Dan Zelos showcased his burgeoning confidence and overtaking capabilities as the 2017 Renault UK Clio Cup raced into Croft last weekend (9-11 June), with the talented young Norfolk ace fighting through the field from lowly grid slots to bring home another solid points haul.
Zelos led the WDE Motorsport charge throughout practice at the North Yorkshire circuit, winding up ninth-quickest amongst the 20 high-calibre contenders behind the wheel of his distinctive, Evergreen Tyres-sponsored car – and optimistic that there was more time to be found the following day.
Unfortunately, qualifying would not live up to expectations. As the heavens opened with a vengeance, the 19-year-old uncharacteristically struggled for speed, managing just 15th and 12th on the grid for the two races in the fiercely-disputed, single-make British Touring Car Championship feeder series.
For a driver who had been the championship’s third-best qualifier over the first three outings, it was unaccustomed territory indeed but Zelos was determined to move forward and the highly-rated Dereham-based hotshot made impressive early progress in Saturday’s rain-plagued contest, only to then tumble down the order again when an ambitious overtaking attempt failed to come off.
Undefeated, he immediately set about regaining lost ground and had recovered to 12th when he found himself caught out by a rival’s error, dropping him down the field to 16th. Following a late safety car period, a final dash saw Zelos salvage 13th position at the chequered flag.
In front of the live ITV4 television cameras the next day, the East Anglian teenager made a promising start to race two and artfully navigated his way past a spinning car broadside across the track on lap one to advance to eighth. Thereafter, he settled into a multi-car battle over fourth, posting several fastest sector times in evidence of his potential and mastering occasionally drizzly conditions on slick tyres to tally a seventh-place finish.
The result consolidated Zelos’ eighth spot in the championship standings, and the fourth-quickest lap overall – barely a tenth-of-a-second adrift of the race-winner – hinted at what would likely have been possible had only he started further up the grid. That, he reveals, will be the key focus during the seven-week summer break now before the action resumes on his home turf at Snetterton at the end of July – alongside a little well-deserved R&R, of course.
“It’s fair to say Croft was a mixed weekend,” reflected the Norwich University of Arts Graphic Design undergraduate and former Dereham Sixth Form College student. “We were there-or-thereabouts in practice, but as a team, we seemed to lose a little bit of speed in qualifying compared to our main rivals – we just lacked that edge when it came to single-lap pace.
“I’ve not had much running in the wet in the Clio either, which perhaps explains why I struggled a bit more than my team-mates in those conditions – I’ve generally been quicker than them in qualifying recently, but I didn’t have the same confidence to push as they did this time. We could also only afford to run two new tyres when a lot of other drivers used six. Starting position is so important when the championship is as competitive as it is at the moment, so being lower down the grid really left us on the back foot.
“Race one was a real yo-yo affair. I kept out-of-trouble at the start and moved up into the top ten, but then I tried to pull off a hero move around the outside of somebody and just ran out of road. That put me onto the grass and I rejoined the circuit sideways! It was very nearly a big accident and it cost me a lot of ground, but I was coming back through again when I encountered a second setback.
“It was difficult to see through all the spray, so in some parts of the lap I was using the car ahead as a reference and when he braked, I braked – and the next thing I knew, we were both skating off into a cornfield because he must have missed his braking-point! I was a bit annoyed at myself for that, but I never gave up and kept on attacking and I was told afterwards that I had made the most overtakes in the race, which was good to know – even if I did only finish two places ahead of where I had started!
“I had to take avoiding action at the beginning of race two when Sam Randon spun across the track – it got fairly wild, with cars scattering this way and that – but we emerged unscathed and actually came out of it pretty well. After that, though, it was all a bit follow-my-leader, and with it being my team-mate directly ahead of me, I was slightly more circumspect than I would otherwise have been.
“Seventh was a very solid result in the circumstances, albeit frustrating at the same time because we clearly had the speed to fight for the top three but just started too far back – it took us nearly the whole weekend to get properly onto the pace. We need to get our qualifying act together because it’s turning into a bit of an Achilles’ heel – so that will be our major priority over the summer break.
“It’s my home circuit next on the calendar, which is where I registered my best finish of 2016 in Clios, so while it will obviously be nice to have some time off after such a quick-fire start to the season, I’m already itching to get back on-track – and to keep pushing for that elusive first podium!”