6 April, 2016
Dan Zelos showcased his pace and prowess on his debut in the Renault UK Clio Cup last weekend (2/3 April), and whilst his scintillating turn-of-speed did not go rewarded at Brands Hatch, he proved that once he has a little more experience under his belt, he will be a force to be reckoned with indeed.
A multiple race-winner and prolific podium-finisher in Ginetta Juniors, Zelos has graduated to the fiercely-disputed, single-make Renault UK Clio Cup – the leading support series to the hugely popular Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship – with established BTCC outfit Ciceley Motorsport this year.
Off the back of a promising winter testing programme, the talented Norfolk ace travelled to Brands Hatch’s Indy Circuit for the 2016 curtain-raiser and instantly turned heads, lapping ninth-quickest amongst the 23 high-calibre contenders on the opening day, less than a tenth-of-a-second shy of the top four.
Maturely and methodically progressing with every session, Zelos proceeded to qualify an excellent eighth for Saturday’s race and an outstanding third for Sunday’s encounter, even topping the timesheets for a while ahead of a whole host of more seasoned rivals.
Drops of rain, cooler conditions and a greasy track surface added to the challenge in race one, but the Dereham-based hotshot made a superb start to vault immediately up to sixth. Unfortunately, a sideways slide for the leader on the exit of the first corner subsequently sent cars scattering in all directions and Zelos’ distinctive, Evergreen Tyres-sponsored Clio was collected in the chaos.
Following a first-class repair job by his Ciceley crew, the Dereham Sixth Form College A-Level student – one of the youngest drivers in the field at just 17 – returned to the fray for race two the next day in front of the live ITV4 television cameras. Settling into fourth place – sandwiched between two former UK Clio Cup champions – he was holding his own in such esteemed company until a minor mistake pitched him into a spin at Graham Hill Bend.
Falling to the tail of the order – some way adrift of the pack – after rapidly regaining his composure, Zelos regularly posted lap times on a par with the front-runners as he recovered a couple of positions by the chequered flag.
Whilst understandably disappointed with the outcome, the East Anglian teenager nonetheless gleaned a great many positives from his maiden appearance, not least of which his impressive speed that saw him take the fight to the very crème de la crème of UK Clio Cup competition. With early lessons learned and his confidence buoyed, he has Graduate Cup trophies firmly in his sights as the series heads next to Donington Park on 16/17 April.
“I felt excited going into Brands Hatch,” Zelos reflected. “We kept setting ourselves mini objectives for the weekend. The first was to be inside the top 15, which we achieved straightaway in FP1, so then the goalposts shifted to the top ten, which we managed by the end of practice.
“That was clearly encouraging, but even so, to qualify where we did massively exceeded our expectations. When grid slots are determined by your two fastest laps, consistency is key, and that has always been one of my strengths. Starting eighth for race one was fantastic in itself, but I was over-the-moon to be third for race two. That was testament to Ciceley’s skill, professionalism and work ethic – they gave me an awesome car and you would never have thought it was their series debut!
“I was a little apprehensive before Saturday’s race because I had never done a practice start in the Clio, but I remembered that two years ago at the same circuit, I had stalled first time out in Ginetta Juniors so I thought whatever happened, at least it couldn’t go any worse than that!
“I probably surprised myself a bit by nailing it so well when the lights went out, but then the leader lost it going through Paddock Hill Bend and everybody else backed off in a concertina effect. I received a tap that sent me into a slide and in trying to save it, I must have over-corrected and ended up in the gravel, where I hit another car. It was a combination of wrong place, wrong time and inexperience in understanding how the Clio would react in that situation.
“The Ciceley boys performed miracles to repair the damage so we could go again the next day, and it was somewhat surreal to line up on the grid alongside Mike Bushell; he was the champion two years ago, competed in the BTCC last season and the team he is with has won the title almost more times than I can count on my fingers!
“After what had happened in race one and given where we had qualified, I think I put myself under quite a lot of pressure and it seems the spin was caused by either coming off the brakes a tad too early on cold tyres or putting a wheel slightly off-line. It was a typical rookie error, but we’ve said all along that this is going to be a learning year for us and with more miles under my belt, I won’t make the same mistake again.
“It was obviously a shame not to come away with a decent finish, but it was good to be able to offer a glimpse of our potential and I think we caused a few people to sit up and take notice. There’s no reason at all why we can’t do the same again at Donington – and hopefully there, we will get the result to go with it!”