Callum Bowyer continued his progress in the 2011 Protyre Formula Renault BARC Championship by picking up his best result of the season so far in the latest rounds at Oulton Park. The car racing rookie picked up fifth place in race one, before getting taken out of race two.
The Antel Motorsport driver took a step forward last time out at Brands Hatch after a double non-finish at the season opening rounds at Donington Park. He headed to Oulton hoping to maintain his upward momentum and continue his improvement in the championship.
Bowyer confessed: “I didn't have a great experience at Oulton in winter testing. It was only my third day in the car so I wasn't all that confident at the time, and it was wet all day, too. It's very undulating and demanding, though, and a real drivers' track – for me, it's one of the most enjoyable circuits in the country.
“During practice, it was just a case of settling back into it and re-familiarising myself with the track in different conditions, because that was the first time I had ever driven it in the dry. It didn't take too long to adapt to it all, and we actually got quite close to the leading pace pretty quickly and then every time we went out, we improved – the gap got dramatically smaller with every session.”
The Peterborough-based racer targeted a top twelve qualifying position, but comfortably exceeded his expectations, taking ninth place for race one and eighth for race two. This was a huge improvement from his previous best qualifying performance of fifteenth and left him eagerly anticipating race one.
He recalled: “Just as we were lining up in our grid positions, the heavens opened, soaking the whole circuit very quickly. We were all on slicks, so the start was delayed to allow us to change tyres – and then a few minutes later, the rain stopped and the track began drying again really fast. We all changed back over to slicks, but the problem was that whilst half the lap was dry, the other half was still wet, which made things really tricky – it was a challenge for everyone simply to stay on the track!
“After the start, going into the hairpin on the first lap, a few cars came off – I was quite lucky not to get collected in it – and there was a red flag to recover them. At the re-start, everyone took it very cautiously on the damp track; I got quite a good start to move up to sixth, and was able to break away from the pack behind.
“I closed the gap to the championship leader ahead of me, overtook him to move into fifth and pulled away. I then concentrated on chasing down the drivers in third and fourth; I had just got onto the back of them when there was another red flag, and as there were only two laps left to go, they called the result there. Looking back at it now, without the red flag, I daresay it would have been a podium.”
It was a magnificent result for Bowyer, finishing less a second shy of the podium, setting the third-fastest lap time of the race and ending up as comfortably the leading rookie. Race two wouldn't prove to be as successful however â€¦
Bowyer explained: “I was on the outside of the grid which was the dirty line and as such a disadvantage, but I got a good start again. I was in seventh place with the championship leader behind me, when going down the main straight at about 120mph and completely out-of-the-blue, I suddenly got a massive whack from the rear, which spun me right round. You never expect to get hit on the straight, and it left me facing backwards at the fastest part of the track, with the oncoming traffic all speeding towards me.
“They were arriving just over the brow of a hill, too, so it would have been quite a shock for them seeing me in the middle of the track facing the wrong way! If any of them had hit me, it would have been an impact speed of more than 200mph, but fortunately, I managed to regain control and get off the circuit to a safe spot as fast as I could to avoid any further damage.
“You have so much adrenaline pumping through your body that you don't really have time to think about the danger, to be honest – it all happens so quickly at that speed, and it's only afterwards that you start to think, 'that could have been a really nasty one'. Ok, we didn't finish the race and it could have been another really good result, but I was just thankful that I came out of it all unharmed. There was a little bit of damage to the car, but nothing that can't be repaired.”
The fact his rival was excluded for the incident was little consolation for Bowyer, but he still left an encouraging weekend in positive mood. Having not finished about eleventh prior to the Oulton meeting, the fifth place in Round Five sees him more than double his points tally, moving him up to fifteenth in the championship standings.
Callum concluded: “Despite the way it finished, it was still a great weekend with the pace we had and the result in race one, in tough conditions and around a difficult track. We took another big step forward, and I'm just really looking forward to Croft now.
“After a rocky start to the season with the double DNF at Donington Park, we had a better weekend at Brands Hatch and then at Oulton, we were really knocking on the door. We're continuously improving and getting ever-closer to the podium. That has always been the goal – and it's really looking achievable now.”