Tuesday 5th August 2014
Dan Zelos delighted his family, friends and sponsors who came along to support him at his home event in the fiercely-contested 2014 Ginetta Junior Championship at Snetterton – with a superb podium double that confirmed his status as one of Britain’s very brightest young motorsport prospects.
Zelos headed to Snetterton – the longest circuit on the calendar, not to mention one of the fastest – in bullish spirits following an extremely positive test there the week beforehand.
After lapping an excellent fourth-quickest amongst the 19 high-calibre contenders during practice, the gifted Norfolk ace replicated that stellar form to line up on the second row of the grid for both races in his distinctive JHR Developments-run, Evergreen Tyres-sponsored Ginetta G40 – the best combined qualifying effort of his fledgling car racing career to-date.
The heavens opened just before the start of race one, rendering the track surface slippery to say the least. Undeterred, Zelos made an early break with the leading pack and pulled off a neat cut-back manoeuvre to steal third position from Ryan Hadfield at the second hairpin on lap four. The timing of the move would transpire to be crucial, as the safety car appeared shortly afterwards due to an incident further down the order, neutralising the action all the way to the chequered flag.
In the next day’s ITV4 live-televised encounter, the highly-rated Dereham-based hotshot found himself forced onto the grass as the field concertina-d tightly together when the starting lights went out, but by dint of boldly holding his nerve and keeping his foot planted firmly to the floor, he emerged from Turn One in third place.
Thereafter, the leading trio edged clear of their pursuers, and in a tremendous display of high-speed precision, Zelos maintained the pressure on his two adversaries throughout, flashing across the finish line less than four tenths-of-a-second adrift of a second victory of what has truly been a remarkable maiden car racing campaign.
His fifth podium from just 12 starts – and third in swift succession – enabled the 16-year-old Northgate High School student to consolidate fifth position in the championship standings, a scant five points shy of fourth and 15 away from the top three in what is by any standards a phenomenally strong field.
“I felt confident going into the weekend,” affirmed the East Anglian rookie. “Our speed in testing had been really promising – I was virtually as fast as my team-mate Jack Mitchell, who is leading the championship. Being my home circuit, I was particularly looking forward to racing at Snetterton – although with my main sponsor Evergreen present with lots of customers and guests as well as my family and friends, I was also feeling more nervous than usual and anxious to put on a good performance.
“We worked well as a team in qualifying, and I was pleased with fourth position – to be on the same pace as Jack again was hugely encouraging. He’s my benchmark at JHR and as an experienced second-year driver, the yardstick that I need to measure myself against.
“The intermittent rain made the track really greasy in race one, and in that kind of scenario, the drivers who are best at adapting to the conditions will always come out on top. It was disappointing that the safety car deprived us of the chance to try and reel in the two leaders, but I was still chuffed to bits to wind up on the podium and felt like it lifted a bit of weight off my shoulders for the following day.
“It was certainly a lively start to race two, but I was determined not to back down and that approach paid off as the field bunched up on the inside going into Turn One and I swept around the outside into third. We had really good pace to begin with, but spending so much time running tucked up in the dirty air of the two cars ahead caused my engine to overheat a little as the race progressed, which meant I wasn’t able to attack.
“As they are team-mates, they were also working together, so in some respects it was like two-against-one. Jack was closing in on us all by the end and was right on my tail at the chequered flag – if the race had gone on for just one more lap, it would have been a hell of a fight!
“I was really happy to come away with another rostrum, though, and it’s interesting to look back to my car racing debut in the Ginetta Junior Winter Series at Snetterton last November and appreciate how far we’ve come. I was more than five seconds off the pace here nine months ago and remember looking up at my team-mate on the podium – and now that’s me.”
*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.