Rally good time


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20 April 2024
Freelander put through it's paces
Reece and Sean Mathieson recount their motorsport season in their cross-country-prepped Freelander

Having completed the build of our Production class Freelander 1.8 three-door in March 2022, we spent the majority of that year getting to know the car, whilst also competing in two high profile cross-country events – the Welsh Borders Hill Rally and Scottish Borders Hill Rally. We won our classes in both, which gave us a good indication of the capability of our car when planning the next season’s schedule.

With the announcement that the All-Wheel Drive Club (AWDC) was to be running an eight-round Freelander Trophy within its main championship in 2023: it was a decision that took little thought. The venues included Bovington military training area, Ebbw Vale, Minehead, Ilfracombe and three rounds at Walters Arena in Wales.

We were excited by the opportunity, even more so when we saw there were five other Freelander racers registered to compete, all with the same aim of fighting for the title.

Encouragingly, interest in the Freelander Trophy was strong, following years of hiatus since the last standalone Freelander Championship. The plucky Freelander continues to provide a highly competitive gateway into racing in Cross Country events at a relatively low cost, and one that newcomers to the sport should certainly consider given their following, and the wide availability of parts, cars and expertise.

2023 has been a year Reece and Sean won’t forgot

The 2023 season was the first year we gained sponsorship and support from two well-known names within the motorsport scene – Millers Oils and Mintex Racing. Millers Oils provided us with its flagship 5W40 engine oil from its motorsport range for our whole season, and Mintex continuously supplied us with its race-spec M1144 brake pads.

A favourite saying of ours is ‘to finish first, first you must finish’, and our 2023 season in the AWDC Freelander Trophy highlighted the importance of that.

The championship score is counted across your six best results. We competed in seven of the eight events, starting at Walters Arena in mid-March and ending at the same venue, on the 14th and 15th of October. We began our season learning the format of AWDC events, the difficulty of their stages and the competitiveness of the other Freelander crews.

Round One at Walters Arena provided us with our first win of the season, with the challenging MoD training ground at Bovington at Round Two helping us secure a second win. Not an easy task, with two other very competitive Freelanders right on our tail. On Round Three we slipped behind the two other Freelanders in the afternoon after leading in the morning, being reminded that while very tough, the standard components can only take so much abuse – we damaged a front strut as well as a gearbox mount.

Round Four was one we intentionally dropped, giving us time to prepare for a busy second half of the season; we were leading the Trophy at the halfway point. That lead was to slip away at Walters Arena for Round Five however, where our confidence and pace was not enough. Round Six restored our faith and fight however, leading from the get-go, before the heavy Devonshire rain in the afternoon disrupted our pace and set us back to finish 2nd. A month on, and again adverse weather in Devon (Tiverton) disrupted racing, this time causing the cancellation of Round Seven. This meant our final trip to Walters Arena for two days of racing became Round Seven on Saturday and Round Eight on Sunday, the finale weekend.

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We went into the final two rounds 2nd in the standings, two points behind the leader. The three-way battle between our 1.8 K-series and the two 2.0 Td4s was on! However, with the fast-flowing stage suiting our petrol engine, Saturday saw us take the lead, and despite damaging another front shock absorber early in the day, we took the win to level the standings going into the final day.

Repeating Saturday’s troubles however, we damaged another front strut. Thankfully, it was the opposite side and one we still had a spare for. Both other crews also struggled with mechanical problems, meaning a strong finish would secure us the title – easier said than done across the rough Welsh terrain however. By managing our pace for a trouble-free afternoon, we achieved a finish and won the title – 2023 Freelander Trophy champions!

For the title battle to go down to the wire on the last day, seven months after the first round, proves just how competitive the class is; something we’ve thrived on. We wanted a challenge and we certainly got that this year, both in terms of the competition and maintaining our Freelander to winning form.

The capability of the Freelanders continues to surprise many, especially their performance and reliability on the cross-country rally stages. Having been playing and competing with them for so long now, they’re not to be underestimated.

We feel there’s no better example of this than the overall result we also achieved in the 2023 AWDC Championship, finishing 10th overall out of a staggering 69 registered competitors.

We certainly couldn’t have achieved all our successes this year without our brilliant team supporting us, not to mention the invaluable experience and products our sponsors Millers Oils and Mintex have provided us with.

Rounding out the top 10 in the Championship after winning the 2023 Freelander Trophy was the icing on the cake for us this season – it was a year we will never forget.

Amazingly, it only got better when we entered Class 1 of the Scottish Borders Hill Rally on the 18 and 19 November, which we also won, retaining our title and finishing 18th out of 38 starters.

Over the break we’ll be continuing to improve our Freelander further, as well as bringing a new car to the fleet – a 1996 Modified Production Class 3.9-litre V8 Discovery. Already 2024 is shaping up to be a very exciting year for us, and hopefully a successful one, too.


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