10 September 2015
Dan Zelos saw his Ginetta Junior Championship title hopes dealt a blow at Rockingham last weekend, but after claiming a fighting fourth place around the Northants speedbowl, he has vowed to go all-out for race wins over the final two meetings of the 2015 campaign.
Having secured his second car racing victory at Rockingham 12 months earlier, Zelos returned in optimistic mood, but the gifted Norfolk ace found himself plagued by steering issues throughout practice that hampered his preparations. Despite posting the quickest lap on a drying track surface on Saturday morning behind the wheel of his distinctive, Evergreen Tyres-sponsored and JHR Developments-run Ginetta G40, he knew it was a slightly artificial reflection. What’s more, a brace of lengthy red flag stoppages cost him vital set-up time.
The legacy of that told in qualifying, as Zelos lined up a disappointed seventh on the starting grid amongst the 22 high-calibre protagonists in the fiercely-contested, ITV4-televised 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 17-year-old Dereham Sixth Form College AS-Level student wasted no time at all in gaining ground and subsequently settled into a scrap over the runner-up spoils. Lacking the outright pace to challenge – as evinced by setting just the seventh-fastest lap – he nonetheless made the most of every opportunity to take the chequered flag fourth, barely a second adrift of the rostrum and four seconds shy of victory as he banked a clutch of valuable points.
Following a bright start to race two the next day, Zelos endeavoured to boldly hold the outside line entering Turn One for the first time, only to be squeezed out by an aggressive rival. Having reeled in the two drivers ahead, he then became embroiled in a four-way tussle over second – and when the last lap board appeared unexpectedly early, he knew it was a case of ‘now or never’.
After tucking into the slipstream of team-mate Senna Proctor on the banking, the highly-rated Dereham-based hotshot – one of last year’s standout Ginetta Junior rookies – dived to the inside going into Deene hairpin with a textbook late-braking manoeuvre. Proctor cut across to try to cover, but Zelos was already committed and fully alongside, and contact pitched both drivers into a spin.
The East Anglian teenager was left to limp home in a lowly 15th place, doing potentially irreparable harm to his championship chances by dropping him to fourth in the title standings. As he looks forward to the remainder of the season, he does so with a clear objective.
“I felt confident going into the weekend,” Zelos revealed. “We had a positive test at Rockingham earlier in the week, so we knew we had some good speed. It’s a circuit I enjoy, too – it’s different to anywhere else we visit and poses unique demands with its blend of flat-out banking and the twisty and technical infield section.
“Our problems actually began at the end of the test, when we picked up a vibration inside the car which transpired to be coming from one of the rear dampers. We thought we had resolved the issue but it resurfaced during Friday practice. When we checked the car over at the end of the day, we discovered that the left rear damper was in pretty bad shape, so to then lose most of Saturday’s practice running as well certainly didn’t do us any favours. Whilst we wound up fastest, in the circumstances we took the lap time with a pinch of salt.
“That meant we went into qualifying on the back foot, and we struggled as a team. Seventh obviously wasn’t where we wanted to be, but I was fully focussed on moving forward. In the first race, I darted across to the inside on the approach to Turn One and kept myself out of trouble to work my way up to fourth reasonably quickly.
“After that, although I established a gap to the chasing pack, equally, I couldn’t quite stay in the tow of the driver ahead and with us all being so evenly-matched, it was impossible to get close enough to attempt an overtake. We were faster by the end, but we ran out of laps. Ultimately, the damage was done in qualifying – if we’d started higher up, it might have been a different story, but fourth was still a solid place to finish and gave us a decent grid spot for Sunday.
“I got a good start again and drew alongside the battle for second going into Turn One, but somebody tapped me and sent me out wide so I had to slot back into fourth. I got my head down to try to catch the guys in front and I definitely had the legs on them, but the driver behind came with me so I needed to attack and defend all at once.
“It was a tight scrap between the four of us, and on the last lap I got a good run on Senna down towards Deene. I went to the inside in the braking zone, but he tried to shut the door fairly late and pushed me onto the grass and into a spin. That was really frustrating, because I felt like the corner was mine and from being on-course to finish third and fourth for the team, we ended up with nothing. The podium was well within sight, but we spoke about it afterwards and cleared the air.
“Looking ahead, whilst I’m still mathematically in contention, realistically I’m no longer in the championship hunt, so race wins are my only target and I want to really enjoy myself at Silverstone and Brands Hatch. If I can do that, hopefully the results will take care of themselves.”