Then Bowler sets to work – adding its own motorsport wheels, a 170bhp engine tune and race exhaust, bespoke springs, Bilstein dampers, new bushes, anti-roll bars and steering damper; a plumbed fire extinguisher, roll cage, engine cut off, Perspex windows, racing seats and six-point harnesses. And air conditioning.
Like that, they cost £50,000. You can spend more on other options, if you like. This is motorsport, after all. It’s all expensive.
They’re homologated for both MSA and FIA regulations, so can be entered not just into the Defender Challenge, but international rally raid events too.
Being a bright company and having spotted people might want to do just that, but are short of time or space or mechanical ability, Bowler can look after everything. Smart company.
But still, dim enough to let me have a go in round six of the UK Defender Challenge, whose seven competitors comprised a class in the Cambrian Rally, North Wales, last weekend.
I’ve raced on a circuit a few times but never rallied before. And having talked to other competitors here and at races, it’s striking how many stick to their discipline: rallyists go rallying, racers go racing.
I’ll tell you something else: rallying is hard. I’ll spare you the details of my glorious battle for the class lead, because it wasn’t glorious and I didn’t battle for the class lead, but I will tell you that these Defenders genuinely handle.
There’s no ABS or stability control, they don’t feel as top-heavy as you’d think, and their attitude is extremely adjustable.
If you get the braking right you can set them up on the way into a bend, Scandinavian-flick-stylee, and then, if you get back on the power correctly, they’ll drift foursquare around your given corner. I don’t get either right very often.
The problem, if you’re used to circuit racing, is that even though you can get a fair idea of where a corner goes – because there’s a co-driver telling you – you don’t really find out until you get there. Grip levels change by the metre. Cambers and gradients too. One moment you’re on dry, hard, relatively grippy stone. The next you’re under tree cover and it’s wet and muddy.
Granted, conditions change sometimes on a circuit, too: tyres go off, rubber gets laid. But by and large a corner is in the same place you found it last time. Then, you usually regain grip on the straight, and the run-off area is not comprised of upright wooden posts with the leaves and branches still attached.
That can be quite unsettling, even though Defenders are not fast rally cars. The Challenge runs last on the road, and Defenders tend to finish towards the back of the results. Or, in my case, at the very back of the results, but let’s gloss over that.
Still, I only, harmlessly, fall off once, by the end of the day I’m not setting the slowest Defender time, and I haven’t put it on its side or broken it. If I don’t bin somebody else’s car, it’s a decent day at work; and this feels like a hell of a lot more than a decent day at work. Seriously, if you’ve ever thought about going racing, think equally hard about going rallying.
Read the Bowler Motorsport Land Rover Defender Challenge first drive review
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