As the Pickering showground fell to twilight, the fourth round of the Defender Challenge by Bowler commenced at the Trackrod Rally recently for the start of a two day stage rally.
Unique to the Trackrod Rally are the 14.93 miles of night stages on which competitors start their rally weekend. For most competitors it was a first time endeavour and the prospect of complex turns and corners that stretched over acres of unknown pitch-black forest was nothing short of overwhelming, but as the teams gathered at the startline any nerves were masked by the usual brand of banter and in turn the modified Defender 90s took to the tracks.
After the second of the two night stages the nine teams returned to the bivouac, each Defender putting in a strong performance, unscathed by the drama of the night’s events. Day one closed with reigning champions Edd Cobley and John Tomley in ‘Skippy’ at the top of the leader board followed by seasoned Challengers Gareth Carruthers and Wallace Mckay only a second and a half behind. Meanwhile, a hot pursuit for third place ensued between David Johnston and Joseph Monaghan, Brian Palmer and Calum MacPhail and Scott Faulkner and Richard Mills of ‘The Defenderists’, a team of volunteers from across the Land Rover family.
Day two comprised 38.29 miles of special stages with a completion target of one hour 13 minutes, 54.21 miles of liaison and one break for service in between. The course is renowned for its long, fast straights followed by quick, technical corner sequences, it’s a test of physicality, technique and endurance for drivers and co-drivers.
Drew Bowler of Bowler Motorsport said, “By this point in the competition the teams trust their Defenders and know very well what the vehicles are capable of so we specifically select the Trackrod Rally as part of the Defender Challenge to develop the communication and rapport between the driver and co-driver. In this race it is imperative that the teams read the terrain instinctively, judge how much speed to carry into corners accurately and brake precisely. It’s about communication and team work and it’s this that prepares them for rally raids and the bigger international races”.
By service the talk amongst the teams back at the bivouac was distinctly competitive, any nerves from the previous night lost in tactical exchanges between the drivers and their co-drivers. Conditions were dry, the Defenders were performing reliably and demonstrating how robust and capable they are. There was no change at the top of the table for positions one and two with Cobley and Carruthers retaining their places in stages three and four. Third place was held by Faulkner six seconds ahead of Palmer who was chased by Johnston just two seconds behind. The teams headed back into the North York National Park for the final three stages, confidence was high between the drivers and their co-drivers and the momentum required for the intricate course had developed and was paying dividends.
After a long combination of three special stages totalling 23.68 miles against a target of 47 minutes, Edd Cobley and John Tomley returned to the bivouac laden with trophies and wearing the smiles of champions having delivered their fourth consecutive win.
Edd Cobley said, “We started day two 1.5 minutes ahead of Gareth and Wallace so John, Skippy and I pushed hard to move our way up the table and increase our lead – we managed this and finished 29th in the championship overall. The Defender did us proud, it always does what I ask of it, its unique build, four-wheel drive capability and modifications mean I get from it what I need, when I need it, yet it always teaches me something new. It was a great event and I look forward to the next round at the Tempest Rally.”
Gareth Carruthers and Wallace Mckay came in second place with ‘The Defenderists’ clinching the third spot after a tight competition. Defenderist Co-Driver and Jaguar Land Rover Stability Attributes Engineer, Richard Mills said, “The Defender was 100% reliable and Scott really got into the feel of it. By the last two stages we were able to really pick-up the pace and we got a great result in our first event as a team. Rally is all about the team effort and this series is a brilliant example of that.”
The penultimate round of the Defender Challenge takes place on 7th and 8th November at the Tempest Rally in Aldershot.