24 August 2015
Dan Zelos had to draw upon all of his karting-honed racecraft as the 2015 Ginetta Junior Championship travelled north of the border to Knockhill in Scotland, battling his way to a hard-fought podium finish to keep his title credentials firmly intact.
The gifted Norfolk ace showcased his remarkable consistency during free practice around the sinuous 1.27-mile Fife rollercoaster, producing a succession of lap times to within thousandths-of-a-second of each other. Behind the wheel of his distinctive, Evergreen Tyres-sponsored and JHR Developments-run Ginetta G40, he featured inside the top five throughout amongst the 21 high-calibre protagonists.
Hopes were justifiably high for qualifying, but difficulties in finding a gap in the traffic restricted Zelos to sixth on the grid in the fiercely-contested BTCC support series – the UK’s premier championship for aspiring young racers, allowing precociously talented 14-to-17-year-olds to earn their motorsport spurs before they can even legally drive on the road.
In the opening encounter, the Dereham-based hotshot immediately advanced to fifth before confusion over a safety car period that never materialised cost him a couple of spots. He wasted no time at all in recovering the lost ground, and after scything his way past his adversaries into fourth, Zelos closed inexorably in on the duel over the runner-up spoils, flashing across the finish line a scant 14 hundredths-of-a-second adrift of the rostrum.
The following day’s ITV4-televised outing was something of a throwback to the 17-year-old’s karting days – a breathlessly intense scrap from lights-out to chequered flag. After settling into third and robustly fending off a couple of persistent rivals, Zelos shifted his attentions towards hunting down the two leaders whilst remaining under constant pressure from behind.
Finding himself in the precarious situation of needing to attack and defend all at once, the Dereham Sixth Form College AS-Level student knuckled down to reduce a one-and-a-half-second deficit to next-to-nothing. Barely a second blanketed the top five entering the final lap, and to his credit, Zelos grittily hung onto his podium position – his fifth of the campaign.
The result moved the series sophomore up to third in the chase for the coveted crown – homing in on the leader in the process. Next up is Rockingham – scene of one of his two victories last year as a standout Ginetta Junior rookie and a very different challenge to Knockhill – and Zelos heads there with his eyes fixed resolutely on the prize.
“Knockhill is like a big kart track, and I’m definitely a fan of it,” reflected the East Anglian teenager. “The nature of its layout means there’s never any let-up and you need to be fully switched-on all the time as it punishes even the tiniest of lapses. We had a positive test day before the weekend and seemed to have some decent pace and that trend continued in practice; we were there-or-thereabouts throughout and amongst the most consistent drivers in the field, and I really felt like I had the car underneath me.
“I was disappointed to end up only sixth in qualifying. The tyres were at their freshest and fastest early on when I was caught in traffic; by the time I found some clear air, they were unfortunately past their best and around such a short, sharp lap it’s always going to be incredibly tight. That said, we were in the ballpark and I knew we could race well from there.
“I made a good start on Saturday to gain a position, but at the end of the first lap the safety car boards came out which caused the whole pack to slow down – but then nothing happened and on the main straight, we suddenly went ‘green’ again! That caught me off-guard and a couple of drivers snuck past.
“After that, I focussed on battling back and having discovered some good overtaking opportunities at Knockhill last year, I used my experience to my advantage. We were really quick in the closing stages, and it was just a shame we didn’t have a lap or two more as I’m sure we would have been able to mount an attack on the top three. Still, fourth was a very solid result and it gave us a strong starting position for Sunday.
“Race two was a real cat-and-mouse affair. I had to defend third place for a while but once I’d pulled away from the drivers behind, I could concentrate on closing down the leaders. We had really good speed again and I was happy to finish on the podium – we’re continuing to progress in the right direction. We have a bit of work to do over the next two weeks because we seem to be lacking power in relation to some of our competitors and Rockingham is quite an engine-dependent circuit, but we’re certainly up for the fight!”