Callum Bowyer endured a tough start to his 2011 Protyre Formula Renault BARC campaign, picking up just two points in his first two car races. The Antel Motorsport racer headed into the Donington Park weekend quietly confident, but saw him progress halted with incidents in both races.
Bowyer's confidence came after a strong finish to his pre-season testing schedule, as he explains: “I was really looking forward to the first round. I was more excited than nervous, to be honest. I was quietly confident, and hopeful of getting some good results. I already feel like I've been at Antel for years; I'm really settled there, and I get on with them all really well – they're a great bunch of guys.
“Our preparation had been really good; I felt strong in myself, and had trained hard for a long time leading up to the race weekend. I felt we had done the right groundwork in testing, and the pace we had shown had been good considering the limited amount of time we'd had in the car – so I was just looking to build on all that through the weekend.”
No Friday practice counted against Bowyer heading into the weekend's two qualifying sessions, with the Gunthorpe-based racer setting the eighteenth fastest time for the first race and the seventeenth for the second race. The races didn't go to plan for the 16 year old though, with contact in the first forcing him to pit for a new nosecone, seeing him finish two laps down in nineteenth, before more contact in race two caused a puncture, with his race ending in the gravel trap.
Bowyer reflected: “I was disappointed initially because of the pace we had shown during testing, but it was my first race weekend in cars and it is all new to me, at the end of the day. I just had to focus on trying to get through the traffic to come away with some half-decent results. The changes we made during qualifying really seemed to help in the races, and our pace was much better – a lot closer to the front.
“Race one was my first-ever start in cars, surrounded by all the other drivers on the grid, so there was a bit of pressure from that – but I made a really good getaway and passed two other cars heading up towards the first corner. Everyone stayed really bunched together for quite a while, and by lap three, I was up to tenth.
“Then I went up the inside of the driver in ninth into the final corner, but I don't think he saw me in his mirrors and he turned in, leaving me with nowhere to go and taking my front wing off. I pitted for a new nosecone and rejoined the race, but by then we were two laps down.
“In race two, I got a really good start again, passed some cars in front and worked my way up to 13th, but at that point I had no idea that I had been clipped from behind and left with a puncture in my right-rear tyre. Going down towards the Old Hairpin, the car is all loaded on that tyre and it spun me round and into the gravel. It was really unexpected, and from there, I was just a passenger…”
The two results weren't what the 16 year old was hoping for, but with some strong pace shown in flashes during the weekend, confidence remains high ahead of the next two rounds at Brands Hatch. He concluded: “It obviously wasn't what we had been aiming for, but everyone has bad weekends. If we'd had Friday practice, we would have had more pace in qualifying and been further up the grid and away from the damage zone that we got tangled up in, and maybe it would have been a different outcome to the races.
“On the positive side, the pace was definitely there on race day, even if the timesheets don't necessarily show it because we did so few laps. We know we can go through the traffic, too – I overtook 12 cars in the five racing laps that I had – and we just need to take those positives on to the second round at Brands Hatch.
“It's easy to look on the downside after a weekend when you don't really get any results, but it was my first-ever car racing meeting, and the improvement we made from Saturday to Sunday was really promising. The first one was always going to be the hardest, but we just need a bit of luck now – and then I'm sure the results will come.”