge crowd; it caught us by surprise and thankfully we didn’t make a mistake in front of them.’
All of the crews managed to clear the night sections without incident and the daylight stages beckoned. But daylight caused concerns for Joe Monaghan and David Johnston. ‘We’re losing time and we don’t know where,’ puzzles Joe. ‘I think we’ve dropped down ten places and can’t understand why – the car’s going fine. But we’re enjoying it and it just gives us more to make up in the final stages.’
Brian Palmer and his navigator Calum MacPhail were also enjoying it: ‘Calum and myself are new to rallying,’ explains Brian, ‘and we’ve come together as a rally crew on this event. We’ve both been learning and I think last night and today we’ve really started to operate together as a crew, rather than me trying to figure out how to drive and Calum trying to figure out how to navigate. The night stage was intriguing; although you could see where the road was going, you just couldn’t read the surface as well.’
While all the vehicles survived the night sections without incident, three of the Defenders, two AFRT and one Bowler, cracked their windscreens on a tree during the day. ‘Climbing out of the quarry on the Dalby stage, we could see the tree and just assumed we must have gone under it yesterday [the stage was run during twice; at night and in daytime] and obviously we didn’t,’ muses Clive Allford (AFRT). ‘We could see there was damage to it, but just figured everyone else is bigger than us and the Bowlers had gone through. We just stayed inside as there was a massive drop on the outside, and smashed the screen.’
Rebecca and Ann finished with a perfectly straight vehicle. ‘We polished up on our performance and our method on how to tackle the stages and it was absolutely brilliant,’ beams Rebecca. ‘We got one slide where we absolutely nailed it in front of the crowd and it was fantastic – the Defender was just drifting round like a 1980s rally car! We worked really well together and were much quicker than yesterday.’
One driver who didn’t manage to complete the whole rally, not because he failed to finish, but because he got stuck in traffic on the way up, was Belgian, Christian Fermont: ‘We arrived at 9pm, too late to start, but have enjoyed the racing today. We’ve been competing in the Defender Challenge all year, but this is only the second with pace notes, so we had to get used to it again. It’s a lot of fun. My favourite stage was Langdale – very fast but very technical, a combination of everything.’
The Defenderists – employees of Land Rover - Scott Faulkner and Richard Mills came home in third place, taking advantage of David and Joe’s perplexing performance, while the Lookers Defender of Gareth Carruthers and Wallace McKay took second place.
Edd Cobley came home first, retaining his position at top of the leader board: ‘The best bit of the rally for me was the night stages, while stage four was really good – a repeat of stage two which we’d driven in the dark – I just over-drove it in front of the crowds. We backed off a little on the final stages to ensure we got home in one piece. The rally has been a great event – very well organised and the smiles of everyone says it all!’
1 (247) Edd Cobley/John Tomley 1:07:24.1
2 (248) Gareth Carruthers/Wallace McKay 1:09:26.0
3 (261) Scott Faulkner/Richard Mills 1:11.49.7
4 (260) Brian Palmer/Calum MacPhail 1:12:04.9
5 (259) David Johnston/Joseph Monaghan 1:12.47.6
6 (265) Rebecca Jackson/Ann McCandlish 1:19:19.4
7 (262) Christian Femont/Peter Jannsens 1:31:33.6
Armed Forces Rally Team
1 (246) Alan Paramore/Chris McCarthy 1:13:02.3
2 (267) Clive Allford/Rob Barr 1:14:35.4
3 (266) Ross Cookman/Andy Carter 1:15:30.6
4 (268) Adam Woolner/James Sunderland 1:15:32.4
5 (269) Ben de Ronde/Scott Young 1:17:49.4
You can find out more about this event through the links below: