Bowler Motorsport’s Jon Chester Talks the UK Off Road Scene
Bowler insider on the power and glory of the mud, the dust and the desert
INFLUX: Can you give us an overview of the Bowler and the UK Off Road racing scene?
JON CHESTER: The UK Off Road scene is interesting, it’s changing all the time. There are some really active clubs and series at the lower entry cost level, people racing Freelander 1 and cutting their teeth and having a good time. At the higher value car end the hill rallies are growing, there are more people doing them. Also we’re becoming a bit more European – on the continent Off Road racing has much more media coverage – now it’s easier for guys down south in particular to jump on a ferry and join a European rally than it is to come up to Wales or to compete up north. So we’re seeing a really interesting mix.
I think that we’ll see the UK Off Road scene get a little bit smaller but more organised and more integrated with the races in Europe, so overall it will grow stronger.
I: And different races call for different vehicles?
JC: Yeah, different races have different regs and requirements, so hill rally racing is different to rally raid racing. You tend to want a slightly longer wheel base when you’re in the sand for more stability, a slightly shorter wheelbase when you’re racing in the UK for hill rallies and up mountains and things. The other thing to remember, with rally raid cars in particular, is that you need to carry enough fuel to be doing between six or seven hundred kilometres unassisted so it’s not unusual to have a 300 litre fuel tank.
I: At Bowler you have a long history with the Dakar, can you bring us up to date?
JC: The last car Bowler competed in the Dakar with was Nemesis which was the prior car to the EXR and before that we had lots and lots of cars racing in the Dakar as Wildcats, and there are still Wildcats racing in Dakar which underlines how robust that car was. In fact, some of these are 10/12 years old and are doing their 7th or 8th Dakar which is almost unheard of.
I: And you’ve developed a new car to take you back into the desert?
JC: We at Bowler decided we wanted a next generation car that took the learning from the previous models, because that’s what motorsport is about. Every car you develop is really just a stepping stone to the next one. This new car [The Bulldog] is the platform that will take Bowler back into top level motorsport.
I: So what are the key factors when designing a desert racer like the Bulldog?
JC: A lot of people think that the Dakar is just about sand and it’s not. Probably thirty percent of it is dunes, but the other seventy percent is a mix of fast dried-out river beds, rally stages as well as scrubland. So you’ve got to have a car that can cope with that whole range of terrains – and that means stability.
Don’t get me wrong this car is fast, it’ll do 0-60 in 6, maybe 6.5 seconds, and can do 120mph or more, but we need it to be stable and quick between that 50 – 100 mph stage as it’s not often you’re doing more than 100mph in the desert. After all, as they say in the advert: power is nothing without control, if your wheels aren’t touching the ground it doesn’t matter how much power you’ve got, so suspension is massively important.
I: If we’ve got a Defender and want to get into racing can you help?
JC: Yeah, we sell a kit so that people can make their own Defender Challenge Rally car from their own Defender, and the Defender is a great car and it’s a safe car, but once you start getting to the outer level of its performance it gets a bit tricky. So to learn in it’s brilliant- and it’s cheap and robust and reliable.
I: Tell us about the Defender Challenge Rally
JC: So the Defender Challenge started three years ago as a response to people ringing us saying I want to do the Dakar – after all it’s on a lot of people’s bucket list, and quite rightly so – and once we’d qualified that they’d got the resources and the time, what they didn’t usually have was the experience. So we came up with the Bowler Defender Challenge as a program to give them that experience and to ramp up gradually into doing something like the Dakar.
I: What can we expect if we get involved?
JC: It’s lots of fun. We’ve had some great times, the people are as important as the cars, our team are fantastic, the competitors love it. As you’d hope it’s all very social and we all go to the pub the night before. Basically, it fits in with people’s lives, for most of our customers we look after the car and maintain it for them so they literally turn up and drive. It’s called an arrive and drive package.
Next year we’re taking people to Spain, we’re doing the Spanish Baja, and we’re doing a race in Morocco to take people to that next stage and prepare them for the big African races.
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