Monday 25th August 2014
Dan Zelos might have come away disappointed from the latest outing in the fiercely-contested 2014 Ginetta Junior Championship, but his pace and performance at Knockhill in Scotland nonetheless kept the gifted Norfolk ace firmly inside the top five in the title standings during a remarkable maiden car racing campaign.
Zelos immediately took to the popular and demanding Fife circuit in pre-event testing in his distinctive JHR Developments-run, Evergreen Tyres-sponsored Ginetta G40. He maintained his impressive mid-season momentum in official practice, lapping consistently inside the top three amongst the 17 high-calibre contenders – a phenomenally strong field by any standards – and never more than a quarter-of-a-second adrift of the outright benchmark.
That left the highly-rated Dereham-based hotshot in confident mood going into qualifying, and on a wet-but-drying track surface, he duly headed the timesheets halfway through the session. After pitting to make some modifications to adapt his car to the ever-changing conditions, Zelos slipped down the order but was on-course to reclaim the top spot on his final effort when he found himself baulked by an errant rival rejoining the circuit after a mistake.
Lining up a frustrated and entirely unrepresentative ninth on the grid, it was a sizeable blow given how difficult overtaking is around Knockhill’s short, tight-and-twisty layout. Undeterred, the 16-year-old certainly gave it a go in the opening encounter, boldly holding his nerve as – for the second race in a row – he was edged onto the grass at the start, before swiftly working his way up into sixth.
He made a move to seize fifth position just after mid-distance, only for his adversary to turn in, tipping him into a spin and sending him plummeting down to the rear of the order. The upshot was that Zelos took the chequered flag a lowly 15th, when the lap times proved he clearly had the pace to fight for the podium.
The East Anglian car racing rookie again wasted little time in gaining ground in the following day’s ITV4-televised showdown, rapidly settling into a multi-car scrap over fourth in which he needed to attack and defend all at once. He pulled alongside experienced JHR team-mate and championship leader Jack Mitchell on a couple of occasions exiting the final hairpin, but mindful of needing a strong finish after Saturday, ultimately decided that discretion was the better part of valour. Winding up sixth, the result consolidated his superb fifth position in the championship standings.
“It was my first time at Knockhill, so we did a day’s testing there ahead of the race meeting to allow me to learn the layout,” Zelos explained. “I loved it straightaway; it’s a real rollercoaster ride and like a big karting circuit. It’s definitely a drivers’ track – flowing, undulating and a lot of fun. The test went really well and we seemed to have strong pace, which was a positive start – and that was confirmed during practice.
“We were really quick again in qualifying, but as the track dried out, I began developing oversteer so we pitted to make some changes to the set-up. I had two laps at the end of the session to make the most of that, but I never got a clear run. I was up on my previous best on my last effort when a driver who had gone off came back onto the circuit right in front of me and held me up. Looking at the data afterwards, that lap would probably have been good enough for pole...
“Race one went well to begin with, but when I tried to pass the driver ahead into the final hairpin on lap seven, I don’t think he saw me because he turned in, which spun me round onto the wet grass and left me right at the back of the field. That was massively disappointing given what we could have achieved with the speed we had, but it just made me even more fired-up for race two.
“I got a blistering start again, and by lap eight I was up into the top six. Unfortunately, the driver in fourth parked his bus on every apex and defended really hard throughout, which backed up the rest of the pack. There were never any clear-cut opportunities to make a move, and with Jack directly in front of me, I didn’t want to chance any risky manoeuvres that could have affected his championship challenge so I was probably more cautious than I would have been against somebody else.
“Sixth was definitely a better way to finish the weekend than Saturday’s outcome – although admittedly, nothing like as much as we had hoped we might come away with after practice. That said, it’s important to remember that this is still my rookie season and next year is the one that will really count, and now I know how fast we can be when we return to Knockhill in 2015...”
*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.