Monday 9th June 2014
Dan Zelos battled back from a luckless qualifying session in the latest outing of the 2014 Ginetta Junior Championship at Oulton Park to successfully tally his fourth top five finish of a remarkable rookie campaign.
Zelos’ head-turning fledgling car racing career revved up a gear at Thruxton last month when he stormed to a stunning breakthrough victory in the fiercely-contested ITV4-televised series. The gifted young Norfolk ace travelled north to popular Cheshire circuit Oulton Park bidding to maintain that positive momentum – but gearbox woes in qualifying dealt him an early blow.
On a damp-but-drying track that was quick to catch out the unwary, Zelos featured as high as fourth and looked set to improve to third on his final effort until upshifting difficulties scuppered his run. With the grip level increasing and virtually every other driver bettering their lap time, the 16-year-old found himself tumbling down the order to a wholly unrepresentative 11th and 13th on the 20-strong grid.
Zelos survived a lively opening lap in race one to emerge in 12th place – on the tail of an eight-way scrap over fifth. He was poised to steal a position as the field sped down towards Cascades on lap two, when a number of cars ahead tangled and shot across the track in various different directions.
Safely threading his way through the carnage in his distinctive JHR Developments-run, Evergreen Tyres-sponsored Ginetta G40, the highly-rated Dereham-based hotshot had advanced to eighth by the time the safety car appeared to clear up the debris from yet another multi-car shunt further back in the pack. Gaining a spot to seventh at the re-start, Zelos immediately set a new fastest lap of the race as he hunted down the leaders.
His relentless determination and refusal to admit defeat would be rewarded at the very last corner as a clash ahead enabled him to sneak through into sixth, which subsequently became fifth following a raft of post-race penalties for dubious driving standards. Incredibly, it marked his fourth top five finish from just seven starts.
The target for the second encounter was more of the same, and as Zelos swiftly latched onto the battle over ninth, it looked eminently achievable. Unfortunately for the Northgate High School pupil, however, a brace of spinners directly in front of him on lap three left him with nowhere to go in avoidance but splashing across the waterlogged and grip-less grass.
Although thereafter he was one of the quickest drivers on the circuit, the 15-second time loss he had suffered was far too great to overcome and he wound up a lowly 12th. Nonetheless, having preserved his flawless 100 per cent points-scoring record to-date, Zelos left Oulton sitting a competitive sixth in the championship standings – a scant two markers shy of the top four – and justifiably pleased with his performance.
“I felt really confident after Thruxton,” reflected the East Anglian teenager, “but whilst the win there had naturally shifted the goalposts slightly, I was still very mindful of keeping my expectations in-check because this year remains a steep learning curve for me.
“Oulton is an enjoyable circuit to drive, with a good variety of corners and some challenging banking, but we struggled initially in practice with tyre and braking issues, and then in qualifying we ran into gearbox problems that worsened as the session wore on. With the track rapidly drying out, the last lap was always going to be the fastest but I didn’t get the opportunity to improve when everybody else did.
“That was obviously frustrating because we knew there was some good pace in the car and we couldn’t show it, but the JHR Developments boys did a superb job to fit a replacement ‘box before the races and I was hopeful of fighting through into the top five.
“I posted some quick laps during race one and although there were a few near-misses along the way, by staying out-of-trouble, we ended up fifth. That was a fantastic result from where we had started – when the season began, we’d thought even making it into the top ten would be an achievement!
“It rained before race two, which meant there was only really one dry line, but I was making good progress until the collision ahead. That destroyed my chances because it put me so far behind that I was never going to be able to catch the others up again, but we still finished and came away with no real damage to the car.
“Overall, I have to be satisfied with the weekend’s results. It was a shame that qualifying left us further down the grid than we should have been and that we were compromised from there on in, but we upheld our consistent record of scoring points in every race so far and we can go to the next meeting at Croft with our heads held high and in the knowledge that we’ve got the pace to challenge.”
*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.