Car racing rookie Callum Bowyer produced a superb performance during Rounds Seven and Eight of the 2011 Protyre Formula Renault BARC Championship at Croft, with two strong finishes giving the Antel Motorsport driver confidence that a podium finish is possible before the end of the season.
Peterborough based Bowyer headed into the weekend confident after a strong performance at Croft in pre-season testing, commenting: “We had driven at Croft in an official pre-season test back in March, it was my first time in the car in dry conditions and on slick tyres, and I had lapped sixth-quickest, which was really encouraging. I felt I had learned a lot since then and gained much more experience, so I was looking to have a strong weekend.”
He continued his strong pace at the circuit during Thursday practice, going fourth fastest, before going sixth fastest in Saturday morning warm up. This put him in a positive mood heading into qualifying, which didn't quite go to plan.
Bowyer said: “We've tended to have better race pace than qualifying pace so far this year, so to be fourth and sixth-quickest over a single lap was really good. Unfortunately, in qualifying, a number of factors conspired against us and when it really mattered, it all fell away from us a little bit.
“With the tyre performance at Croft, there was such a small window to actually put a lap together – and I think we missed that window. In the first session, I got traffic on my fastest lap, was a bit frustrating, and I think we took the best out of our tyres in that session which meant we struggled in the second one as well. The wind had changed direction since Friday, too, and it was slightly warmer, neither of which seemed to help us. It was just a really disappointing outcome overall.”
The woes left him eleventh and twelfth on the grid for the two races, but Callum didn't give up and went on to put in a great performance in race one. He reflected: “We knew we were on the back foot tyre-wise going into the races, but we changed a few things on the car which seemed to improve it and made it gentler on them. That enabled the tyres to last that little bit longer and allowed me to fight my way through.
“In the first race, I got a good start and managed to dodge an incident ahead when a few cars went off. I ended the opening lap in eighth and then tried to establish a decent rhythm. To be honest, it was quite a boring race from where I was sitting, but I gained steadily on the group of cars in front and on the last lap, the driver I was applying pressure upon went off. Then into the Complex, there was a coming-together between two more drivers and I was able to pass one of them. I had been expecting to finish seventh, so fifth was really quite a bonus!”
The result matched his best finish in cars so far and was made sweeter with Bowyer setting the fourth-quickest lap time of the race. This meant he headed into race two with his tail up, a race that also went well as he recalls: “I got another really good start and over the first few laps, I focussed on trying to keep my tyres in good condition. I just had to persevere for a while, but then after a handful of laps we really got going, and I caught and passed a few drivers in front, pulling away afterwards each time.
“It's so hard to overtake in these cars; you really have to think hard about where and how you are going to do it, line the moves up and carefully plan everything out. I got up to eighth place, but then in the closing stages there was quite a big gap to the pack in front, so I just made sure I brought it safely home in that position.”
The eighth place finish crowned the 17 year old's best weekend in car racing so far, proving his continued improvement over the season. The two big points hauls meant he was the fifth highest-points scorer of the weekend, helping him move up three places to twelfth in the points standings.
Bowyer is hoping to continue his momentum at Thruxton next time out, concluding: “Everything feels like it's coming together a bit more and that's reflected in the results we're getting. I feel a lot more comfortable in the car now; we've still got a little way to go, but we've made massive progress in that respect. We certainly took another step forward at Croft – we've done so every time, to be fair – and that's definitely a good sign.
“Obviously, I'd like to be right up at the front at Thruxton, but the main goal really has to be to just keep on improving. Every time we go out, we're getting closer-and-closer to the outright pace, and hopefully between now and the end of the season, we might even be able to get a podium. With a good qualifying performance and just a little bit of luck, I don't think that's out-of-reach.”