Dan Zelos brought a dash of Hollywood glamour to Rockingham Motor Speedway last weekend (25-27 August), as the talented young Norfolk ace battled to a brace of hard-earned top ten finishes in the Renault UK Clio Cup – behind the wheel of a car whose livery bore a striking resemblance to Cole Trickle’s iconic Chevrolet Lumina from ‘Days of Thunder’.
Rockingham is the only circuit in the UK to incorporate an oval section – a style more typically associated with North American racing – and Zelos decided to pay homage to this with a special NASCAR-inspired roof design on his distinctive, Evergreen Tyres-sponsored Clio.
Fittingly, the East Anglian teenager was on the pace from the outset, placing eighth amongst the 20 high-calibre contenders during free practice in the fiercely-disputed, single-make British Touring Car Championship feeder series, despite electing not to fit new tyres on budget grounds. Unfortunately, that lack of prior running on fresh rubber would hurt Zelos in qualifying, as he struggled to get up-to-speed quickly enough and lined up a disappointed 14th and 12th on the grid.
In race one, the 19-year-old boldly took the high line heading into Deene Hairpin for the first time – an audacious strategy that would pay off as he gained five spots to ninth, swiftly snatching another through the final chicane to come through in eighth position. Thereafter, Zelos harried Lucas Orrock all the way to the finish to claim a very solid clutch of points, almost latching onto the rear of the three-way tussle over fourth by the time the chequered flag flew.
The highly-rated Dereham-based hotshot repeated his opening lap heroics in front of the live ITV4 television cameras the next day, feistily fighting his way through to sixth until a tap from behind at the chicane sent him fishtailing one way and then the other, prompting an incredible save of which NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt would have been proud.
The delay cost Zelos three places, before he moved over for title-chasing WDE Motorsport team-mate Paul Rivett, going on to follow the three-time champion past Jade Edwards for ninth with an opportunistic move on lap six.
Matching the leaders for pace, he dug deep to reel in the six-way scrap over the final step on the rostrum and whilst ninth was scant reward for a truly gutsy performance, it did serve to maintain seventh spot in the championship standings with just two rounds remaining on the 2017 Renault UK Clio Cup calendar – beginning at Silverstone on 15-17 September.
“I wanted to do something a little bit different to stand out from the crowd at Rockingham,” revealed the Norwich University of Arts Graphic Design undergraduate and former Dereham Sixth Form College student. “The ‘Days of Thunder’ theme seemed like fun, and I think the car looked pretty cool – it certainly attracted a lot of admiring glances and positive comments.
“Unfortunately, the new roof livery didn’t bring us much luck in qualifying! On our first effort, we had a buckled wheel and then on the second run, I couldn’t quite get the best out of the tyres. Rockingham is notoriously abrasive as a circuit, and we only used two new tyres during practice due to financial constraints. When we bolted on a fresh set all-round on Saturday, the car felt quite different and we struggled to nail the right set-up.
“An additional challenge was that I like more of an ‘oversteery’ car, whereas my team-mates Paul and Lee [Pattison] prefer understeer, so the general direction that we pursued as a team didn’t really suit my driving style in qualifying. The races, happily, were a different matter and in both of them, the lion’s share of the work was done on the first lap. I took the decision to stay out wide going into Turn One, because I knew everybody would stack up on the inside. It was a risk, but a calculated risk and it paid off perfectly.
“I still wasn’t entirely happy with the car in race one, which prevented me from properly launching an attack on Orrock, but still, eighth was a very solid result given where we had started so I was satisfied with that. Race two was then a similar story on the opening lap and I’d made up six positions when I was tagged at the chicane, which sent me sideways. Fortunately, I was able to collect it all together heading onto the banking, but the loss of momentum killed my run all the way down the straight, which cost me several places.
“We had caught back up to the pack in front by the end so we clearly had some decent pace, which went to show what might have been but for the first lap contact. Nonetheless, another top ten finish completed a good rescue job and we learned a lot over the course of the weekend that we will take with us to Silverstone. Provided we get qualifying right, there’s no reason at all why we shouldn’t be pushing for the podium there – it’s beginning to feel a little overdue...”