I’ve spent many a Saturday evening, glass-in-hand, considering which kind of club racing I’d dive into if the Lotto numbers came up.
I’ve never considered rallying, though, let alone rally raiding. I've driven rally cars on loose surfaces a few times, but not nearly as well as I’d have liked to. I’d need someone to take me along a bit to go down that route.
As it turns out, Bowler Motorsport would be the perfect people. I met Drew Bowler and a few members of his team last week, before driving the new Land Rover Defender Challenge rally raid car. A nicer, more down-to-earth, like-minded group of people you’ll simply never encounter – assuming you like messing about in fast cars, of course, and don’t mind getting properly stuck in.
The Defender Challenge came about, Drew says, as a direct result of one particular customer. This was a guy who’d just done a transatlantic boat race, and who’s next itch was to have a crack at the Dakar rally raid. He had no training or experience of rallying at all, but had the means and the commitment. He wanted a car, some support, and a sensible programme to get him ready.
He’s typical of the type of customer who’s come forward since, says Drew. “These guys aren’t 21-year-old adrenaline junkies. They own their own businesses, they’ve known a bit of fun and excitement in life, and they’re signing up as much for the adventure and the social side of what we’re doing as anything.”
That description – plus a drive in a car that you could have endless entertainment at the wheel of – pretty much instantly convinced me of the appeal of this series. And when it comes to the Dakar, Bowler’s got another story to whet the appetite.
Some time ago, a Bowler at the Dakar radioed in from the desert. Oddly, his first words were not “I’ve broken down.” He simply explained that a light aircraft would be arriving at the team’s service location within the hour. Drew was to ensure that an engineer, a differential and a trolley jack were dispatched to board that plane. And without knowing who the pilot was, where the plane had come from, how it would find the car in question or where it would land when it did, Drew did what he was told.
When his engineer returned several hours later, he explained that he’d been asked to take the controls of the plane after the pilot had found our hero, and to fly low over the car three or four times. On the last pass, the pilot simply threw the replacement diff and the jack out of the plane. A while later, the competitor arrived at this checkpoint with a fixed car, chalking up nothing more serious than a few penalty points for lateness.
“It wasn’t legal, but happened long enough ago that it’s okay to tell you,” laughed Bowler.