Monday 29th September 2014
Dan Zelos demonstrated his fighting spirit as the fiercely-contested 2014 Ginetta Junior Championship stopped off at the celebrated ‘Home of British Motorsport’, Silverstone, producing a gritty performance to net a hard-earned eighth podium finish of a truly outstanding rookie campaign.
Having tallied the second triumph of his fledgling car racing career three weeks earlier at Rockingham, Zelos returned to Northamptonshire in bullish mood – and lapping second-quickest in two of the three practice sessions confirmed that his optimism was well-founded.
The gifted Norfolk ace subsequently topped the timesheets for much of qualifying in his distinctive JHR Developments-run, Evergreen Tyres-sponsored Ginetta G40. Although he was ultimately just pipped to pole position, a brace of second places amongst the 19 high-calibre contenders – a phenomenally strong grid by any standards – nonetheless marked his finest effort to-date.
In the opening encounter, an electric start vaulted Zelos into an early lead, and what ensued was a captivating multi-car scrap for supremacy around Silverstone’s National Circuit in which he was never more than half-a-second away from the front of the field.
After finding himself briefly muscled down to fourth, the highly-rated Dereham-based hotshot immediately hit back and was in third place when a rival tagged him into a spin under waved yellow flags on the penultimate lap. The fact that his assailant was penalised for the manoeuvre did not give Zelos back his position or points, as he wound up an aggrieved and unrepresentative ninth.
A rostrum finish – if not indeed better – stolen from his grasp, what doubled the disappointment was that the 16-year-old had stood to gain significant ground on the driver directly ahead of him in the championship table, who was some way further down the order prior to the late drama.
Impressively undeterred, in the afternoon’s ITV4 live-televised outing, Zelos again seized the initiative at lights-out, but following a similar pattern to the morning race, the tussle for the top of the podium swiftly became a five-way affair.
Twice elbowed down to fifth, the Dereham Sixth Form College AS-Level student recovered fourth by boldly going all the way around the outside of his champion-elect team-mate, before pulling off an opportunistic and robust move to regain third as he put his superb racecraft on full display. Thereafter hassling his second-placed adversary right to the chequered flag, the result not only represented Zelos’ eighth rostrum from 18 starts, it also strengthened his grip on fourth spot in the standings with just one meeting remaining.
“We’d had a positive test at Silverstone – the whole team had looked to be on the pace, so I felt pretty confident and was hopeful of maintaining our momentum from Rockingham,” revealed the East Anglian teenager. “Having watched videos from previous years, I knew there would be some exciting racing because the nature of the National Circuit really prioritises the tow and makes it difficult to break away from the pack.
“On top of that, of course, there’s the prestige of competing at the ‘Home of British Motorsport’, and my car was strong from the outset – the JHR boys did a superb job of prepping it as usual. We were really quick all throughout practice, and whilst it was naturally a bit of a shame to so narrowly miss out on pole in qualifying, it was still very satisfying to secure my first front row grid slots in cars.
“I got excellent starts to grab the lead in both races, but we always knew there would be a big battle at the front and in the first one particularly, there was a lot of aggressive driving going on. It was incredibly close and we stayed right in the mix the whole way through – and then I got taken out under waved yellows on the penultimate lap. That was hugely frustrating, as I was just three tenths-of-a-second away from the lead at the time and we definitely had the pace to fight for the win.
“There was more pushing-and-shoving in race two, and since it’s such a wide track at Silverstone, there was plenty of overtaking amongst the lead group and it was fun to spend so much time running wheel-to-wheel with other drivers. We didn’t quite have enough to snatch second at the end – perhaps with one more lap – but I was still really pleased to come away with another podium finish.
“I know I keep saying it, but I genuinely never expected to be sitting fourth in the championship during my rookie year, with eight rostrums to my name – it really has exceeded all of my wildest dreams. Now there’s just one outing left – at Brands Hatch’s GP Circuit, which is a track I loved in testing – so let’s see if we can go there and sign off this season on another high.”
*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.