Belfast's David Johnstone claimed victory in Round Six of the Defender Challenge by Bowler series, to set up a championship decider at next month's Borders Hill Rally.
Seven teams battled through testing conditions in North Wales, as their Bowler-prepared Land Rover Defender vehicles raced across 45 difficult miles of forest and tarmac stages at the Cambrian Rally. The seven Land Rover Defenders were amongst just 83 vehicles to complete the rally, from 120 starters.
After a tough day of rallying, Johnstone, helped by his co-driver Joseph Monaghan, topped the podium in their first Defender Challenge event.
Jonhstone said: "The Defender did everything, and more, than we'd expected. The stages were rough and the course seemed to suit the way we drove. It's been great to compete alongside all the other teams, and to win the event was just a bonus."
The Northern Irish duo will now head to the Borders Hill Rally in Dumfries next month, where championship leader Edd Cobley will do battle with Race2Recovery for the Defender Challenge championship title.
Cobley's hopes of securing the title in Wales were dashed, with the Leicestershire driver only able to recover one championship point, following a dramatic crash in Stage 4 , near Penmachno.
Another driver to complete the course, despite a tumble, was Damien Taft, who's point-scoring recovery highlighted the inherent strength of the Land Rover Defender.
Race2Recovery, which finished the rally in second place, are now just one point behind Cobley in the championship having celebrated its fifth consecutive podium finish in Llandudno.
The team enables people with disabilities to participate in professional motorsport and has received backing from long-term partner Land Rover to enable its entry in the series.
One of the disabled members of the Race2Recovery team, female co-driver Stephanie Boddez, has won plaudits for her efforts in the series so far. Belgian 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.
She said: "To finish this course, let alone come second this weekend is great. It was very slippery with lots of difficult hair pins and you never know if you're going to take a tumble like Edd [Cobley] did.
"I've heard some great things about the Borders Hill Rally, and after coming second in the Welsh Hill Rally earlier in the year, we think we can do very well there. It's exciting to be in contention for the championship and we'll try to push Edd all the way in Scotland."
Rally fans can find out more about Stephanie Boddez' story in a new short film released online by Land Rover
2014 is the inaugural year of the Defender Challenge by Bowler race series, which features 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.
Drew Bowler, Managing Director of Bowler Motorsport said: "The first six rounds of the Defender Challenge have provided some memorable rallying, including a great event in North Wales.
"It's very exciting that the championship will go down to the final event in the series at the Borders Hill Rally. Edd Cobley has proved to be the man to catch all year, but this weekend's result shows how competitive the Defender Challenge has been and the championship will go right down to the wire."
Mark Cameron, Global Brand Experience Director, Jaguar Land Rover, said: "We're extremely pleased with the reaction that the Defender Challenge by Bowler race series has had so far. The series has proved to be a huge success and we are looking forward to a great finale in Dumfries next month as our debut season comes to a close.
"For Land Rover and Bowler, one of the many positives to come out of the series is the fact that we've been able to provide a platform to teams, drivers and navigators who will progress to international competitions like the Dakar Rally. We are delighted that three teams from the Defender Challenge are set to tackle Dakar in 2016."
People wishing to find out more information about the Defender Challenge by Bowler should visit: www.bowlermotorsport.com or, to get a taste of the action, watch the highlights video at: http://www.landrover.co.uk/sponsorship-and-experiences/defender-challenge.