Team Harford celebrated winning the inaugural Defender Challenge by Bowler championship on Sunday, after victory in the series finale in Scotland edged out rivals Race2Recovery.
The champions, driven by Edd Cobley, went into the final rally with a slender one point lead in the championship, from Race2Recovery, who are driven by Surrey’s Ben Gott.
And despite being pushed to the wire by Race2Recovery, Cobley, who works as a Land Rover Experience instructor at Rockingham Castle, defied pre-race nerves to win the final round and claim the title.
He said: “I was very nervous at the start line because it is so easy to throw these things away. I was driving very cautiously but it paid off and I am really chuffed with the result.
“I am honoured and proud of the team and the car, and off course what Bowler has done with the vehicle. It’s been a great championship and we have made some life-long friends which is what rallying is all about.”
Cobley went into the Borders Hill Rally needing to finish ahead of the in-form Race2Recovery team. But despite a sixth consecutive podium finish, the team, which enables people with disabilities to participate in professional motorsport, could only secure second place in the championship.
After the rally, driver Ben Gott paid tribute to one of the disabled members of the Race2Recovery team, female co-driver Stephanie Boddez.
Boddez uses prosthetic limbs after losing both her legs to meningitis at the age of 17. She became involved with the Race2Recovery team when she contacted them after watching them on the Top Gear TV series. The team invited her to join them for a day in the co-driver’s seat and, after she showed a natural flair for navigating, they invited her to become a full member of the race team.
Gott, from Farnham in Surrey, said: “It’s been a brilliant year. We are very thankful to Land Rover for its sponsorship over the past twelve months. It has meant that the team has learnt new techniques, and Steph has really blossomed, helping her on the road to international rally raids in the future.”
2014 was the inaugural year of the Defender Challenge by Bowler race series, which featured seven rounds, held across the UK. The series has been created to offer competitors a clear pathway to further international rally raid competition such as the Africa Race and Dakar Rally. Three teams from the Defender Challenge are currently preparing to compete at Dakar in 2016.
Mark Cameron, Global Brand Experience Director, Jaguar Land Rover, said: “We’d like to congratulate Edd Cobley on winning the first ever Defender Challenge championship. The series has proved to be a huge success and has showcased the unique abilities of the Land Rover Defender.
“For Land Rover and Bowler, one of the many positives to come out of the series is that we’ve provided a platform for teams, drivers and navigators who to progress to international competitions like the Dakar Rally. We are delighted that three of our teams are set to tackle Dakar in 2016 and are looking forward to an expanded Defender Challenge next year, which will see the event move into Europe for the first time.”
Drew Bowler, Managing Director of Bowler Motorsport said: “The first year of the Defender Challenge has reminded us all what fun motorsport can be and should be. We have had a new group of people who have come in to motorsport who have all had good time and it’s not cost them too much money.
“We have taken people, who might not have known how to get into motorsport and they understand what is involved and what is needed in terms of improvement to go and do Dakar. I am looking forward to seeing the Defender Challenge next year and potentially seeing a broader spectrum of events.”