Dan Zelos demonstrated just what a difference a year makes by producing his best performance to-date as the 2017 Renault UK Clio Cup roared into life at Brands Hatch last weekend (1/2 April), with the talented young Norfolk ace crediting a ‘fresh start’ as the secret to his success.
Zelos’ rookie campaign in the fiercely-disputed, single-make BTCC support series in 2016 was peppered with promise but also plagued by persistent ill-fortune, with the hitherto ultra-consistent East Anglian teenager finishing only one of his opening five races in the championship.
Following a switch to WDE Motorsport and having spent the winter months rebuilding his battered confidence, Zelos returned to the track at Brands Hatch ready to prove his potential in what has been billed as the most competitive field in UK Clio Cup history.
Running routinely inside the top ten throughout practice amongst the 24 protagonists, the highly-rated Dereham-based hotshot maintained that improved form to qualify eighth and sixth behind the wheel of his distinctive, Evergreen Tyres-sponsored Clio.
The weather threw an unexpected curve ball as the heavens opened ahead of race one on Saturday, and with his car still carrying a dry set-up, Zelos recovered from a wheelspin-afflicted getaway to complete the first lap in ninth. With grip at an absolute premium, he advanced to eighth when a driver ahead went wide before snatching seventh from former team-mate Ollie Pidgley on the exit of Paddock Hill Bend.
Thereafter, he focussed on chasing down the leading sextet, and he had practically halved the deficit to sixth place by the time the chequered flag fell. Matching and on occasion even outpacing the race-winner along the way, his impressively composed and confidence-inspiring performance saw the 18-year-old equal his best result from 2016 straight off the bat.
Sunday’s contest in front of the live ITV4 television cameras adhered to a similar theme, as Zelos lost ground at lights-out but rapidly battled back into the top ten. Progressing to eighth and pulling well clear of his pursuers, he latched onto the fight for fifth and once more pegged the leaders for pace as he concluded the first weekend of his sophomore campaign in style – and with not so much as a scratch on the #45 car.
The Norwich University of Arts Graphic Design undergraduate and former Dereham Sixth Form College student will travel next to Donington Park on 15/16 April sitting an excellent sixth in the championship standings – and having already scored more than twice the points total he tallied during the entire first half of 2016...
“It was an extremely positive weekend,” Zelos reflected. “The Renault UK Clio Cup is even tougher this year – the level of competition has stepped up another notch over the off-season – and that’s a challenge that I relish. I went to Brands in optimistic mood after showing strong pace in winter testing, and the aim was to get two good, solid points finishes under my belt – which is precisely what we achieved.
“We had a trouble-free run through practice and then qualifying went well; we could possibly have been a little bit higher on the grid, but it’s tricky around Brands’ short Indy Circuit because the times are always so close and you’re trying to find some clean air when there are more than 20 other cars all out on-track at once. Two top eight grid slots nonetheless left us firmly in the ballpark for the races.
“I was a bit puzzled by our start issues as in practice they had gone well, so we need to look into that but we demonstrated good speed in both races in wet and dry conditions alike. The trouble was, with everybody lapping at such a similar pace at the front of the field, once things settled down into a rhythm it was a bit of a stalemate with very little change in the order.
“In race one, I was gaining on the top six in the closing stages but simply ran out of time – with a few more laps, we would have been right with them so the potential was definitely there for an even better result. To be as quick as them was really encouraging, and I wasn’t pushing flat-out as the main thing was to make sure I got to the end without any damage, particularly with the new regulations prioritising consistency now that dropped scores no longer count.
“I think given what happened at the beginning of last season, I had a bit of a point to prove this time around. I’ve come so far over the past 12 months and 2016 is nothing more than a distant memory now. I feel completely at home at WDE – the team is like my second family – and I’m treating 2017 as a totally fresh start; yes, it’s the same championship and the same car, but I feel like a whole new driver and so much more confident in my own ability. Everything is moving in a very positive direction and there’s plenty still left to unlock. Donington can’t come soon enough!”