GRR

Learning to rally in a Bowler-prepared Land Rover Defender

14th August 2023
James King

A few weeks ago, we received one of those invites that was virtually impossible to turn down. In spite of the Goodwood Festival of Speed presented by Mastercard’s rapid approach, with preparations in full flow, as soon as we saw the words ‘Bowler,’ ‘Scotland’ and ‘Rally, we were already packing our bags. Yes, the same ‘Bowler’ that turns Land Rovers into race cars, which now offers a pay-to-play Defender Rally package. 

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Rallying is a motorsport that, on the face of it, seems like the easiest and cheapest way to get involved in. Surely, you can just buy any old snotter, find a muddy forest track and you’re away? The reality is rather different, certainly when it comes to competing. For beginners to take part in competitive rally, with even and fair regulations, there aren’t that many options in the UK. If you do manage to find a series to take part in, you’re pretty much on your own in terms of set up, transportation and all of the difficulties that come with competing around the country. This is the market that Bowler is trying to take advantage of.

What Bowler’s Defender Rally Series offers is to effectively take away most of the annoyance of organising the participation in a motorsport and give you a ready to go solution. Once you’ve purchased your Bowler, you will have the option for Bowler to fully manage the car. That means they store it, clean it, service it and then deliver it ready to race. You’ve basically bought a rally team. Minimal effort, maximum fun: right up my street. 

Before you get too excited, there is a price to pay and it’s not exactly pocket change. You can buy the fully prepped Defender and a place in the series for £118,000 plus VAT – *gulp*. When you compare the costs to other rally cars and series in this market, though, it does actually represent good value for money.

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On first introductions, the car certainly wasn’t what we were expecting. To the naked eye, it really is just a Defender with a livery on it. There’s no huge wing or rally body kit. It’s a rather bare-looking Defender P300 SE. Open the door, clamber in and that all changes. You’re suddenly sunk into a race sports seat and surrounded by a full FIA internal roll cage integrated with the body and suspension mounts. Happily, it still has air conditioning – a function that I understand is quite the advantage over the other rally series, especially when you’ve opted to take part in the international series that features a Spanish rally.

Power is the same as a normal Defender, which is a point of curiosity, if you can remember Bowler’s rally raid weapons of the past. With 292PS (215kW) powering the over 2-tonne car, how was it going to be fast enough for rally stages? The Bowler team had assured me that it was all the power that was ever needed for these stages. 

Any scepticism around its performance was launched right into the bin as soon as I first tackled the Scottish course, a course that was an actual stage of the rally. The immediate realisation is that the real skill was reading the terrain. By realisation, I of course mean that this is what they were telling me over and over again. My instructor was providing constant and constructive feedback that filled me with confidence. A little too much in fact, with the resulting higher-speed approach mixing with the rocky terrain to reorganise all of my internal organs.

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The Defender’s chassis is not one I thought would be suitable for such direction changes and opposite camber corners, but there was virtually zero roll and the higher seating position over other rally cars was actually an advantage. Once I’d had a few runs and let the superb Bowler team feedback sink into my stubborn brain, the rallying bug really started to bury itself into me. You can really start to feel your own progression and I was already thinking how I’d fare in the international Baja rounds. That is until I remembered that I don’t have £118,000 + VAT to hand.

There was one final thrill before I drove the length of the country back down to Goodwood from the Scottish Borders, and that was letting the professionals take me for a spin. After the performance I thought I’d just done, I didn’t think it was possible to drive that course better. I was perfection. I was speed. It turns out, I was still utterly useless. The professional drivers who had instructed me to lift off in certain sections to find the best line and grip, proceeded to absolutely send it through at full speed as I clung onto the roll cage for dear life. They may as well have been driving a full-on WRC car judging by the difference in our times. Humbled and hungry for more is an understatement.

If you’re looking for those petrolhead thrills and have this sort of money burning a hole in your pocket, think twice about the go-to of a 911 GT3 or three-year-old Ferrari. Do it properly and enter a full rally series in your very own Defender. You won’t regret it.

  • Land Rover

  • Defender

  • Bowler

  • Rally car

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