British motorsports company Bowler is well-known in the classic Land Rover world for its racing expertise. And in 2019, it became a part of Land Rover’s Special Vehicle Operations tuning division. Since then, though, the only product Bowler’s revealed is a continuation of the classic Defender—at least, until now. That’s because the tuner is taking the 2021 Land Rover Defender 90 rallying in its own dedicated series.
Bowler resurrects the Land Rover Defender Challenge rally racing series
Land Rover and Bowler have enjoyed a strong relationship even before the former purchased the latter. The two formed a partnership back in 2012 that eventually spawned the Defender Challenge by Bowler series. This rally racing series ran from 2014-2016, and as the name suggests, was only open to Defenders. The ‘old’ Land Rover Defenders, we should clarify, rather than the redesigned 2021 Defender.
Speaking of, while it’s not a body-on-frame SUV like its predecessor, the 2021 Land Rover Defender has already proven its on- and off-road capability. So, it shouldn’t be surprising that Bowler would want to rally it. And that’s exactly what the tuner is doing with the relaunched Defender Challenge series.
Like the 2014-2016 edition, the 2022 Bowler Defender Challenge series is limited to Defenders only. As of this writing, specific race dates and locations haven’t been released. However, Bowler says the series will feature seven events spread out over the UK. And prior off-road racing experience isn’t required, Autoblog says.
What makes the Bowler Land Rover Defender Challenge different from the standard Defender 90?
While the standard 2021 Land Rover Defender 90 is a true off-roader, it’s also a luxury road-going crossover. Getting it ready for rally racing, therefore, required a bit of modification.
One thing that wasn’t modified was the powertrain, Roadshow says. Like the standard Land Rover Defender 90, the Bowler Challenge SUV has a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine rated at 296 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque. That power goes to all four wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission and an AWD system with a two-speed transfer case. The only new part is a racing exhaust and a raised intake, Top Gear reports.
But while the powertrain is essentially stock, the rest of the Challenge-prepped Land Rover Defender 90 isn’t. Bowler stripped the interior and installed an FIA-spec roll cage with an integral spare-wheel mount and two racing seats with six-point harnesses. The A/C and touchscreen are still there, though. However, they’re joined by a fire suppression system, electrical cut-offs, and additional lighting and vehicle-system controls. Bowler also repositioned the Defender 90’s transmission lever and installed carbon-fiber shift paddles, sliding polycarbonate side windows, and a removable steering wheel.
On the outside, the Bowler Challenge Defender lacks door sills due to the full-length aluminum skid plates. Bowler also reinforced the Land Rover Defender 90’s subframes, transmission and radiator mounts, and chassis. It added custom Fox Racing shocks, too, adding an extra 0.98” of ride height. Also, the Challenge Defender has rally-spec 18” wheels wrapped in BFGoodrich AT tires.
On top of that, Bowler removed the Land Rover Defender 90’s auxiliary radiators. In their place is a new bumper with improved airflow and additional lights. The new rear spoiler adds extra lights, too. And because of all the suspension, wheel, and tire upgrades, Bowler also reprogrammed the Defender’s ABS and stability control, Autoblog notes.
Can you get the racing-spec SUV in the US?
With a starting price of roughly $139K, a Bowler-prepped Land Rover Defender Challenge isn’t cheap. For comparison, a base 2021 Defender 90 starts at $47,700. However, you get more than just the SUV for that price, Top Gear says. That $139K also gets you an entry into the Challenge series as well as support for you and the SUV. And if you don’t have any experience, Bowler will help you earn your racing license.
If you want to hit the dirt, though, you’ll have to act fast. The first race kicks off in March 2022 and Bowler says the series only has 12 spots. And it doesn’t appear that Land Rover will offer the Defender Challenge to US buyers. At least, not initially.
Roadshow claims that the Challenge series serves “as a testbed for the Defender before it competes in global rally-raid events.” So, at some point in the future, a racing-spec Defender could show up at a US rally race. But if you don’t want to wait that long, you’ll have to take an extended UK vacation.
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