1 August, 2016
Dan Zelos finally achieved the result he has been threatening all season in the Renault UK Clio Cup last weekend, as he scythed through the field to secure his maiden top ten finish with a superb seventh place on home soil at Snetterton.
Having stepped up to the leading ITV4-televised British Touring Car Championship support series this year with front-running BTCC outfit Ciceley Motorsport, the talented young Norfolk ace proved to be fast but persistently out-of-luck over the opening half of the campaign, three times qualifying inside the top six in the fiercely-disputed, single-make UK Clio Cup but – for a variety of reasons – taking the chequered flag no higher than 16th.
Following a six-week mid-summer hiatus, Zelos returned to action at his local circuit of Snetterton fired-up to demonstrate his mettle behind the wheel of his distinctive, Evergreen Tyres-sponsored Clio – and from the outset, he was firmly up at the sharp end. After regularly featuring inside the top three during practice as he traded times with the championship’s heavy-hitters, the highly-rated Dereham-based hotshot headed into qualifying in optimistic mood.
In changeable conditions that alternated from dry to wet and back to dry again, Zelos didn’t post a representative lap time until the final third of the session. Unfortunately, a slightly premature switch to slick tyres as the track dried out ultimately transpired to be costly and despite initially vaulting from plum last amongst the 21 high-calibre protagonists all the way up to fifth, when the surface was at its best at the end of the session, the 18-year-old’s tyres had already passed their peak.
That restricted him to just 13th on the grid for race one, although his commendable consistency – very much a hallmark of his driving – secured him a starting slot of sixth for race two, with his quickest two efforts separated by a scant 13 thousandths-of-a-second.
In the first outing, Zelos gained a place around the course of a lively opening lap and then snatched another on lap two, all the while artfully and unflappably repelling several more experienced adversaries behind. Another incisive move elevated him into the top ten on lap four and by mid-distance he was up to ninth, as he chased down and latched onto the back of a multi-car scrap over fourth.
Evincing an impressive turn-of-speed, the East Anglian teenager opportunistically nabbed eighth from BTCC exile Chris Smiley, which subsequently became seventh when Ant Whorton-Eales was forced to pit due to accident damage. Zelos maintained that position to the end to cap a stellar performance with comfortably the best result of his fledgling UK Clio Cup career – a thoroughly well-deserved tonic following such a torrid run.
The Dereham Sixth Form College graduate looked set to record a second consecutive top ten finish in race two, until a nudge from Josh Price sent him into a half-spin and tumbling down the order, from where he battled against bent tracking and understeer en route to 15th at the flag. His assailant earned himself points on his licence and a grid drop for the next round, and whilst Zelos was left to wonder what might have been, he will nonetheless travel to Rockingham at the end of August having progressed four spots in the points table and with his tail up off the back of a long-overdue breakthrough weekend.
“I was really looking forward to Snetterton,” he reflected. “As my home circuit, I know it well and have been successful there in the past. After our tough start to the season, the summer break was well-timed but I felt prepared coming back from it and ready to get going again.
“We were immediately on the pace on scrubbed tyres in practice, but when we bolted new slicks on, we didn’t seem to find as much time as everybody else; that was likely down to a combination of my lack of experience on slicks having run on road tyres in Ginettas, and our set-up perhaps being a bit better-suited to long runs rather than single-lap speed.
“Still, I was hopeful that the top ten was on the cards in qualifying and we were fast in both the wet and dry, but in hindsight, we probably changed back over to slicks too soon as the track was continually drying and at its best right at the end of the session, by which time our tyres were past their prime so we missed out on the optimum conditions. We dropped the ball there a little as we had a car that was quick enough for the top five, but we knew we had strong potential for the races.
“I kept my nose clean through the first few corners in race one and picked up places where I could, and after things settled down a bit, I focussed on moving forward. I was aware I had some fast drivers behind me, but I never felt particularly under threat and I was able to attack the whole way. We’ve known the pace has been there all year, but this was the first time I’ve really had that confidence in Clios to show off my racecraft and fight through the pack.
“For everything to finally come together was a massive weight off my shoulders following all the bad luck and missed opportunities. This result has been a long time coming and we really needed it, and for it to happen at my home track in front of all my friends, family and sponsors was just the icing on the cake.
“After that, I felt completely different going into race two. We were in the mix again until the contact from Price ruined our chances of another good finish which was obviously disappointing, but it didn’t take the shine off the weekend. Rockingham is similarly somewhere I’ve gone well before, so hopefully we can build upon what we achieved at Snetterton there and continue improving and climbing up the grid between now and season’s end.”