Defender Rally Series - Summer Scottish Hill Rally
Posted on June 18, 2023
Over the weekend of the 17th and 18th June, the UK Tata Elxsi Defender Rally Series competed at the inaugural Summer Scottish Hill Rally based at the beautiful backdrop of Thirlestane Castle, with stunning competitive stages across the eastern border region of Scotland.
This event represented the first Hill Rally in Bowler’s 2023 UK Rally program. Hill Rallies are designed to be tough and provide drivers with all-new challenges not yet experienced with gravel and comp-safari stages. The weather leading up to the rally was perfect with sunshine, hot temperatures, and clear skies. However, this compounded issues for drivers, with pervasive dust affecting visibility. Additionally, drivers were confronted with extremely slippery terrain across the field and hills, and brutal ground conditions in the technical areas. Overall, it was the exact challenge that a traditional Scottish Hill rally is renowned for and a perfect test for our teams as they experienced the wide range of rally disciplines that our Series is designed to provide.
The challenging, harsh terrain led to several retirements due to mechanical and racing incidents, but despite this, the Bowler team’s Defenders finished every stage and continue to impress with the performance, durability, and robustness of a production road car.
The Scottish Summer Hill Rally was designed with a total of 17 stages over two days. With service times limited to as little as 20 minutes and Park Fermé rules mandated, this provided additional challenges to the drivers, co-drivers, and support crew. With such limited times and harsh conditions, repair time from impact damage was highly restricted. This led to the highly experienced and specialist support teams being pushed to the limits to check, maintain, and repair cars as they returned from the pounding they were incurring on stages. The ability to soak up the punishment they were being subjected to is a testament to the design of the standard Defender and the specialist engineering and racing pedigree of the Bowler team. For his sterling work in the service periods, experienced rally competitor and one of JLR’s Chief Engineers, who was working as a technician at the event, was presented with the Spirit of the event by the Bowler team.
Day 1 saw very close competition between Miles Williams with co-driver Andy Dennis against new owner and competitor Richie Wynn Williams and Matt Lowe. A puncture on stage 8 ultimately hampered the new pairing. Remaining very close to them was the pairing of Jorma and Janne Jokela, who were taking on their first Scottish Hill rally, which is at opposite ends of the rallying spectrum from their Finnish roots. Adapting to the challenging environment, Vanessa Ruck and Chris Cuming quickly moved up the field, overtaking several competitors through tenacity and good reading of the terrain. By the end of day 1, they were leading the class. All the teams were adapting well following the initial shock of the gruelling Scottish environment, and thanks to the mentoring of the Bowler team, who have years of experience in these events, the pace was increasing with every stage. The new pairing of Andrew Burgess and Daniel Hutchings settled into the conditions and terrain now presented to them, adapting their styles to manage the car and achieve some impressive results.
Day 2 saw the competition between Bowler teams intensify as familiarity with the cars and terrain grew. Ruck/Cuming dominated the first few stages of the day, which took place around Thirlestane Castle, where they repeatedly achieved top 10 stage time placement. A minor roll incident hindered their performance, and they weren’t able to recover the deficit. Team Jokela/Jokela entered day 2 mentally prepared for the stages ahead, and their timings progressively improved. Jorma commented: “Hill Rallies require all-new thinking as conditions barely relate to the snow or gravel I previously experienced.“
Newcomers Paul White and Pete Wilson showed that they are ones to watch next round, working well together and getting progressively quicker. Furthermore, with provenance in circuit racing, White will be applying wider experience on the faster gravel tracks. Christina Dobloug/Dave Hooper ran a consistent race as they develop their in-car partnership to fulfil Christina’s long-term aspirations of competing at Dakar. Andrew Burgess and Dan Hutchings’ target was to drive in a highly considered way to develop further cross-country experience with full support from the team. Their aspirations are to develop in readiness to compete in 2024.
Year 1 graduates Frazer Williams and Mark Acher fought very hard, taking 40 seconds out of Williams/Dennis on one stage alone. However, they weren’t able to recover the gap. If not for their 11-minute time penalty, the pairing would have achieved 2nd place in the Bowler standings. Team Williams/Dennis ultimately maintained a consistent pace and prevailed over the stages for day 2, consistently achieving stage time results within the top 10 of the overall event. If not for their 4-minute time penalty, Williams/Dennis would have positioned 5th for the overall Hill Rally Event.
While the rally was being hosted alongside the Thirlestane Castle Classic car show, Bowler was able to provide some high-energy test rides on one of the official weekend rally stages once the main competition had passed through. Understandably, the smiles and shock on the faces of the lucky participants were obvious to see, and we are grateful to the organizers for helping to share the excitement of a Scottish hill rally with some very happy people.
Dave Marsh, Head of Motorsport, commented: “Hill Rallies are a vital part of the Bowler syllabus and the program of training. They are tough on teams and cars but provide an essential experience required by competitors as we develop the widest possible foundation of rally skills in preparation for future Rally competitions. Feedback from clients and event spectators has been incredible, with appreciation of the Defender’s versatility and capability and an appreciation of the skills needed to complete these events. The closeness of the competition demonstrates the benefit of a closely controlled One-Make series where it really is down to the skills of the driver pairings.”
Calum McKechnie, General Manager, comments: “This rally has been a huge success for the team against a fantastic backdrop. We could not have hoped for a better inaugural Hill Rally event, and thanks to the organizers for putting on what was a simply superb event. We hosted several sponsors and guests this weekend who were supremely impressed by the Bowler team and our cars. Despite the challenging nature of the event, our customers experienced something very special, and we are looking forward to returning next year with another larger group.”
Final Results for round 3 of the Defender Rally Series 2023:
|Team Pairings – Driver / Co-Driver
|Williams / Dennis
|Jokela / Jokela
|Ruck / Cuming
|White / Wilson
|Wynn Williams / Lowe
|Williams / Archer
|Burgess / Hutchings
|Dobloug / Hooper