A new one-make rally series for Land Rover Defenders has been established to act as a feeder series to cross-country rally-raids such as the Dakar Rally.
The Defender Challenge, which is being operated by Bowler Motorsport and has official support from Land Rover, will pit up to 15 competition-prepared Defender 90s into battle on seven UK forest stage rallies and hill rallies in 2014.
The vehicle is a modified Defender 90 Hard Top powered by a four-cylinder, 2.2-litre diesel engine which has been uprated to 170bhp and 332lb ft by Bowler, from the standard unit's 122bhp and 266lb ft. Competitors will have to source their Defenders via Bowler, and will not be permitted to supply their own donor cars.
All Defender Challenge cars – which will remain fully road-legal – will run the standard six-speed manual gearbox, Kuhmo tyres and MSA-approved roll cage and fire extinguisher system.
The suspension is uprated with new dampers, springs, roll bars and bushes. Lightweight 18in wheels, sill protectors and front bumper are fitted, as well as racing seats, six-point harnesses and an intercom system.
The car will retail at £50,000 plus VAT and be supplied through Bowler Motorsport. Entry into the Defender Challenge will range between £10,000 and £14,000 depending on level of support package selected by competitors.
The £10,000 package is angled at experienced competitors, while novice rally crews can opt for the £14,000 which includes a set of race overalls, crash helmet, tuition for driver and navigator and entry to the BARS test which is necessary to earn the competition licence necessary to participate in the Defender Challenge.
Bowler will also offer an optional service package providing access to factory mechanics and logistical support on events and vehicle storage between events.
The 4x4s will be FIA compliant, opening up the prospect of competitors using their vehicles on overseas rally-raids. The series also has the backing of the Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO), which runs the Dakar Rally.
ASO spokesman Xavier Gavory said: “One of the major obstacles for people from the UK wishing to enter the Dakar has always been obtaining the necessary competition experience and a race licence. With the Defender Challenge by Bowler, there is at last a turnkey solution to that problem."
The provisional 2014 calendar is: Mid Wales Stages, 2 March; Somerset Stages, 20 April; Dukeries Rally, 7 June; Welsh Hill Rally, 19/20 July; Woodpecker Stages, 30 August; Rallye Sunseeker, 24/25 October; Scottish Hill Rally, mid-November.