Tuesday 1st July 2014
Dan Zelos once again belied his rookie status as the fiercely-contested 2014 Ginetta Junior Championship travelled north-east to Croft, tallying a third podium finish of what has thus far been a remarkable maiden car racing campaign.
After placing seventh and ninth-quickest amongst the 20 contenders during Friday practice in his distinctive JHR Developments-run, Evergreen Tyres-sponsored Ginetta G40, Zelos found almost a full second on Saturday morning to improve to a superb third in the final session before qualifying.
Posting a series of impressively consistent lap times, the gifted young Norfolk ace proceeded to claim a strong sixth position on the race one grid – and an excellent getaway when the starting lights went out vaulted him up to fifth. That was, at least, until a handful of corners later when he was tagged into a spin that sent him pirouetting across the grass and plummeting down to the very rear of the order.
Despite nursing a wounded car from the impact, Zelos valiantly fought his way back through the field, pulling off some incisive overtaking manoeuvres en route to an appropriately unlucky 13th at the chequered flag. That his assailant held up his hand and apologised afterwards was scant consolation for a podium chance gone begging.
Beginning Sunday’s ITV4 live-televised outing from fifth, the highly-rated Dereham-based hotshot immediately gained a spot when one of the front row-sitters peeled off into the pit-lane at the end of the formation lap.
In what turned out to be a particularly lively encounter, Zelos carefully avoided a raft of early dramas and spills to dive past Jamie Caroline for third at mid-distance. Given that Caroline’s damaged car subsequently became something of a mobile chicane, the timing of the pass would transpire to be instrumental in securing the 16-year-old Northgate High School student his third rostrum finish from just ten races, as he sped away from the marauding multi-car snake behind and even homed in on the duelling leaders towards the end.
The result means Zelos has incredibly finished half of the races to-date this season inside the top five, leaving him joint fifth in the championship table and tied for top rookie honours heading into the summer break, just two points adrift of fourth overall and less than a victory shy of second. Given his comparative inexperience in his fledgling car racing career, it is a quite phenomenal achievement.
“Croft is an enjoyable circuit to drive,” mused the East Anglian teenager. “It’s an all-round challenge – tight-and-twisty in parts and fast-and-flowing elsewhere. That makes car set-up something of a compromise and you have to be able to adapt quickly – there are some sections where you need to really attack and others that call for patience.
“We had shown some decent pace there during testing, and we carried that over into the weekend’s practice sessions, which set us up nicely for qualifying. We worked well strategically as a team, which really paid off, and I was pleased to line up sixth on the grid – it put us in the mix and I knew we would have a decent chance from there.
“I made a good start in race one to move up to fifth. Once we had safely negotiated the first few corners, I thought we had got past the worst of the danger element on the opening lap – and then I got slammed into from behind going into the hard-braking zone at Tower Bend! I was a long way back after that and in the circumstances, I think 13th was about the best we were going to get. Some of my closest rivals in the standings also had bad races, so ultimately, it could have been a lot worse.
“It did make me even more fired-up to score a good result the next day, though. I got another good start and kept my head as the various incidents kicked off. When I was behind Caroline, I could see he was struggling so I knew it would be crucial to clear him as quickly as possible. After that, I established a big gap back to the chasing pack, and towards the end, I actually began closing in on the two leaders as they battled. If we’d had just a couple more laps, we could probably have made it a three-way fight...
“Third place was a really positive outcome and I’m very happy that we were able to turn things around after Saturday. At the beginning of the season, I would have bitten your hand off if you had offered me three podiums from the first ten races in my rookie year. This is way beyond what I had been hoping for, and I owe massive thanks to JHR Developments for all the help and support they have given me – I really couldn’t be with a better team.
“We’ve got a long summer break now, with some testing planned and time to reflect on everything I’ve learned before the racing resumes at Snetterton in August. Being my home circuit, that will be my most important weekend of the season so far – and I want to make sure I’m absolutely on top of my game.”
*The Ginetta Junior Championship is one of the key support series to the high-profile Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship (BTCC), enabling precociously talented 14-to-17-year-olds to earn their racing spurs before they can even legally drive on the road.