Monday 21st April 2014
Dan Zelos refused to let a stroke of misfortune hold him back in the second outing of the 2014 Ginetta Junior Championship at Donington Park, as the gifted young Norfolk ace scythed his way through from the rear of the starting grid to a tremendous top ten finish in the popular ITV4-televised series.
Having taken the chequered flag an outstanding fifth and scooped the rookie trophy for good measure in the Brands Hatch season curtain-raiser three weeks earlier, Zelos arrived at Donington in confident mood.
A self-confessed fan of the Leicestershire circuit’s fast-and-flowing nature – describing it as his favourite track out of those he has visited thus far – the highly-rated Dereham-based hotshot was there-or-thereabouts during Friday practice and a solid top ten threat behind the wheel of his JHR Developments-run Ginetta G40.
A gearbox issue in Saturday morning’s final practice session, however, left Zelos 13th on the timesheets – and it would indeed prove to be an unlucky omen. With a replacement deemed necessary, the JHR crew faced a race against time and despite working wonders, were unable to complete the job before the end of qualifying. That meant the driver of the distinctive #45 Evergreen Tyres-sponsored car would have to begin both encounters from the very back of the 20-strong grid.
Undeterred, the 15-year-old Northgate High School pupil grittily fought his way through to 12th in the first of them, setting lap times competitive enough to have challenged the front-runners. On a damp-but-drying track surface in race two, Zelos again pulled off some brilliantly incisive manoeuvres to cross the line an excellent tenth. On both occasions, he finished right on the tail of a multi-car scrap over sixth place – and was the quickest of the group to-boot.
Consolidating his top ten position in the championship standings, the East Anglian teenager reflected that it was a positive conclusion to a weekend that had at one stage looked like falling apart at the seams – and as he turns his attentions towards the next round on the calendar at super-fast Thruxton, he does so with justifiable optimism.
“Missing qualifying was immensely frustrating, especially as I wasn’t entirely happy with the balance of the car after practice which meant we were still trying to perfect the set-up,” he mused. “The JHR Developments boys performed miracles to change the gearbox and try to get me out in time, but the odds were seriously stacked against us and ultimately the clock hit zero just before I was able to start a ‘flying’ lap.
“What made it worse was that it was a double-whammy, as not only did we have to begin both races from the back row of the grid, but we had also lost 15 minutes of vital track time that we really needed. The upshot was that we went into the opening race with our chances already compromised, and it was always going to be an uphill battle from there. That said, I tried to look on the bright side and treated it as overtaking practice, focussing on making my way past as many other drivers as I could – which is exactly what I did.
“The pack spread out quite early in race one, but I made consistent progress all the way through and was pleased to finish 12th. I raised my sights a little higher for race two the next day, and with the live TV coverage and huge crowds, it was an opportunity to impress and really show everybody watching what we are capable of.
“Although I knew it would be a tall order, my target was to climb into the top ten this time and I was delighted to achieve that. To finish so close to sixth place in both races just went to show what might have been but for the gearbox trouble, and it was really encouraging to make up so much ground.
“This whole year is going to be a big learning curve for me, but hopefully at Thruxton we can take another step forward. We were quick there in testing and it’s another circuit I enjoy, so if we can qualify where we should then there’s no reason why we can’t fight further up towards the sharp end of the field. The goalposts are shifting all the time.”
*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.