Race-prepping a Discovery

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Reece and Sean get ready to race : credit: © Alisdair Cusick
Land Rover workshop skills aren’t just for restos or service tasks. Alisdair Cusick meets one duo rattling the spanners for a different end result

Need to know

Time: One month so far
Difficulty: 4 out of 5  
Models:
Discovery, Defender, classic Range Rover.
Tools needed: Sockets and spanners, welding and metal work equipment, engine hoist, transmission jack.
Parts: Rear crossmember (DDS); boot floor sides (DDS); boot floor (Machinor); flywheel machined (John Eales); water pump, engine service consumables, oils (Millers Oils).
Costs: Engine parts, £200; flywheel machining £150
Work safely:
• Use the right tool, for the right job.
• Use the correctly rated lifting and support equipment.
• If in doubt, hire a professional to do the job.
Team Sponsors: Millers Oils, Terrafirma, DDS Metal Services.
Thanks to: Reece and Sean Mathieson for their help.

 

As an alternative from our usual ‘how to fix’ features, we’re following father and son race duo, Sean and Reece Mathieson, as they prepare a 1996 Discovery V8 ready for the hill rallying start line in the Modified Production class.

The pair are no strangers to racing having started with a Freelander 1 in 2021, winning the British Cross-Country Trophy in Class 14 in their first year of competing. The following year brought class wins in the Welsh Borders and then the Scottish Borders Hill Rallies, and in 2023 they won the Freelander Trophy and repeated their Borders Hill Rally title win. All this was achieved by doing everything together, from building, racing, navigating and maintaining the race vehicle.

 

Racing Disco returns

With the revamped Discovery 1, Sean and Reece hope to repeat the success they enjoyed with their earlier Freelander racer

This year they’ve moved on to a Discovery, taking on the old D1 racer driven by the late John ‘Pick’ Pickering. This 1996 V8 model has already been heavily modified by Pick to compete, with Sean alongside as his navigator. They have history with the car, but after a decade of use it is ready for a refresh. The build programme is already against the clock, for they are intending to complete the work and be at the start line of the Scottish Hill rally in June, hoping to repeat their feat of a British title win in their debut year.

Repairing and modifying an older Discovery is fairly straightforward. What is different here is how those processes and decisions change when the end result is about making the vehicle race competitive. Beyond the simple work required to repair and refresh the car, race regulations limit what they can do and, critically, how long the teams get to fix running problems during events. We’ll see this affect many decisions and approaches during the build.

 

The brief

The D1 in original race guise driven by the late John Pickering

Whilst being a race car, what brief are they following? “It needs to look like a Disco, but be as capable and competitive as possible,” explains Sean. They can’t just build what they wish though, as it has to follow rules for their race class.

“We want to keep it fun, but are definitely working to a budget,” Sean says. While they’re modifying elements of the suspension and tweaking driveline ratios, the focus is on keeping much of the car standard. Not just because of the class they’re running in, the Modified Production Class, but because it means if they suffer a failure, replacements should be available nearby. “If we break something, that means we can likely buy another one, and continue an event,” says Reece.

Rather than modify it for maximum performance, what is more important is reliability. “To get the points, you need to finish,” says Reece. “You can only do that if the car is reliable.” With that in mind, much of their work is on ticking the box of reliability, first and foremost. There is much more to this aspect of rally maintenance, as we’ll learn going through the series. Plus, what is it actually like to race a Land Rover?

Starting point: One month in, the car as it stands. Already heavily modified, it now needs to be worked through and made to withstand competitive use, following race class rules.

Job one: the structure: Engine and gearbox are already removed for preparatory work and to access the structure. Black tubular sections each side of engine bay form the damper top mountings.

Chassis work: First, the corroded rear crossmember was cut out and replaced with a DDS Metal Services section. Body mount rubbers were replaced, and the rear chassis de-rusted and repainted.

Boot floor: Like all old Discoverys, the boot floor needed replacing. Because of the roll cage, Sean changed just the rear section, and welded in replacement boot floor side panels.

Quality kit stays: The existing Protection and Performance roll cage, and remote reservoir Terrafirma shock absorbers are retained. Remote reservoirs give increased cooling and performance at higher speeds.

Work-arounds: “All repairs involve some corrective work,” says Sean, none more evident than around the rear floor. Patches on patches are typical, but will be replaced properly, where possible.

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Race, not restoration: During a race, service and repair is time-limited. An access hatch has been built into the rear floor. If you can reach it, you can repair it quickly. Sound advice, thanks guys.

Race influence: This side has been repaired and repainted, but extra mudguards have been fabricated to prevent a build-up of mud between the inner and outer bodywork when racing off-road.

Moving on: Reece gets to work stripping the rear anti-roll bar. This will get rubbed down, repainted and refitted. Polyurethane bushes seem okay, but if any of them look dubious, they will be replaced.

Lighter is faster: The Discovery weighed 1940kg when the team started. To shave weight down, doors have been stripped of furniture and sound-deadening, and the inner frames have been cut away.

Half the story: To put some strength back into the doors and keep them clean, aluminium panels will be bonded and riveted onto the inner frames. Saving weight has to be balanced against durability.

The unexpected: Annoyingly, corrosion was found on the chassis rails near the gearbox crossmember, so the gearbox had to come out for the corrosion to be cut away and new metal welded in.

Not a restoration: Typical body corrosion like this will be rubbed back, but rather than time-intensive weld repairs, aluminium panels will be riveted and bonded on, saving weight, time and money.

More weight saving: Striving for further weight loss, the heavy door glass will be changed for Perspex. The rear side windows will be ditched in favour of aluminium panels which will also act as race number boards.

 

Engine and transmission

Mechanical reliability: The standard 3.9-litre V8 engine is serviced, and the rear crank seal, ancillary belt tensioner, rocker gaskets and exhaust gaskets replaced. The plenum was removed and cleaned.

Choice modifications: Engine mods are limited, but 1.5kg was milled off the rear of the flywheel by John Eales, allowing the engine to spin up and down the revs faster.

The benefit of standard: Reece fits a new water pump. Unlike more specialised kit, keeping it standard means parts are easy to find wherever they race, explains Sean – a useful racing tip.

Transfer ’box tweak: The team have opted for a 1.410 ratio Defender transfer ’box in place of the standard Discovery ratio to improve acceleration, accepting the compromise that first gear will be lower.

A glimpse underneath: A job for the future...  Axles should be useable, albeit in need of a tidy. For the sake of reliability, the swivels on the front axle will be overhauled.

In part 2: The duo aims to have the rear end repairs completed, plus the front wings, and hopefully get to refit the engine.

 


 

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