Monday 8th September 2014
Dan Zelos swept to his second victory of a remarkable maiden car racing campaign in the fiercely-contested 2014 Ginetta Junior Championship at Rockingham – and by emerging from the weekend as the series’ top points-scorer, he has moved up a spot to fourth in the title standings.
An immediate fan of the demanding Northants circuit following his initial laps there during testing, Zelos was a regular top five threat throughout practice. He carried that excellent form over into qualifying, placing his distinctive JHR Developments-run, Evergreen Tyres-sponsored Ginetta G40 fourth in the pecking-order for race one and fifth for race two amongst the 18 high-calibre contenders – a phenomenally strong field by any standards.
The traditional first corner shuffle in the opening encounter cost the gifted Norfolk ace a position, but he wasted no time at all in reclaiming it and sliced his way incisively past his team-mate to snatch third at the beginning of lap five. He then set about closing down the two-second deficit to the duelling leaders, and as the fastest of the front-running quartet, it was not long before he had latched right onto their tail.
As the clock ticked down towards the chequered flag, the action became ever-more breathless and frenetic at the front with as many as seven contenders all vying for supremacy. Witnessing the two drivers ahead take repeated swipes at each other, Zelos sensed that their tussle would not end well and wisely held a watching brief whilst fending off the attentions of his championship-leading team-mate right behind.
It was a mature approach that would pay off handsomely, as entering the race’s final corner, the inevitable happened and the leaders collided, enabling the highly-rated Dereham-based hotshot to sneak past to clinch a popular and thoroughly deserved second triumph of the season.
Whilst the ITV4-televised outing the following day did not deliver quite the same blockbuster-esque thrills, it did yield a second consecutive podium – incredibly, Zelos’ seventh from just 16 starts. Quickest of the JHR quintet once again, the 16-year-old Dereham Sixth Form College AS-Level student made a bright start and advanced to third when a driver ahead ran off-track on lap three.
Keeping the top two within sight throughout, he reeled his second-placed adversary in over the closing stages and flashed across the finish line a scant 1.7 seconds in arrears. The only competitor to secure a brace of rostrums at Rockingham and comfortably outscoring all of his rivals, Zelos’ outstanding points haul and commendable consistency have vaulted him from fifth up to a superb fourth in the overall classification with just Silverstone and Brands Hatch GP left on the calendar.
“I was determined to come back fighting at Rockingham after a frustrating weekend at Knockhill, where we had so much pace but just weren’t able to convert it into solid results,” mused the East Anglian car racing rookie. “Rockingham is quite a tricky circuit, and the combination of the flat-out banking and tight, twisty and technical infield section makes establishing a strong set-up a real challenge. It’s extremely tough on the tyres, too, so it’s vital to learn how to make them last and that’s something we worked hard on throughout testing and practice.
“That left me in confident spirits, and although I was a bit disappointed by the outcome of qualifying as I felt we had the pace to be third, I knew we could still do well from there. I got a good start in race one, but found myself hung out to dry a little around the opening lap, which cost me some early ground.
“As things settled down, I fought my way up into third and focussed on trying to close in on the two leaders, who were going at it hammer-and-tongs and trading paint all the way around the lap. It was obvious that something was going to give and that it would end in tears, so I deliberately hung back slightly as I didn’t want to get caught up in it.
“Sure enough, they tangled at the final corner and fortunately I was able to thread my way around the outside and into the lead. I was over-the-moon to get my second win of the season – at the start of the year, I never expected to win even one race, let alone two – and to come away with a one-two-three finish for the team was no less than the JHR boys deserved after all the effort they have put in.
“As on Saturday, we didn’t quite have the ultimate edge in Sunday’s race, but I managed to hold my position at the start and then took advantage of a mistake ahead. After that, it was all about keeping my cool and it was fantastic to get another podium – given that we lacked the outright speed over the weekend, we really pulled the results out of the bag. Now we need to go away and try to find a bit more pace in testing – and then hopefully we can return at Silverstone with a race-winning car.”
*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.