11 May 2015
Dan Zelos got his title bid firmly back on-track in the 2015 Ginetta Junior Championship at ultra-fast Thruxton, with an overdue first podium finish of the campaign the day before his 17th birthday.
The high-speed Hampshire circuit has never been a place for the faint-hearted and demands maximum commitment, and Zelos clicked with it immediately on his debut there last year, tallying his maiden car racing triumph in only his fifth outing in the fiercely-contested, ITV4-televised BTCC support series – the UK’s premier championship for aspiring young racers, which allows precociously talented 14-to-17-year-olds to earn their motorsport spurs before they can even legally drive on the road.
The gifted Norfolk ace returned 12 months on eager to rediscover that front-running form following a tough start to his sophomore Ginetta Junior season at Brands Hatch and Donington Park, where his strong pace had not translated into on-track results. Lapping quickest of any of the 22 high-calibre contenders during practice behind the wheel of his distinctive, Evergreen Tyres-sponsored and JHR Developments-run Ginetta G40 was an encouraging way to begin.
Zelos looked in good shape to maintain his momentum into qualifying and initially topped the pecking order once more, but finding himself in the wrong place at the wrong time in the traffic meant he completed just one proper ‘flying’ lap – which itself was compromised. That left him down in sixth on the grid, albeit ahead of four of the five drivers in front of him in the championship standings.
In race one, the highly-rated Dereham-based hotshot made an excellent start and bravely went right the way around the outside at the Complex on the opening lap before braking as late as he dared to slot into fourth place. Next time around, he pulled out of the slipstream of the driver in third going through Church – the fastest and most daunting corner in the country – and despite being edged onto the grass, boldly held his nerve and kept his foot planted to make the position his own.
Over the closing stages, Zelos was embroiled in a three-way scrap for supremacy, snatching second – again at Church – on the penultimate lap and reducing the gap to the leader to less than two tenths-of-a-second at the chequered flag to secure an overdue first podium of the year, a timely early birthday present and thoroughly well-deserved for an impressively feisty and aggressive performance. The broad smile across his face when he climbed out of the car said it all.
The Dereham Sixth Form College AS-Level student felt somewhat under the weather in the second encounter later in the day, but from the front row of the grid, he retained his position at the start and was again vying for the top spot until a brace of safety car interventions for accidents further down the field closed everybody up.
That meant he suddenly needed to attack and defend all at once, and a challenge by his team-mate on the penultimate lap forced Zelos off-line, leaving him with dirt on his tyres and seeing him shuffled down to fifth in barely the blink of an eye. That was where he would finish – barely a second shy of victory – but it nevertheless enabled him to leap from sixth up to third in the drivers’ table and halve his deficit to the leader from 56 points to 28 heading next to Oulton Park in just under a month’s time.
“We’ve had handling issues since the start of the season which hampered us at Brands and Donington, but we found something in testing and made some changes for Thruxton, and instantly in practice, the car felt completely different,” reflected the East Anglian teenager, one of last year’s standout Ginetta Junior rookies. “That was confirmed by the timing screens, and although we didn’t quite get it right in the tow and the traffic in qualifying, we knew we had a lot more pace than our grid position suggested.
“I love this circuit and the car felt good in race one, and that gave me the confidence to really attack; I particularly enjoyed the overtaking moves I pulled off through Church, which is somewhere I’ve always been strong – even if I did get squeezed onto the grass at well over 100mph the first time!
“When I got into second, I put some pressure on the leader to try to force a mistake and on the final lap, I did think about taking a look into the chicane, but it would have been a risk – I’ve seen last-ditch efforts like that come off there, but I’ve also seen them go wrong and after our difficult start to the season, I didn’t want to throw away a podium finish. That was a great result and enabled me to close on everybody ahead in the championship, so I was very happy – it lifted a weight off my shoulders.
“We looked to be on for more of the same if not better in race two, but my team-mate pulled alongside me exiting the Complex on the penultimate lap, and if I hadn’t lifted off I would have hit him at one of the fastest parts of the circuit. I obviously didn’t want two JHR cars in the barriers, so I blended off the throttle slightly, but that cost me some speed and a couple more positions. With the clock ticking down after the safety car periods, there was then no real opportunity to regain ground.
“That was frustrating, as another podium had clearly been on the cards, but fifth still represented a decent points haul and we left Thruxton with a lot of reasons for optimism, having taken a genuine step forward and battled for the lead in both races. It’s a long season and we’re not even a third of the way through yet. Consistency will be vital – and that has always been one of our strongest suits. Oulton Park is a real drivers’ circuit, and we’ll go there with renewed confidence in the knowledge that we now have the car underneath us to do the job. We’re ready to fight!”