Dan Zelos could scarcely wipe the smile off his face after sampling Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship machinery for the first time at Silverstone, as the gifted young Norfolk ace was praised for acquitting himself ‘admirably’ during a test with front-running BTCC outfit WIX Racing.
Zelos has just completed his rookie campaign in the fiercely-contested, single-make Renault UK Clio Cup – the leading feeder series to the hugely popular, ITV4 live-televised BTCC. The Norwich University of Arts Graphic Design undergraduate and former Dereham Sixth Form College student has been dogged by persistent ill-fortune, but a number of standout highlights behind the wheel of his Ciceley Motorsport-run, Evergreen Tyres-sponsored car hint at plenty of untapped potential.
These included an incredible top three qualifying effort on his debut at Brands Hatch Indy back in April amongst the 23 high-calibre protagonists, a brace of top six grid slots at Thruxton – the fastest and most fearsome circuit in the country – hard-fought top ten finishes at Snetterton and Rockingham and a performance that saw him go wheel-to-wheel with some of the championship’s heaviest hitters in treacherous conditions in the season finale at Brands Hatch GP last weekend.
That is no mean feat at all for one of the youngest and least experienced competitors in the field at just 18 years of age, and it is indisputable that Zelos’ results did not accurately reflect the pace and promise that he showed. As an end-of-season treat, the highly-rated Dereham-based hotshot and his two team-mates were invited to try out Ciceley’s potent, 350bhp+ WIX Racing Mercedes-Benz A-Class – a car that has won four races to-date in Adam Morgan’s hands in the UK’s premier motorsport series – around Silverstone’s International Circuit.
Both car and track might have represented uncharted territory for Zelos, but it did not take him long to settle into the groove and under Morgan’s watchful eye and guidance, the East Anglian teenager wasted no time in making a speedy impression.
“I was massively excited if a little bit nervous going into the test, and I absolutely loved every moment – I honestly could have stayed in the Mercedes all day!” he enthused. “I’ve had experience of a few different racing cars now from the Ginetta Junior to the Clio and an F4 single-seater, and I think that helped me to quickly acclimatise to the touring car.
“It has more power than anything I’ve been used to and much more grip to play with – it’s another step up the ladder in every area and it was a lot of fun to drive. Adam was there to give us all advice and feedback which was really useful...and I’m sure he was watching to make sure that none of us damaged his car either!
“The team didn’t put me under any pressure, and I understood more every single time I took to the track. It all came to me fairly naturally and I felt comfortable after just a few laps inside the cockpit. The more I adapted to the A-Class, the more I was able to push and I was pleased with my best lap in the end, particularly as I had to overtake a few other cars along the way.
“It was an awesome experience and I owe everybody at Ciceley a huge ‘thank you’ for making it possible. Hopefully it will be the first of many! This test has definitely whetted my appetite for the future, because racing in the BTCC is where I want to be – although I’m well aware that there will be an awful lot of hard work ahead to achieve that goal.
“We’ve had a rough ride in the Renault UK Clio Cup in 2016, but even though the results aren’t necessary there on paper, there is a huge amount to build upon next year – so we’ll enjoy the winter break now, go away and do a lot of testing and preparation and come back much stronger in 2017.”
“Dan did a great job in the A-Class,” added Morgan. “It’s a big step up from the Clio – especially in terms of power and grip – and a modern-day touring car is not the easiest thing in the world to just jump in and drive but he applied himself well, built his pace up gradually and performed admirably, posting some extremely respectable lap times with it. He learnt as he went along and got faster with every run, which was encouraging to see.
“Hopefully the test will give Dan a welcome boost going into the off-season. He’s not had the easiest of campaigns in the Renault UK Clio Cup, and his stellar qualifying at Brands Indy perhaps unreasonably raised expectations. If I cast my mind back to my rookie year in the BTCC in 2012, it was a disaster – I only actually finished two of the first 12 races! That was partly down to trying too hard, partly inexperience and partly simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time – and it was no different for Dan this season.
“I’m sure he would have liked to come away with more solid results than he did, but he consistently improved throughout and a lot of the setbacks were not of his own making. It was certainly character-building, but there’s no doubt at all that he’s a very quick and talented young lad and with his first year now under his belt, he will come out-of-the-blocks fighting in 2017. Dan unquestionably has a bright future ahead of him.”