Monday 9th June 2014
Dan Zelos went into his maiden car racing campaign in the 2014 Ginetta Junior Championship targeting – in his own words – ‘top ten finishes and the odd rookie trophy’. At Thruxton last weekend, he blew those expectations out-of-the-water with an outstanding debut victory that has vaulted him into the top five in the title standings.
Zelos has enjoyed a superb start to his fledgling car racing career, tallying fifth place and rookie honours at Brands Hatch and a battling tenth from the back of the 20-strong grid at Donington Park in the popular and fiercely-contested ITV4-televised series. What’s more, he ‘clicked’ with high-speed Hampshire circuit Thruxton – the fastest and most fearsome track in the country – right from his first lap there in testing, revelling in its flat-out nature and proving beyond doubt that bravery is in no short supply.
After placing a strong seventh in practice behind the wheel of his distinctive JHR Developments-run, Evergreen Tyres-sponsored Ginetta G40, the gifted young Norfolk ace proceeded to qualify an excellent third and sixth – by some margin his best starting positions to-date, and lapping fastest of anybody through the opening sector.
From there, Zelos carefully avoided a first lap coming-together in race one to emerge in second position, before going on to chase down the leader and slice neatly past into Allard just before half-distance. After breaking the tow to his pursuers, the highly-rated Dereham-based hotshot thereafter edged away and controlled proceedings beautifully, betraying no nerves despite finding himself in completely uncharted territory and putting not so much as a wheel out-of-place.
Utterly unflappable, it was an extraordinary performance that saw him take the chequered flag almost three seconds clear of his closest rival and very nearly clinch fastest lap into the bargain. Given that he turns 16 this coming weekend, as birthday presents go, it will take quite some beating.
Zelos maintained his head-turning form in the live-televised outing the next day, running inside the leading pack throughout and biding his time in the early laps before making his moves. With never a dull moment, it was reminiscent of a place-swapping karting encounter, and the Northgate High School pupil pulled off a superb manoeuvre to steal fifth place at Church – the fastest corner on the circuit – with two laps remaining.
He then boldly passed another adversary around the outside of Noble on the final lap, giving him the inside line for the following Goodwood corner, and when the championship leader spun going into the chicane, Zelos zipped through into third position to cement a second consecutive podium finish and vault from tenth up to fifth in the points table. For a driver who is treating 2014 as a learning year and who has started less than ten car races to-date, it was a quite remarkable achievement.
“What an awesome weekend – it’s only really starting to sink in now!” confessed the East Anglian teenager. “I felt optimistic that we would be quick after testing at Thruxton, but I never expected to come away with a couple of podiums and my first car racing victory, that’s for sure!
“Thruxton is a circuit I really enjoy – you definitely need to have confidence in the car there, because it’s just so fast! It’s a tremendous challenge and really rewards those who have the courage to push right to the ragged edge. Commitment is key.
“I knew we had more pace left in-hand after practice, and to qualify third for race one was all-the-sweeter having not been able to qualify at all in the previous round at Donington due to gearbox issues. I reckon we could even have been on the front row for race two, but somebody got out-of-shape ahead of me going into the chicane, which compromised my lap time.
“I went into the first race aiming for a top five finish and to learn a few things from the more experienced drivers around me. After I got into the lead, I focussed my efforts on ensuring I didn’t make any mistakes. I was fully in the zone, and I just can’t describe the feeling when I saw the chequered flag appear. It was pretty overwhelming with so many people coming up to congratulate me afterwards.
“Sunday’s race was more of a dogfight. After concentrating on keeping my nose clean in the early laps and allowing everything to settle down a bit, we had the speed to challenge up at the front again in the later stages and to take third on the last lap was brilliant.
“We started this season targeting top ten finishes and hoping for the odd rookie trophy here-and-there, so my first win has come a lot sooner than any of us had anticipated and I owe a huge debt of gratitude to JHR Developments and Evergreen Tyres.
“I’ve had some big results in my career before in karting, but nothing comes close to this. I’m absolutely over-the-moon! It was an amazing weekend and unquestionably one to remember – and I don’t think anybody will be able to wipe this smile off my face for quite some time...”
“It was, quite simply, an exceptional weekend for Dan,” echoed JHR Developments team principal Steven Hunter. “He showed genuine promise during testing at Thruxton, so we were positive he would be in the mix for a couple of good results and felt a podium might be on the cards, but to win exceeded all expectations. He drove flawlessly throughout and never put a foot wrong. I honestly couldn’t be any happier with his performance.
“He displayed an immense degree of confidence and maturity to take the lead in race one and then get his head down and pull out a substantial gap over the others – and with the limited car racing experience that he has, that was hugely impressive. I’m chuffed to bits – I could tell Dan was good when we first ran him in last year’s Winter Series, and the progress he has made since then underlines just how good he is...”
*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.