14 October 2015
Dan Zelos concluded the 2015 Ginetta Junior Championship with a podium finish at Brands Hatch and fourth place in the final standings, and having ably proven both his pace and potential in the UK’s premier series for aspiring young racers, the gifted Norfolk ace is already eyeing ‘the next step’.
A self-confessed fan of Brands Hatch’s legendary GP Circuit – which hosted Formula 1 on no fewer than 12 occasions between 1964 and 1986 – Zelos featured up at the sharp end throughout practice behind the wheel of his distinctive, Evergreen Tyres-sponsored and JHR Developments-run Ginetta G40 to end the opening day fourth on the timesheets.
The 17-year-old replicated that stellar form in qualifying to secure third spot on the starting grid for race one amongst the 23 high-calibre contenders, missing out on the front row by less than eight hundredths-of-a-second.
Under the watchful gaze of a record crowd of 42,000 spectators, when the lights went out Zelos settled into a spellbinding multi-car scrap over the runner-up spoils, applying persistent pressure to his team-mate Billy Monger ahead and emerging unscathed when three of his rivals went skating separately off the track at the same corner and came back on right alongside him.
There was further drama on the last lap, as he survived an ambitious attack from Dave Wooder at Surtees. The contact pitched the highly-rated Dereham-based hotshot across the grass and cost him his rear bumper, but demonstrating his impressive car control, he managed to rejoin the fray without conceding any ground.
A hard-fought third place at the chequered flag marked the seventh rostrum result of his sophomore season in the fiercely-disputed, ITV4-televised BTCC support series – one that allows precociously talented 14-to-17-year-olds to earn their motorsport spurs before they can even legally drive on the road. Even more significantly, it elevated Zelos to third in the points table, which he had every intention of consolidating the next day.
Unfortunately, at the start, the pole-sitter over-anticipated the lights and in the ensuing confusion, three of the four drivers immediately behind followed suit – the 17-year-old Dereham Sixth Form College A-Level student amongst them. That precipitated a flurry of drive-through penalties, leaving Zelos down in 22nd position and destroying his hopes of finishing third in the championship on the spot. When the race was red-flagged early due to accidents, he was classified a crestfallen 19th.
As he reflects now upon his two-year tenure in Ginetta Juniors – a successful period that began with an outstanding rookie campaign and ultimately yielded a brace of victories, nine podiums and a staggering 31 top ten finishes – the East Anglian teenager does so with a sense of satisfaction, in the knowledge that the experience gained has helped to develop him as a driver and equip him with all the tools he needs to accelerate his burgeoning career up another gear in 2016.
“Brands Hatch GP is one of my favourite circuits – a really enjoyable, old-school track where it’s all about maintaining your momentum,” Zelos explained. “It’s the kind of place where the driver can truly make a difference, and it usually generates exciting racing.
“We’d had encouraging pace there 12 months ago and the car felt good in testing. That carried over into practice and qualifying, and although I could perhaps have got a little bit more out of the session and challenged for the front row of the grid, I was still pleased with third.
“I was definitely faster than Billy in race one and had a few looks, but he defended well and I also had to keep an eye in my mirrors. With not much time between the two races, I was mindful that I couldn’t afford to pick up any major damage from a risky move and in any case, I was ahead of the driver I was battling for third in the championship, which was our primary goal.
“On the last lap, Wooder tried to pull off a late lunge. He must have come from a long way back because I had no idea he was there until I turned in to take the corner. It was a sizeable hit that sent him spinning and me off the track, and I had to work pretty hard to retain control of the car on the slippery grass. Fortunately, I got back on again without losing any positions, and I was happy to finish third after such a lively race!
“At the start of race two, the lights seemed to stay on for longer than usual, and when I saw the two drivers in front of me creep forwards, I reacted. What compounded matters was that it took a few laps for the penalties to be announced; if we had been informed during the safety car period early on, we might have stood a chance of fighting back, but as it was it was effectively game over.
“That clearly wasn’t the way we had wanted to sign off, and the two halves to our weekend were pretty symptomatic of what has been a mixed season. We had a difficult start with a few car issues, which left us playing catch-up, and we were beginning to get on top of everything and put together a consistent run of results when we had the nightmare at Croft with all the engine problems just before the summer break.
“That meant we were effectively starting afresh in the second half, and huge credit must go to the JHR Developments boys, who have worked tirelessly all the way through. We were actually at our strongest in the final few rounds – which is testament to all the improvements made – and I’m pleased with the way I’ve driven.
“There have been plenty of highlights and inevitably also a few ‘character-building’ moments, but I’ve come away from it all a better and more rounded driver, which can only benefit me in the future. We’ve had a good couple of years in Ginetta Juniors – but now I’m ready to move on and take the next step.”