Third Victory in Round Four of Defender Challenger by Bowler

The Defender Challenge by Bowler rally series lit up the Brecon Beacons National Park this weekend as teams competed in Round 4 of the one-make championship at the 2014 Welsh Hill Rally.

The fourth round saw six teams line-up in their Bowler-prepared Land Rover Defender 90 vehicles as they returned to Wales after previously competing in Round 1’s Mid-Wales Stages event back in March. This was the first two-day rally of the series as it continues to provide a pathway for teams who aspire to compete in the toughest races in the world, such as the Dakar and the Africa Race.

Edd Cobley and co-driver Kevin Handley took top honours after two days of enthralling racing to secure a hat-trick of 1st place finishes inside the first four races of the Defender Challenge by Bowler series. To make the win even sweeter, the Welsh Hill Rally results across all classes showed Cobley and Handley as the highest placed ‘production based’ car, 2nd in Diesel class and 9th overall.

Rally enthusiasts and team supporters braved the conditions, watching at various points along the course, with the racing offering superb entertainment as the Defender Challenge by Bowler teams pushed their skills to the limit chasing a spot on the podium.

Teams set off from Walters Arena and raced across 100 miles of the stunning forest and hillside landscape on the edge of the Brecon Beacons National Park. The abilities of drivers and co-drivers were severely tested as the terrain switched from quick forest tracks to muddy inclines with no Tarmac stages to offer respite. Weather conditions over the weekend presented a major challenge to all teams as storms moved in and rain and wind lashed the course, resulting in more water along the tracks and slippery muddy terrain.

Speaking after crossing the finish line, Edd Cobley said: “It was phenomenally rough out there but the Defender loves these conditions. What Bowler and Land Rover have done is amazing. We’ve built a good lead so we want to keep that and manage that gap. The Defender is doing us proud again.”

Reflecting on a solid performance

The Race2Recovery team, well-known for their previous record-breaking Dakar exploits, had been looking to make it three podium finishes in a row and were delighted to take second spot after battling hard against a superb drive from winner Cobley. The team is using the series to train up new recruits including civilians and people from the military who have suffered injury or illness and are looking for a way to focus their rehabilitation.

Reflecting on a solid performance, Race2Recovery driver Ben Gott said: “The last stage was epic. Sideways rain, sideways car and all the ditches had disappeared and become puddles. We had to back off a bit, I knew we weren’t going to catch Edd. It was just a case of bringing it home safely in one piece. It was a fantastic result. The car was faultless all weekend.”

Other notable incidents during the weekend’s racing included the retirement of two teams, with Damian Taft’s weekend finished after a crash mid-stage on Sunday, whilst driver Matt Mills dramatically rolled his vehicle on Stage 14.

After the accident, Mills said: “Everything was going well but there were a lot of rocks and we bounced off a rock which threw us into the air and sent us into a tumble. We’re both absolutely fine and it’s just cosmetic damage to the car.”

Drew Bowler, MD of Bowler Motorsport, said: “We’re absolutely delighted with the results from this weekend - the championship is developing really well, and the first hill rally provided exactly the sort of drama and excitement we expected and hoped for. It was a real test for the drivers in terms of variety of terrain, weather and duration - this was the first two day event in the championship.

“The conditions and duration also tested the service crew, and reminded us all of the long distances races that the Defender Challenge is building up to. It was inevitable that we’d encounter some damage to the cars - it’s all part of the learning curve of racing - but most importantly, no one was injured, the Defenders ran extremely well, and the organisation was superb.”

With three rounds still remaining, the teams are set to meet further challenges at rallies spread across Shropshire and Dorset, before the final round takes place in Scotland in mid-November. Entrants will also have the option of competing in additional rallies in Europe and North Africa alongside the Bowler Works team.